Zambia: A Historical Overview

Ancient (but graffitied) Rock Art in Nsalu Cave, Kasanka National Park in North-Central Zambia.

Zambia, officially the Republic of Zambia, is a landlocked nation at the crossroads of Southern, Central, and East Africa.

Khoisan and Batwa – History

Present-day Zambia has been populated by the Batwa and Khoisan peoples until around 300 CE when immigrating Bantu started to settle around these regions. It is believed the Khoisan people tribes began in East Africa and grew southwards about 150,000 years ago. The Twa people were divided into two groups one; The Kafwe Twa, existed around the Kafue flats, while the other, The Lukanga Twa, existed around the Lukanga Swamp. Many ancient rock arts in Zambia, like the Mumbwa Caves, Mwela Rock Paintings, and Nachikufu Cave, are attributed to these hunter-gatherer tribes. The Khoisan and the Twa formed a patron-client relationship with agricultural Bantu tribes across southern and central Africa. Later, they were eventually either displaced by or incorporated into the Bantu tribes.

Bantu settlement

The first Bantu tribes to reach Zambia came through the east route via the African Great Lakes. They emerged around the 1st millennium CE; among them were the Tonga tribes (also called Ba-Tonga, “Ba-” meaning “men”) and the Ba-Ila tribes and other related tribes who live around Southern Zambia near Zimbabwe. According to Ba-Tonga oral records, they are assumed to have come from the eastern sections near the “big sea.”

They were next joined by the Ba-Tumbuka, who lived around Malawi and Eastern Zambia.

These first Bantu tribes lived in large villages. They never had an organized unit under a headman or chief and worked as a district and help and support each other in times of field preparation for their farming. Villages moved around almost every year as the soil became exhausted due to using the slash-and-burn technique of farming. They also keep large herds of cows which formed an essential part of their societies.

The second mass population of Bantu people into Zambia was of tribes that are believed to have taken the west route of the Bantu immigration through the Congo Basin. These Bantu tribes spent most of their existence in the today’s Democratic Republic of Congo and are ancestors of most modern Zambians.

The Maravi Confederacy

In the 1200s CE, before the Luba-Lunda states were founded, a group of Bantu people started moving from the Congo basin to Lake Mweru then finally lodged around Lake Malawi. These tribes are believed to have been one of the residents around the Upemba area in the Democratic Republic of Congo. By the 1400s CE, these tribes of migrants collectively called the Maravi, most prominently among them was the Chewa tribes, began absorbing other Bantu populations like the Tumbuka.

In 1480 CE, the Maravi Empire was established by the paramount chief of the Maravi (Kalonga) from the Phiri clan, one of the primary clans with the others being Mwale, Banda, and Nkhoma. The Maravi Empire extended from the Indian Ocean through Mozambique to Zambia and large parts of the Malawi region.

Colonial Period

In 1888 CE, Cecil Rhodes, spearheading British political and commercial interests in Central Africa, acquired mineral rights concessions from district chiefs. In the same year, Southern and Northern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe and Zambia, were declared a British sphere of influence. In the beginning, the area was administered by Rhodes’ British South Africa Company (BSAC), which conferred little interest in the region and used it mainly as a source of labor.

On 31 December 1963, Zambia won independence.

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