Kazembe is a traditional kingdom in modern day Zambia.
For more than 250 years Kazembe has been an influential kingdom or chieftainship of the Kiluba-Chibemba speaking people or Eastern Luba-Lunda people of south-central Africa1 (also known as the Luba, Luunda, Eastern Luba-Lunda, and Luba-Lunda-Kazembe). Its position on trade routes in a well-watered, relatively fertile and well-populated area of forestry, fishery and agricultural resources1 drew expeditions by traders and explorers (such as Scottish missionary David Livingstone2) who called it variously Kasembe, Cazembe and Casembe.
Known by the title Mwata or Mulopwe, now equivalent to ‘Paramount Chief’, the chieftainship with its annual Mutomboko festival stands out in the Luapula Valley and Lake Mweru in present-day Zambia, though its history in colonial times is an example of how European powers divided traditional kingdoms and tribes without regard to the consequences.
|List of Mwata Kazembe Chiefs|
|Italics indicate approx dates|
|1740–5||I Ng’anga Bilonda|
|1745–60||II Kanyembo Mpemba|
|Continued below in the section|
|to which their rule relates|
Around 1740 the first Mwata, Ng’anga Bilonda of the Luba-Lunda Kingdom headed by Mwata Yamvo (or ‘Mwaant Yav’) 300 km west of the Luapula in the DR Congo, left with a group of followers in pursuit eastwards of one Mutanda who had murdered his father Chinyanta and uncle by drowning them in the Mukelweji River.1 'Mwata' was originally a title equivalent to 'General', the first of the Mwata Kazembe line were warriors.2
After Mutanda had been dealt with, the group continued the eastward migration under Mwata Kazembe II Kanyembo Mpemba, crossing the Luapula River at Matanda, conquering the indigenous people known as the Shila in the Luapula Valley, and setting up Luba or Lunda aristocrats as chiefs over them.3 Though bringing Lunda and Luba customs and culture (such as the Luba style of ceremonial chieftainship), they adopted the language of the Bemba, a tribe that had also migrated from the Congo and to which they were allied.1
The kingdom prospered from the fisheries of Lake Mweru and the Mofwe Lagoon, and natural resources, including copper ore in Katanga, west of the Luapula.4 Mwata Kazembe was said by the Portuguese to be able to raise a force of 20,000 men, and his lands stretched west to the Lualaba River (the border with Mwata Yamvo’s western Luba-Lunda kingdom and with the other Luba's kingdoms north of that) and east to the Luba-Bemba country.2 (See the map below.)
|1760–1805||III Lukwesa Ilunga|
|1805–1850||IV Kanyembo Keleka Mayi|
|1850–1854||V Kapumba Mwongo Mfwama|
The expeditions were:6
- 1796 Manuel Caetano Pereira, a merchant.
- 1798 Francisco de Lacerda who came via Tete and died within a few weeks of arriving at Kazembe’s, still waiting for trade negotiations to start. He left a valuable journal which was carried back to Tete by his chaplain, Father Pinto, and which was later translated into English by the explorer Sir Richard Burton.
- 1802 Pedro João Baptista and Amaro José, 'pombeiros' (slave traders).
- 1831 Major José Monteiro and António Gamito, with 20 soldiers and 120 slaves as porters, sent from Sena by the Portuguese governor of that district. Gamito also wrote a journal and said, “We certainly never expected to find so much ceremonial, pomp, and ostentation in the potentate of a region so remote from the sea coast.”7
As trade missions, though, they were all failures. Mwata Kazembe III Lukwesa Ilunga and IV Kanyembo Keleka Mayi rebuffed Portuguese attempts to set up the alliance which would control the Atlantic-Indian Ocean trade route from beginning to end.68 (The Sultan of Zanzibar and Msiri later took control of that route, with Msiri rather than Kazembe as the linchpin.)
