Preferred Citation: Vail, Leroy, editor. The Creation of Tribalism in Southern Africa. London Berkeley:  Currey University of California Press,  1989.

13— From Ethnic Identity to Tribalism: The Upper Zambezi Region of Zambia, 1830–1981

The Early Administration of Balovale Sub-District, C. 1907-C. 1930

When Balovale boma was opened in 1907 it was a sub-district of Barotseland. This was because the agreements Lewanika had signed with the British South Africa Company (BSAC) gave the Company the right to administer all of Bulozi and its dependencies. Lewanika had convinced the BSAC, which was anxious to counter possible Portuguese claims, that the Upper Zambezi was a part of the Lozi domain—a claim, supported, in the Lozi view, by their intervention in the Wars of Ulamba. Because it suited both BSAC and Lozi interests, Balovale, as it was then called, was regarded as a part of Bulozi.[21]

The Lunda and, especially, the Luvale were totally opposed to direct or indirect Lozi rule and complained vigorously to a succession of District Commissioners that the historical justification used for Lozi overlordship was mistaken. Nevertheless colonial administrators continued to assert Lozi rule and each 'recognized' Lunda and Luvale chief was placed under the nominal control of a Lozi induna . The language of local administration was Lozi. All major decisions were referred to the Barotse Province headquarters in Mongu. And the Lozi were given an essentially free hand to 'bring administrative order' into Balovale Sub-District. To add to the injustice of having autonomous peoples under their domination, the Lozi sought to indenture the local population by instituting a system of corvée labour, presumably for public works and the extension of royal gardens, and a royal tribute from the rich fishing grounds.[22] Luvale and Lunda resisted Lozi sub-imperialism, presenting their cases to the local authorities through missionaries of the Christian Mission in Many Lands (Plymouth Brethren) and a cadre of newly literate Luvale and Lunda mission-educated teachers and evangelists.

While the Luvale and Lunda were cooperating to resist Lozi encroachments, they became aware that the British, Portuguese and Belgian governments had


reached agreements concerning colonial borders that resulted in both groups being 'legally' divided between Northern Rhodesia, Angola and the Congo Free State. The Luvale refused to accept this division, continuing to regard the Kakenge chieftainship in Angola as their most important political title, as they do today. The Lunda of Mwinilunga opted for another solution by creating a second Kanongesha, their senior title, in Mwinilunga, leaving the original Kanongesha in the Portuguese territory he ruled.[23] The Lunda of Balovale, with the help of local colonial civil servants, brought the Ishinde chieftainship from Angola into Northern Rhodesia, establishing there a Lunda Senior Chief against the claims of the existing Lunda chief, Mpidi. The Luvale attempted to assert the primacy of the Chinyama Litapi chieftainship, but this was denied by administrators who were not prepared to walk the sixty kilometres to Litapi. Instead the Ndungu chieftainship was moved from the Chavuma area to opposite the Balovale boma and declared 'senior.'

The division of the Upper Zambezi between three colonial powers and the subsequent restructuring of the hierarchy of local chieftainships, when combined with 'recognition' of a very few chieftainships, meant that the Lunda and, especially, the Luvale were given a political structure that was both almost wholly new and without significant customary power. Not only was the structure pyramidal to an unprecedented degree, but the recognition of a limited number of 'official' chiefs meant that the titles would remain permanent.[24] In effect, the British created a form of positional succession.

In 1923, in an attempt to bring administrative 'order' into a district regarded by both the British and the Lozi as 'wild' and ungovernable. District Commissioner Bruce-Miller decided the Zambezi river would be the dividing line between the Luvale and Lunda 'tribes'.[25] The use of the Zambezi as an administrative border, though it reflected a wholly erroneous understanding of culture, ethnicity, politics, and existing settlement patterns, was so compulsively appealing that virtually all District Commissioners attempted to employ it. The use of the river as a tribal boundary would have resulted in the bulk of the best arable land in Chavuma falling under Lunda authority when, by all accounts—then and now—Chavuma was a predominantly Luvale area under the Ndungu chieftainship. Bruce-Miller proposed not only that the newly arrived Lunda chief, Ishinde, take over Chavuma, but that the Luvale population be resettled on the eastern bank.

The Luvale at Chavuma and elsewhere resisted every effort to resettle them, and violence soon broke out with the Lunda, who supported the plan. Bruce-Miller pursued this foolish and unnecessary policy until he was replaced. Even though the forced resettlement policy was never actually attempted again, it became an article of faith among subsequent District Commissioners that the Luvale belonged 'properly' on the Zambezi's west bank and the Lunda on its east bank. Commitment to this point of view, reflected in the formulation of subsequent policies, has been the single most important stimulus to tribal strife between Lunda and Luvale. Every local political decision was—and still is—evaluated in terms of whether it will further or diminish each side's claim to Chavuma, the area's best agricultural land.

As Luvale and Lunda struggled against Lozi sub-imperialism and between one another over Chavuma, they were slowly subjected to a process of bureaucratization. We actually know very little about the local, internal effects of the creation of bureaucratic administrative structures in rural Africa.[26] But in Balovale each person was required to declare for the district register his/her 'tribe', chief, headman and village. Never were people asked about their clan which, when combined with allegiance to a chief and headman, was the actual


avenue of access to land, fishing and hunting rights, and social acceptance. At the same time, the positions of the chiefs themselves came under scrutiny with a view to limiting the number of chiefs and creating a hierarchy of chiefs for each 'tribe'. Clearly, the chiefs with the largest land areas and populations under their sovereignty were going to be 'recognized', and there was considerable difficulty among both the Luvale and Lunda chiefs when Ndungu and Ishinde were moved to lands traditionally held by other chiefs. Thus the chiefs and headmen, who also faced the problem of 'recognition', were naturally eager to have the greatest number of persons possible inscribed in their 'book'.

