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13— From Ethnic Identity to Tribalism: The Upper Zambezi Region of Zambia, 1830–1981
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In December 1980 I arrived in Zambia's Zambezi District for a short period of field work in Chavuma.[1] When I presented my credentials to the District Governor, he politely, but firmly, told me that not only would I not be allowed to do field work but that I was to be confined to the boma under the direct supervision of the CID and that I would be returned to Lusaka on the next weekly airflight. He explained that the district was, after months of negotiations, finally becoming calm again after the publication of a new Luvale history book which I had helped to edit and which challenged many long-held and hotly contested historical views of the Lunda relating to the authenticity and antiquity of their Senior Chief, Ishinde. In the preceding months Luvale-Lunda conflict had resulted in blocked roads, government services being suspended, house burnings, beatings, and a resurrection of ethnic animosity in the district unknown since the 1950s. In 1981 tribalism dominated Zambezi District.

This essay is about the development of this 'tribalism' in the Upper Zambezi region of Zambia among the Luvale and Lunda speaking peoples between around 1830 and 1980.[2] While ethnic differentiation, based on differences of language, or at least dialect, historical traditions, small differences in material culture and cosmology, did exist objectively in the past in the Upper Zambezi, these differences have in the last hundred years been transformed into rigid and self-conscious 'tribal' markers. The region's people sought to adapt to and influence changes initiated during the colonial period which continue to dominate local politics and local relationships with the Zambian national state.

'Ethnicity' and 'tribalism' are highly charged words in contemporary Africa. The terms are often regarded as an auto-explanation for contemporary political conflict, but their ubiquitous use belies their vagueness. I use the term ethnic awareness to describe the result of a long-term, historical process in which the particularism of early Bantu-speaking segmentary lineages evolved into a view of an enlarged social field with loyalties defined in terms of similar languages and culture and with primary social and economic allegiances directed largely towards the lineages and clans (which crosscut contemporary 'tribes'). This was overlaid by a genealogically linked chiefly political structure which functioned on a very limited basis and almost entirely at the village or micro-regional level. The Luvale, Lunda, Luchazi and Mbunda-speaking peoples of the Upper


Zambezi area certainly had a developed ethnic self-awareness prior to either their contact with mercantile capital through participation in the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the early nineteenth century, or their experience as colonized peoples between 1906 and 1964.

What changed so dramatically from the mid-nineteenth century onwards was that a previously slowly evolving, fluid ethnic self-awareness was transformed into a new, harder 'tribal' structure to the extent that 'tribalism' was stronger and more politically relevant in 1981 than it was in 1881. Among the most important early reasons for this transformation was the fear created by the slave trade which encouraged small, lineage-based villages to come together into large, stockaded villages controlled by increasingly powerful chiefs. The emphasis upon ethnic identity was a potentially protective element in avoiding enslavement, as enslaving the follower of a chief struck the base of his newly enhanced authority. Of critical importance after 1906 were the administrative ambitions of the colonial state which sought to graft on 'traditional' structures a modern 'tribal' administration which enlarged, as well as replaced to varying degrees, many of the functions of the earlier polities. Under these pressures Upper Zambezian peoples evolved into 'tribes' or, more accurately, weak proto-states, the sort of polities which colonial administrations encouraged in many parts of Africa and elsewhere: strong enough to carry out policy and maintain order but not sufficiently politicized to serve as an organizational focus against colonial rule. In the Upper Zambezi the hallmark of the modern tribe was a severely curtailed hierarchy of 'recognized' 'Senior' and 'Sub' Chiefs (and, after the 1930s, 'Native Authorities'), with new types of control over their populations through the expanded power of chiefs' courts, tax collection, implementation of colonial education, health, public works, and agricultural policies.

Having suggested a historical transition from the primacy of lineage/clan to the primacy of 'tribe', it is necessary to indicate why the clans did not retain their former attraction and therefore why tribal structures developed as they did. Perhaps most damaging—and most difficult to document—was the gradual change in individual perceptions that the village, lineage, or clan, was no longer the most secure protector and that access to land, fishing and hunting rights, healing, social recognition and economic advancement was increasingly regulated by larger polities such as the chief and tribe which were supported by the expanding colonial administration.