In 1867 the explorer and missionary David Livingstone embarked on his last expedition in Africa, one aim of which was to discover the southern extent of the Nile basin (i.e., resolving whether Lake Victoria truly was the source of the Nile or whether some other lake further south was the source). From ‘Nyasaland’ (Malawi) and past the southern tip of Lake Tanganyika, through country ravaged by the slave trade, he reached the northeastern shore of Lake Mweru. He continued south down the eastern shore. Mwata Kazembe VII had been alerted to his arrival and received him at his capital which was then at Kanyembo near the northeast tip of the Mofwe Lagoon:2
“The court or compound of Casembe—some would call it a palace—is a square enclosure of 300 yards by 200 yards. It is surrounded by a hedge of high reeds. Inside, where Casembe honoured me with a grand reception, stands a gigantic hut for Casembe, and a score of small huts for domestics. The Queen's hut stands behind that of the chief, with a number of small huts also ... Casembe sat before his hut on an equate seat placed on lion and leopard skins. He was clothed in a coarse blue and white Manchester print edged with red baize, and arranged in large folds so as to look like a crinoline put on wrong side foremost. His arms, legs and head were covered with sleeves, leggings and cap made of various coloured beads in neat patterns: a crown of yellow feathers surmounted his cap ... He then assured me that I was welcome to his country, to go where I liked, and do what I chose. We then went (two boys carrying his train behind him) to an inner apartment, where the articles of my present were exhibited in detail.” —extract from The Last Journals of David Livingstone in Central Africa from 1865 To His Death.2
|1854–1862||VI Chinyanta Munona|
|1862–70||VII Mwonga Nsemba|
Livingstone noted that Mwata Kazembe VII’s administration was harsh: A common punishment for court officials was to have the ears cropped by shears. Owing to such tyranny, he would have difficulty raising a thousand men. He observed that the kingdom was not now as prosperous as the Portuguese had reported. The next year he again visited Mwata, who was the first to tell him that the Chambeshi, Lake Bangweulu, the Luapula, Lake Mweru and the Luvua-Lualaba were all one system. This sent Livingstone exploring Bangweulu, then the Lualaba which he thought may flow into the Nile, and Tanganyika, then back to Bangweulu and his death five years later, still trying to discover how its rivers link up and for any evidence that it was part of the Nile rather than the Congo basin.2
|1870–72||VIII Chinkonkole Kafuti|
|1872–83 & 1885–86||IX Lukwesa Mpanga|
|1883–85 & 1886–1904||X Kanyembo Ntemena|
In the 18th and 19th centuries Arab and Swahili traders visited Mwata Kazembe to trade in copper, ivory and slaves. Trade routes such as that from Zanzibar via Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika were well established, and the Sultan of Zanzibar's name carried weight. Livingstone was held up southeast of Lake Tanganyika by a conflict between Tippu Tip (Ahmed bin Mohamed, whom Livingstone called Tipo Tipo) and a local chief. When he reached Mwata Kazembe’s he found a trader named Mohamad Bogharib had arrived a few days before seeking ivory, and Mohamad bin Saleh (also known as Mpamari), a trader who had been there for ten years, as Mwata had refused to let him leave. Despite their involvement in the slave trade, Livingstone travelled with and was helped by them; he claimed to have used his influence to get Mohamed bin Saleh released.2
From the 1860s the kingdom declined, as its copper and ivory trade was usurped by Msiri in Garanganza (Katanga),1 allied with Tippu Tip and other traders, some of whom attacked and killed Mwata Kazembe VIII.2 Until his death in 1890 Msiri interfered in the succession of the Mwata Kazembe rulers, and chiefs on the western side of the Luapula paid tribute to him as their Paramount Chief instead of Kazembe.1
After Msiri’s death the Luapula valley was divided in 1894 between Britain — the eastern shores of the Luapula and Lake Mweru became part of North-Eastern Rhodesia, administered by the British South Africa Company (BSAC) — and King Leopold II of Belgium’s misnamed Congo Free State (CFS), or rather its agent, the Compagnie du Katanga, which took over the western shores. The Belgian colonial authorities, having killed Msiri were left with a vacuum. They appointed chiefs — not ones chosen from Msiri’s subordinate chiefs (who had previously been subordinate to Mwata Kazembe) — but from what the Luba-Lunda called the 'owners of the land' who had preceded them;9 there was considerable instability in that part of Katanga as a result. “Belgian administration in Mweru-Luapula was glossed over by a thin veneer of traditional justifications.”4 This included ‘creating’ a tribe from what was a clan, the Bena Ngoma.
