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  Situation Analysis of the Mbunda Ethnic Profile in Zambia.

Mbunda speaking peoples constitute part of the 72 Zambian ethnic tribal groups. However, the Mbunda ethnic group is not recognized as a basis for the broad communication and cultural links to the main national languages in the country (CSO 2003). Yet, it is one of the major ethnic group with a broad base of dialects having empirical evidence of their existence in Zambia (White 1950, 1962; Bull 1973; Davidson 1973; Cheke Cultural Writers Association 1994). History relates to their earlier existence as far back as 17th Century in Zambia occupying areas of mainly Western province, with more than half of the population and a third in North Western Province in Kabompo district (white 1950; Cheke Cultural writers Association 1994). This entails that the Mbunda People are a large population composed of seven (7) dialects compared with the Luvale ethnic group with one (1) dialect to which the Mbunda are currently being linked to (White 1962; CSO 2003 

The history and cultural life of the Mbunda Speaking peoples is an outstanding example of what can be achieved by local communities supported by professional editorial and research skills alongside the international corporate partners. Mbunda history has been a product of nearly 35 years of a longitudinal study and commitment of the Cheke writers. The Cheke Cha Mbunda Cultural and Writers Association continues a tradition of community based research which begun in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, in 1940s and has, in recent years, enriched not only the history of Zambia, but also the history of Central Africa more generally. It is therefore envisioned that the Mbunda speaking peoples, through the adequate capacity of their association will serve as a stimulus to other communities to gather their historical and cultural traditions to prepare them for publication to enrich cultural heritage and identity of the Zambian People. Until all societies of Zambia do this, it will remain impossible to prepare a comprehensive and representative national historical profile. Cheke Cha Mbunda Cultural and Writers Association, therefore, view their Mbunda cultural history not only as a contribution to knowledge of their own society, but equally to the history of the Zambian nation. It is on this basis that the current profile of the Mbunda speaking peoples be reviewed to provide more empirical evidence on the Zambian country profile of ethnicity identification and cultural reservation. It will also enforce communication links among the tribal groups of the Zambian people to enhance national development. This ethnic profile will further provide evidence on the current misunderstanding of positioning the Mbunda Speaking peoples as part of the Luvale ethnic group in North Western Province as argued by the national authority (CSO 2003). 


There is evidence that the Mbunda originated from East Africa, Sudan in particular, trekking through Congo and contributed to the formation of the Lunda Luba Kingdom of the Mwata Yamvwa. This is demonstrated by the similarities of some Mbunda names with other nationalities which also have their roots in the Luba Kingdom (Abshire et al. 1965; Davidson 1973; Cheke Cultural 1994) Read More…….. From their settlement in Luba, at a place called Kola, they migrated to the confluence of Kwilu and Kasai rivers in the now Congo DRC after a dispute amongst their royalties. In1600 they entered what was later to become Angola. It was from there that a substantial number of the population and dialects sprang-up: the Mathzi, Sango, the Mbalango, the Yauma, the Nkangala, the Ndundu and the Mashaka. All these later settled in what was later to become the Barotseland Protectorate, in 1795 now called Western Province of Zambia during the reign of King Mulambwa Santulu (Nupatu 1954; Cheke writers 1994). It has been evident that the Mbunda People are now spread all over the Western Province of Zambia and live together with other nationalities of the province. They have further stretched into North-Western Province covering some parts of Kabompo District under Senior chief Sikufele and chief Chiyengele. There are other Mbunda speaking people in Namibia, but it is stated that the majority are in Angola and Zambia and Congo (DRC).


Diffusion of cultures between the Lozi and the Mbunda, and the Luvale and Mbunda ethnic groups, positions the Mbunda speaking peoples in the failure to recognize their potential rights to preserve culture for national identity by other cultures (Carvas 1968; Davidson 1973; Cheke Writers 1994; CSO 2003). Several factors that emanate from these effects are outlined as follows.

Composition of Mbunda Ethinic Group 

In Zambia, the Mbunda ethnic group is known to be composed of seven branches. Each branch speaks its own dialect of Mbunda. These comprise Mbunda representing Mathzi, Shamuka, Mbalango, Yauma, Nkangala, Ndundu and Sango (Cheke Writers 1994). These seven (7) dialects demonstrate that the Mbunda are a large population, but lack coordination among themselves to create a composite unity of their ethnicity. It is therefore important to recognize these dialects as a basis to establish a coordinated link to each other.

Chieftainship and Cultural Identity

The social structure of chieftainship is another factor that undermines the authority of the Mbunda peoples to govern themselves to strengthen their cultural identity due to influences of other ethnic groups. The history of the Mbunda cannot be complete without reference to the Lozi chiefs and their people. The Lozi have had a direct influence on the Mbunda and played a major role in the history of the Mbunda (Bull 1973; Cheke writers 1994). This is demonstrated in the Lozi's control over the Mbunda chiefs in restricting them from gaining access to independent powers of authority to extend culture to their own people. The purpose was merely to integrate the Mbunda ethnic group with that of the Lozi and become part of the Lozi people. 