With the exception of the Lunda-speakers, all the region's 'tribes' possess the same clans. The matrilineal clans have no formal leadership or organization yet they have played an essential role in Upper Zambezi political, economic, religious and social life. As late as the 1940s they were still regarded as more important, in personal relationships, than tribal affiliation.[3] It was by ignoring the clans and emphasizing the 'tribe', symbolized by the new, appointed chiefly hierarchy, that the fundamental ideological restructuring of Upper Zambezian societies began.

It is not necessary to enter into the current debate over the utility of such concepts as 'modes of production' except to say that all Upper Zambezian societies in the early nineteenth century fell within some form of what is generally described as lineage/domestic mode of production whereby the means of production was regulated through indirect (clan) and direct (genetic) relationships. When a group of men passed through the male initiation ceremony, mukanda, this not only granted them social recognition as adults but also entitled them to a part of the means of production in anticipation of their marriage. Although villages in this agriculturally marginal zone are generally small, in the better growing areas, such as Chavuma, they can be quite large, with hundreds of people living in a


single village. While it is possible that a village might be entirely Luvale-speaking, the pragmatism with which the Luvale and others practise a mixture of uxorilocality and virilocality within a mostly matrilineal system does not guarantee this. A village might also be linguistically heterogeneous, as many seem to be now, and certainly, because of exogamy, clan heterogeneous. In a village the apportionment of land and the other adult rights to fishing grounds and hunting time as well as other shared responsibilities would, in the first place, be the responsibility of one's immediate clansmen, tempered and expressed through the will of the headman and his advisers. In a difficult case consultation and approval could move even higher, requiring sanction at the level of the chiefs court.[4] The trust of another person because he was a member of one's clan rather than one's tribe suggests the significance of a pre-colonial pan-tribal layer of allegiance totally ignored by later colonial organizational policies.

The importance of clan as against tribe not only was a constant of the past but is an essential element of the present. When travelling long distances or entering unfamiliar villages one always performs an obsequy, invoking one's clan formula, at the muyombo tree found in every Upper Zambezian village. Upon hearing the formula—a largely fictive genealogy which links the reciter to the clan founders—one is taken to one's 'relatives', who bear the responsibility for hospitality and social introductions.[5]

It is not possible to explain here how these clans came into existence and why they have retained their influence except to say that a developed Luvale ethnic awareness was well advanced by the mid-nineteenth century. It was based in part on the military force of the Luvale NamaKungu royal clan and the historical, religious and technological innovations which they introduced.[6] It was into this ancient system, already under stress because of the individual economic and social opportunities offered by linkages with the Atlantic slave trade, that British colonial administration, supported by Lozi expansionist aspirations, intruded at the turn of the century.

I see tribalism replacing ethnic awareness in the Upper Zambezi area in four overlapping phases. The first, from around 1830 to 1907, is the period of the slave trade and of Luvale domination of firearms. The second, from 1906 through the 1930s, was shaped by the impact of the early administrative policies of the colonial government. The third, beginning in the 1920s, saw the evolution of the colonial moral and political economies. Through their schools the Plymouth Brethren missions created a small group of locally educated culture brokers who reinterpreted Lunda and Luvale history both to the colonial authorities and to their own people and who articulated local dissatisfaction against one another and against the colonial administration, often using historical arguments. The participation of the Luvale and Lunda in labour migration to Zaire, Angola, Northern and Southern Rhodesia and, through the Witwatersrand Native Labour Association (WNLA), to South Africa in the 1930s and 1940s heìghtened awareness of the Upper Zambezi area's disadvantaged position vis-à-vis the rest of Northern Rhodesia's peoples. The colonial administrative and education policies mandated by the British government between 1941 and 1963 have remained largely unchanged in independent Zambia's Zambezi District down to the present. Finally, there is the fourth period, dominated by the impact of the continuing Luvale History Project, which began in 1969 and which is still continuing in the 1980s.

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