Once Belgian colonial rule was established west of the Luapula, Mwata Kazembe’s rule and territory, though not his influence, was confined to the eastern side.
Although Mwata Kazembe X had signed a BSAC mineral concession and a British treaty brought to him by Alfred Sharpe in 1890, and allowed visits by British missionary pioneer Dan Crawford, when the BSAC tax collector Blair Watson took up residence on the Kalungwishi River in 1897, Mwata Kazembe refused to let the British flag be flown over his territory or taxes to be collected from his people, and he defeated an armed incursion by Watson's forces.4
Sharpe by now was governor of the British Central Africa Protectorate (Nyasaland), 1000 km away. It was he who had failed to secure Msiri's Garanganza kingdom as a British Protectorate by negotiation, and had later seen it taken from under British noses by the rival CFS through force. In 1899, in conjunction with Robert Codrington, acting BSAC Administrator of North-Eastern Rhodesia, Sharpe sent British officers with Sikh and Nyasaland troops who burnt Mwata Kazembe's capital to the ground, killing a number of his people, though Mwata himself had already escaped across the Luapula.4
Mwata Kazembe X made his way south and crossed back over the river to take refuge in the Johnston Falls Mission run by a Mr and Mrs Anderson of Dan Crawford's missionary society. (Ironically, two years before, Mwata Kazembe X had tried to have the Andersons' predecessor at Mambilima, H. J. Pomeroy, killed, but failed.1011)
Dan Crawford and Alfred Sharpe had been involved in a similar situation in 1890-91 with Msiri (see that article). At that time Crawford's superior, Charles Swan, had encouraged Msiri to resist Sharpe's British treaty. A year later Msiri was killed by the Belgians, and the region was plunged into chaos. Now, the Andersons responded differently to Swan. While Mr Anderson kept Mwata Kazembe's men at Mambilima, Mrs Anderson took Mwata Kazembe alone to the British officers back at his burnt capital, saying "please be kind to him".10 Disarmed by this approach and the Mwata's agreement to accept their rule, the British agreed to let him come back.
Mwata Kazembe X rebuilt his capital at Mwansabombwe. This did not make up for the fact that the British troops took a number of old and valuable works of art of Luba origin from the court, which they gave to Codrington. In 1920 his heirs placed them in the National Museum of Southern Rhodesia in Bulawayo, 1000 km away, where they were listed as the 'Codrington Collection'.1213
After the punitive expedition, Mwata Kazembe X and his successors worked with the BSAC and its successors, the British District Commissioners, and to some extent it rescued his chieftainship. The Mwata Kazembes had some influence in the colonial era because the British colonial administration ruled indirectly through chiefs.4
With Dan Crawford's influence Mwata Kazembe X readily agreed to requests to establish missions in the valley, especially from the Christian Missions in Many Lands and the London Missionary Society (LMS) which had sent Livingstone to Africa. In 1900 the LMS Mbereshi Mission was established 10 km from Mwansabombwe.14 Here schools, a church and a hospital were established, and brick makers and builders were trained, resulting in the Luapula valley enjoying a higher standard of sun-dried and burnt brick house construction than elsewhere in the region. Other Protestant and Catholic missions established schools and hospitals in the Luapula Valley and on the lake.14
Though by the mid-20th century Mwata Kazembe’s realm had become overshadowed by the copper mines and industry of Elisabethville (Lubumbashi) and the Copperbelt, through their education gained mostly in mission schools, many Luba-Lunda-Kazembe people made their mark in those towns and in Lusaka, and their experience and influence there flowed back the other way.14
|1904–19||XI Mwonga Kapakata|
|1919–36||XII Chinyanta Kasasa|
