Lozi

Lozi

The peoples of the Lozi kingdom, also known as “Barotse,” center along the upper Zambezi River floodplain in Zam-bia’s Western Province, with additional populations in eastern Angola, Namibia’s Caprivi Strip, northwestern Zimbabwe, and northern Botswana.

Historically, the region was known as “Barotseland.” Lozi identity is fluid and includes members from 25 linguistically distinct groups whose degree of participation varies on a community and individual basis.

The lin-gua franca is Silozi, a Sotho-based lan-guage that reflects the region’s integration of southern and central African influences. “Rotse” or “Barotse” is a colonial-era Sotho-ized pronunciation of the currently preferred “Lozi.” Today, Lozi number over 800,000.Lozi royalty trace their roots to princess Mbuyu (also known as Mbuywamwam-bwa) who broke from the Lunda kingdom of Mwata Yamvo in Congo in the 17th or 18th century.

All subsequent kings, known as Litunga, derive their authority from coronation rites held at her grave.Some legends suggest attempts to strengthen Lozi dynastic claims by asserting that the royalty have lived along the Zambezi since time immemorial and trace their descent to Nyambe, or God, who coupled with female ancestor Mbuyu.

Until the 1830s, the royalty were known as Luyana or Luyi. In 1840, a Sotho leader named Sebituane assumed control until his death in 1860. “Lozi” or “Rotse” refers to the Sotho-Luyana blend that followed. Lozi identity, as it is understood today, emerged during the reign of Barotseland’s legen-dary king Lewanika (r. 1876–1916), who negotiated with the British South Africa Company to establish Barotseland as a protectorate and not a colony.

Lozi are perhaps best known for their annual boat pageant, Kuomboka.Each year as the waters of the Zambezi rise, the Lozi king (Litunga) leads a procession of elaborately decorated barges across the flooded plain to high ground. The Litunga lya Mboela (Queen of the South) also per-forms Kuomboka, which translates “to get out of the water.” Rich in costumes, per-formances, and music, this annual event celebrates the diversity within the region and attracts international audiences. It is balanced by the smaller return trip, Kufu-luhela.

Lozi are also widely recognized for their elaborate manners that include kneel-ing and clapping in greeting. Lozi have also marketed their identity internationally with art forms, most notably carved wooden bowls featuring animal motifs on the lid and baskets woven from the root of the Mukenge tree, and they maintain their wealth in cattle.Missionaries have had long-standing relationships in the area, dating back to the travels of David Livingstone, and to-day the vast majority of Lozi are Christian.

Lozi maintain a traditional court or kuta system known as the Barotse Royal Establishment. All kings since 1916 have descended from Lewanika. In 1964, Litu-nga Sir Mwanawina signed the Barotseland Agreement that joined Barotseland with Northern Rhodesia to form Zambia. His successor, Mbikusita Lewanika II was a founder of the Africa National Congress, and his children Akashambatwa and Inonge hold prominent national and international political roles.

Karen E. Milbourne

Further Reading

Caplan, Gerald. The Elites of Barotseland, 1878–1969: A Political History of Zambia’s Western Province. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1970.

Gluckman, Max. Economy of the Central Barotse Plain. Manchester: Manchester Uni-versity Press for the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute, 1941.

Mainga, Mutumba. Bulozi under the Luyana Kings: Political Evolution and State For-mation in Pre-Colonial Zambia. London: Longman, 1973.

Milbourne, Karen. “Collecting and Projecting Identity: Barotseland’s Arts in International Arenas.” Collections 4, no. 1 (2008): 85–100.

Milbourne, Karen. “Craft and Creativity:Artists and Missionary Outreach in Barot-seland.” Museum Anthropology 24, no. 1 (2000): 42–56.