A factual evidence of enforcing intermarriages influence among the Lozi and the Mbunda people in the royal establishment of the Lozi dynasty is one of such behaviours that aimed at weakening the traditions of the Mbundas (Gervas 1968; White 1960). It is in this context that an expression such as “shamuka” meaning “neutralized” or “weakened” to form another Mbunda dialect as Mbunda Shamuka. Some Mbunda cultural traditions were acquired by the Lozi, but the Mbunda adopted more cultural behaviours of the Lozi. This resulted in the effects of weakening their cultural practices and be controlled by the Lozi Paramount chieftainship. The Mbunda cultural traditions are therefore somehow more weakened in the dialects of Mbunda Mbalango and Mbunda Shamuka than other Mbunda dialects.

In Zambia, the Mbunda's seven dialects are traditionally and culturally controlled by nine (9) chiefs unevenly distributed in four districts of Kalabo, Kaoma, Lukulu and Mongu of Western Province and one district (Kabompo) of North-Western Province. The chiefs are: Chief (Mwene) Mundu at Liumba, Kalabo district; Chief (Mwene) Lindeho at Chamemba, Kalabo District; Chief (Mwene) Chiyengele at Nan'oko, Mongu District; Chief (Mwene) Kandala, Mongu; Chief (Mwene) Kandombwe at Kauli, Lukulu; Chief (Mwene) Kasabi at Lukute, Kaoma; Chief (Mwene) Kathimba at Kalumwange, Kaoma; and Senior Chief (Mwene) Sikufele at Manyinga, Kabompo and Chief (Mwene) Chiyengele at Kayombo, Kabompo district.   

The above narrative account shows that the Mbunda have relevancy inclination to the Lozi people. The peaceful interaction between Mbunda and Lozi is a result of being accepted by the Lozi King Mulambwa for the great wars fought by the Mbundas to support the Lozis e.g. wars between Lozis and Ilas. The relationship between the Lozi and the Mbunda was defined, developed and continues to this day to recognize the Mbunda for the contributions made to the historical development of Bulozi. This demonstrates further the distinct geographical coverage of the Mbunda population as being more prominent in Western Province than in North Western Province. However, influence of the Lozi people on Mbunda cultural lives to facilitate a gradual ethnic cleansing of the Mbunda has weakened the collaboration links between the chieftain leadership and its people. It is also unfortunate that the profile of the Mbunda Chiefs in Western province is not recognized by the Government, but only Lozi chiefs appear to be known (CSO 2000).  CSO census of population characteristics may entail that there could have been a sampling error in the census of population and housing for all the Chiefs in Western Province. As a result of this, the Government has continued to gazette the Mbunda Chiefs as Lozi Chiefs. 

Mbunda Population Coverage 

Despite the adequate historical background of the Mbunda people, it is still uncertain on the exact contribution of the Mbunda speaking people to the national estimates of the country as a whole. This has created a wrong assumption of connecting this ethnic group to the Luvale speaking people. Yet, it is a different ethnic group with a wide representation in its coverage that should have been considered among the classified major national languages (CSO 2003). A proportionate estimation of this group is therefore vital to provide an analysis of its population size and distribution.


Bearing in mind the above factors, they stimulate series of research questions requiring more answers which include:

Where do Mbundas belong, Luvale or Lozi?

Does the tribe still exist?

How widely is this ethnic population distributed in the country?

How do they respond to their tribal identity and cultural traditions of their own origin?

How do they sustain their living conditions?

Have they contributed to the political, economic, social and cultural development of the country?


Possible assumptions emanate from above questions which could be related to first, diffusion of Mbunda culture through inter-marriage system could have affected tribal recognition of its traditional right to promote culture and national development. The second assumption is that the influence of the Lozi people on Mbunda chieftainship powers and leadership has affected sustainability of Mbunda culture among its people. The third assumption is lack of freedom to exercise their rights to promote culture.


The Mbunda population profile is proposed for two purposes. First, is to provide empirical evidence on the current situation of the Mbunda speaking people in terms of its population size, distribution, education and occupation related to their professional experiences. The Cheke Cha Mbunda Cultural and Writers Association established in 1956 has the ambitious program responsibility of promoting culture and literacy among its people. It is therefore imperative that a profile of its people be known to provide direction to the cultural programme development.

The second purpose is to strengthen the coordination of cultural activities between the chiefs, Mbundas themselves and the association. 


General Objective

  • To provide a comprehensive assessment of socio-cultural characteristics of Mbunda Speaking peoples in different residential settings in Zambia to facilitate cultural strategic programming and strengthen collaboration among the Mbunda and their chiefs in Zambia and beyond.

 Specific Objectives

  • To determine the proportion of Mbunda speaking peoples in relation to social, economic and cultural characteristics of these populations in different residential settings.
  • To verify the composition of Mbunda dialects and the extent to which they are distributed in different residential settings.
  • To determine the perceptions of Mbunda cultural traditions related to chieftainship leadership, collaboration links and sustainability of traditions among the varied Mbunda dialects.
  • To make provision of Mbunda cultural profile for relevancy to enhance cultural programming, and focus on development of a well articulated comprehensive and representative national or country historical profile.


Ethnographic approach will be applied in the context of the conceptual framework of variable measurement, design and data methods.


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His Majesty King Mbandu IV,
Joăo Pedro Mussole
of The Mbunda People
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