Following the Luba chieftainship model, Mwata Kazembe as the Paramount Chief has senior chiefs under him, and subordinate chiefs and village headmen under them. The Senior Chiefs are Lukwesa, Kashiba, Kambwali and Kanyembo. Mwata appoints these chiefs from his family and, upon his death, one of these senior chiefs may be promoted to the paramount position. There are also chiefs in neighbouring districts who pay tribute to Mwata Kazembe.4
Also following Luba custom, Mwata Kazembe ruled through a council which in colonial times became a 'Superior Native Authority', named in this case the Lunda Native Authority (LNA) to which he appointed a ‘cabinet’ of advisers who meet under his chairmanship. The LNA was the largest and dominant native authority in the Luapula-Mweru valley. Its work had to be reported to the British District Commissioners who preferred to base themselves in the climate and environment of Kawambwa on the plateau rather than in the heat and mosquitoes of the valley where most of the population lived. It took up a whole day just for quick visit and, in the absence of problems, this allowed the Kazembe chieftainship considerable autonomy.4
Essentially the functions of the chieftainship are in the realm of local government, with a stronger emphasis on cultural, social and historical aspects of the life of Kazembe people wherever they may live. The Mwata and his council make regulations in areas not covered by national law or provincial regulations, of land and resource use and management, buildings and infrastructure, employment and occupations, trade and markets, hygiene and health, and traditions and customs including traditional marriage and family life. The Mwata has messengers and guards to enforce regulations, and operates a traditional court to try transgressors; he is also involved in the resolution of disputes.
|1941–50||XIV Shadreck Chinyanta Nankula|
|1950–57||XV Brown Ngombe|
|1957–61||XVI Kanyembo Kapema|
The Belgian Congo copper-mining town of Elisabethville developed faster than the Northern Rhodesian Copperbelt. Cut off by the Congo Pedicle, the Luapula Province was regarded as a backwater by the Northern Rhodesian government in the first part of the 20th century, so that at first Elisabethville was the most accessible city for the Kazembe, connected as it was by road to the Congolese port of Kasenga on the Luapula, and by boat from there up the river to Lake Mweru. There was migration from the British-administered side to the Belgian one.4 For further details, see the articles on the Congo Pedicle and Congo Pedicle road.
Mwata Kazembe XIV Shadreck Chinyanta Nankula in the 1940s did much to change this situation. He developed the chieftaincy and the district, and has been called the first "modernizing" Mwata.5 He had been educated and employed in Elizabethville and spoke fluent French and English. He galvanised the LNA, changing its name to the Lunda National Association, and appointing to it people with an energy for change and development, like himself. The District Commissioner worried that some of these, such as Dauti Yamba were nationalists who might stir up trouble against the colonial administration, but relationships remained workable.4 Mwata Kazembe XIV encouraged the building of schools and clinics in Mwansabombwe and the expansion of missions such as Mbereshi. He wrote an account of the chieftainship which was edited by a White Father missionary, Edouard Labreque,14 and finally published in Chibemba as Ifikolwe Fyandi na Bantu Bandi (My Ancestors and My People)1 built the current two-storey Mwata’s residence but died two days before it was complete.3
In the early 1950s, some problems were created across the Luapula when the Luba-unda there noted that Mwata Kazembe’s courts dispensed justice more to their liking than the Belgians and their chiefs, and asked to be tried for transgressions by the Mwata’s courts on the grounds that as Lunda, they had that right, and the local chiefs did not have the authority. But this was not granted.4
The modernizing of the chieftainship was matched by an increase in prosperity as the Pedicle road connected the Luapula Province to the Copperbelt, and fish and labour flowed more easily to that market.