I have already noted that the population of the district in 1948 contained, in addition to Luvale and Lunda, significant numbers of Luchazi and Chokwe and some Mbunda. Large numbers of Luchazi had entered Northern Rhodesia after the failure of their revolt against the Portuguese in 1916–1917 and the brutal repression which followed.[27] They originally entered Bulozi, but because of Lewanika's objections to such large concentrations of 'foreigners', some were resettled at Kabompo. Neither Bulozi, where they felt they were treated as slaves (vandungo ), nor the forest lands of Kabompo were attractive, and many Luchazi migrated into Balovale grasslands and settled among the Luvale either in their own villages or as resident 'foreigners' in Luvale villages.[28] No doubt this was also a time of significant intermarriage among Luchazi and the Luvale, who regarded the Luchazi as 'relatives' sharing the same clans as well as the same historical and social traditions.

The use of intermarriage to blur and redefine ethnic affiliations is a major theme of Luvale and Lunda history, extending for centuries into the past. Luvale traditions speak of how the Luvale chiefs of the NamaKungu clan occupied the Upper Zambezi with a mixture of force and monopolies on cultural and technical innovations and consolidated these with the autochthones, the Mbwela, through intermarriage. Even today it is common for Luvale to admit privately that even though they are Luvale, they are also 'really' Mbwela. The function of intermarriage, especially in times of crisis, has played an important role in allowing crossing of ethnic lines.[29]

From the scanty data extant, it is difficult to gain a firm idea of the scale of Luchazi (as well as Mbunda) migration into Balovale. The 1920s and early 1930s was a period of important ethnic movement and redefinition, with the 'safest' ethnic identity in terms of rights of residence in the sub-district being either Luvale or Lunda. The choice of ethnicity was related to area of residence: non-Lunda residing in Chavuma would, if forced, choose a Lunda identity to protect their farms and rights of residence after the relocation policy was announced in 1923. Non-Luvale residing on west bank lands would have to choose Luvale ethnicity to protect against their resettlement to the east bank or their return to Kabompo and possibly Bulozi.

But how were these kinds of alignments possible when, in the case of Chavuma and the better lands and fishing/hunting areas, a wholesale incorporation of 'new' Luvale or Lunda would be resisted by those threatened by the increased competition for resources? The answer, however tentative, requires some discussion of local language, clan structures, cultural taxonomies, material culture and historical traditions. We are so accustomed to identifying the differences between people that often we fail to establish the continuities.

Our written records and the oral testimonies of the peoples themselves suggest some confusion concerning the meaning of ethnicity and, especially, 'tribe'. Portuguese records tend to lump all of the peoples of eastern, savannah Angola and western Zambia (except the Lozi) under the pejorative term 'ngangela' .[30] For


the Portuguese, the ngangela was the vast plain which reached from the central Angolan highlands to the Zambezi. In this area they saw no significant cultural differences between the inhabitants. This term includes the people we know as Luvale, Luchazi and Mbunda, as well as other, smaller societies which view themselves as distinct from their neighbours. Gluckman clustered the same basic group under the Lozi term 'wiko', meaning 'peoples of the west'—again assuming that there existed little in their political, social or material cultures to differentiate them as separate groups. White wrote about the same people as the 'Balovale' and later as the 'Lwena'.[31]

There are five indigenous 'languages' spoken in the Upper Zambezi, plus two imported languages, Lozi and English. Lunda, one of the five, is actually two mutually intelligible dialect clusters, Lunda and Lunda-Ndembu. The other four are the dialects of Luvale: the vakaKasavi (language spoken by the people along the Kasavi/Kasai river); vakaMbunda (spoken were the earth is red (mbunda )); vaka Yambeji (spoken along the Zambezi); and vakaMbalango (spoken in the plains area between the Lungevungu river and Bulozi). The Balovale are peoples who speak one of these dialects and live where the mavale plant grows. C.M.N. White preferred to use the term 'Lwena' instead of 'Luvale', but this term, which has connotations of venereal disease, was usually only applied to Luvale dialect speakers in the northern areas of Luvale country near the Lwena river in Angola but not in Zambia.

Lexicostatistical linguistic analysis of each language reveals that certain groups—the Luvale, Luchazi and Mbunda—are as close linguistically as they are culturally; that the Chokwe are similar both linguistically and culturally; and that the Lunda-speakers represent a somewhat different language and culture, and are related to a later stage of the historical traditions shared by each group.[32] Locally, similarities are overwhelmingly acknowledged in opposition to differences—except where these might be exploited for some personal gain. In the past an attack along tribal lines was weak although 'tribal' differences today offer greater latitude for definition and manipulation.

13— From Ethnic Identity to Tribalism: The Upper Zambezi Region of Zambia, 1830–1981

Preferred Citation: Vail, Leroy, editor. The Creation of Tribalism in Southern Africa. London Berkeley:  Currey University of California Press,  1989.