|1961–83||XVII Paul Kanyembo Lutaba|
|1983–98||XVIII Munona Chinyanta|
|1998–||XIX Paul Mpemba Kanyembo Kapale Mpalume|
In 1964 Northern Rhodesia became independent Zambia. For a time, chiefs saw their influence overshadowed by party politics and the civil administrations, though in 1985 Mwata Kazembe XVIII was appointed District Commissioner in Kawambwa and later, Provincial Political Secretary.15
The fish and labour economic booms in the forties, fifties and sixties gave way to recessions and stagnation from the mid-seventies onwards as fish catches declined, Copperbelt employment contracted and national problems had an effect. However, the construction in the late sixties of the 'Zambia Way', a road connecting Mansa to Nchelenge-Kashikishi through Mwansabombwe, and its surfacing and linking to Kawambwa, Samfya and Serenje over the next two decades, has funnelled trade through Mwansabombwe, the population of which has risen to around 50,000.15
The Mwata Kazembe chieftainship has endured and though originating in war and being surrounded by countries that have experienced much conflict, it has presided over peace on the eastern shores of the Luapula and Lake Mweru for more than a century.
In the last two decades the Mwata Kazembe chieftainship has experienced something of a cultural if not an administrative or economic resurgence, through the Mutomboko Festival, now the second largest of its kind in Zambia and a model for the strengthening of indigenous culture.715
It is held at the end of July and may attract 20,000 visitors, including the president of Zambia.15 Drawing on previous ceremonies and traditions, it was started in its present form in 1971 to mark the tenth anniversary of the instalment of Mwata Kazembe XVII Paul Kanyembo Lutaba7 (whose photograph appears at the top of the page). It includes dances symbolising the migration of the Luba-Lunda and the conquest of the Luapula valley by the first chiefs.715
- Luapula River
- Alfred Sharpe
- David Livingstone
- Lunda Kingdom
- Luba Kingdom
- Bemba Kingdom
- David M. Gordon: “History on the Luapula Retold: Landscape, Memory and Identity in the Kazembe Kingdom”. Journal of African History, 47 (2006), pp. 21–42. Cambridge University Press.
- David Livingstone & Horace Waller (ed): The Last Journals of David Livingstone in Central Africa from 1865 to his Death (Two Volumes). John Murray, 1874.
- http://www.chiefsofzambia.homestead.com/mutomboko.html Chiefs of Zambia website accessed 1 February 2007.
- David Gordon: “Decentralized Despots or Contingent Chiefs: Comparing Colonial Chiefs in Northern Rhodesia and the Belgian Congo.” KwaZulu-Natal History and African Studies Seminar, University of Natal, Durban, 2000.
- David M. Gordon: “Review of Giacomo Macola. The Kingdom of Kazembe: History and Politics in North-Eastern Zambia and Katanga to 1950”. In African Studies Review, December 2004.
- Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1911 edition.
- Ruth Kerkham Simbao: “A crown on the move: stylistic integration of the Luba-Lunda complex in Kazembe performance”. African Arts, Autumn, 2006.
- Ian Cunnison: “Kazembe and the Portuguese 1798-1832”, The Journal of African History, Vol. 2, No. 1 (1961), pp. 61-76.
- Ian Cunnison: "The Luapula Peoples of Northern Rhodesia: Custom and History in Tribal Politics," Science, 133 (3455) pp. 751-752.
- Northern Rhodesia Journal online at NRZAM.org: William Lammond: "Fifty Years in Central Africa", Vol I, No. 3, pp3-7 (1951). Accessed 2 April 2007.
- J. Keir Howard: "Lammond, William 1876 to 1968." On Dictionary of African Christian Biography website accessed 2 April 2007.
- The Northern Rhodesia Journal online: "Robert Edward Codrington 1869-1908", Vol 3 No 6 (1956).
- Jones, Neville (n.d.). The Codrington Collection in the National Museum of Southern Rhodesia and the Bembesi Industry. Occasional Papers of National Museum of Southern Rhodesia. (1930s). The collection was still there during the Republic of Rhodesia (UDI) years, but current whereabouts are not known.
- Bwalya S Chuba: Mbeleshi in a history of the London Missionary Society, Pula Press, 2000.
- Robert Cancel: “Asserting/inventing traditions on the Luapula: the Mutomboko Festival”. African Arts, Autumn, 2006.
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