Lunda

Lunda

The term Lunda covers a number of peoples who once lived in the Lunda Empire as well as to those who adopted a government influ-enced by the Lunda Empire. In general, the Lunda are a Bantu people who speak Cilunda or Kilunda and are found today in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, and Zambia. They number over 1.5 million people, and nearly one-half lives in the Katanga province of Congo, one-third live in Angola, and the rest live in Zambia. They are called Rund or Runda as well, as individ-ual groups took the names of their leaders such as the Kazembe.

The Lunda began as several small states in the Nkalaany Valley in the Upper Kasai River in the 16th century. Luba ideas of government spread into the Lunda area and, in the early 17th century, a Luba prince named Kibinda Ilunga left the Luba when passed over for a political position and married the Lunda leader, the woman Lueji.

Kibinda or Chibinda introduced Luba governing principles, which were further refined and implemented by his descendants, named Lusengi and Naweji. It has been noted that three of Queen Lue-ji’s brothers, not content with the Luba prince Kibinda taking charge of the chiefly symbols of the royal bracelet, bow, and drums, left with followers and established other Lunda polities to the south.

The Lunda embarked on expansion by military conquest or by domination, and by the 18th century, the kingdom was flourishing. Much of the wealth of the Lunda Empire was based on trade with the Portuguese from Angola and with the Arabs and Swahili traders from East African port cities and Zanzibar. Trade for salt, copper, ivory, and slaves brought in cloth, cowrie shells and other items.

The success of the Lunda was in the invention of the position of the Mwaant Yaav or king, a term invented by Kibinda’s grandson Naweji. Unlike that of the Luba or other king positions in much of the region, the Mwaant Yaav of the Lunda embodied the dual principles of positional succession and perpetual kinship.

That is, the person who became the Mwaant Yaav automatically inherited the kinship of his predecessor, and he and his own kinsmen became kinsmen with those of the previous king “with the same mutual rights and obli-gations forever” (Mukenge, 17). Conquered chiefs kept their positions as leaders of their people as the Mwaant a Ngaand or owner of the land, meaning that the land still belonged to the original owners. Taxes were collected by a special militarized chief called the Kawata, who ensured as well that the king’s messages were delivered.

In the 18th century, the semi-independent kingdom of Kazembe was established when the ruling Mwaant Yaav Muteba awarded the eastern expansion of the Lunda Empire to Ngonda Bilonda as Mwaant Kazembe. By the turn of the 19th century, the new Kazembe kingdom was the heart of trade both to the Atlantic via Portuguese and Luso-African traders and to the Indian Ocean via Arab and Swahili traders. The Lunda Empire eventually broke up in the late 19th century due to internal conflicts and the mounting pressure of the Chokwe.

The Lunda were and are primarily farmers living in compact villages. The land in the region is typical of tropical soils, being light and needing time to recover from cultivation. In order to not overuse the soils, a system of shifting agri-culture was developed, producing crops of millet and sorghum and later also maize and cassava.

Cash crops of sunflowers and pineapples were introduced by the European colonial authorities. Women did most of the cultivation, and men both hunted and fished. Lunda skills in fishing have been exploited with the recent intro-duction of fish farming.

Most Lunda converted to Christianity in the 20th century, and Christian mission-aries made use of their traditional belief in a supreme being called Nzambi. None-theless, many Lunda hold to several of their traditional beliefs, particularly to the idea that their ancestors can punish or reward them. The Lunda in Zambia cel-ebrate Mutomboko or crossing the river, which marks the day that they defeated the Bwile and Shila and established the Kazembe kingdom.

The celebration is held in the old royal capital, and the king himself dances.The Lunda are matrilineal or patrilineal, depending on the group. In some instances, a person counts both lines as equally important. Because the Lunda have incor-porated a number of different conquered peoples, they do not have a single form of descent,butitislikelythattheoriginal core Lunda population was matrilineal.

The Lunda were colonized by the end of the 19th century by three different powers, the British in Zambia, the Portu-guese in Angola, and the Belgians in the Congo. In each of these, the Lunda have had a somewhat different experience.

In Zambia, the Lunda remained a cohesive group and were able to maintain a good deal of their traditional culture. They did not generally move to the mining areas of the country. In the Belgian Congo, the Lunda resisted and, following World War II, founded CONAKAT, a powerful politi-cal organization whose main purpose was to counter Luba and Chokwe politicians.

When Congo gained its independence in 1960, the Lundas opted for their own independence and rose in rebellion. From 1960 to 1963, the Katanga province was outside main government control, and the mainly Lunda rebels were not finally defeated until 1965. The Lunda have risen again in 1977, 1978, and 1984. In 1993, Katanga again declared its independence, and the governor was arrested by troops from the central government in 1995. The violence increased, and it has calmed down only with the release of the governor from jail in 2003.

John A. Shoup

Further Reading

Ehret, Christopher. The Civilizations of Africa: A History to 1800. Charlottesville: Univer-sity Press of Virginia, 2002.

Lamphear, John, and Toyin Falola. “Aspects of Early African History.” in Africa,3rded., edited by Phyllis M. Martin and Patrick O’Meara. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995.

“Lunda Information.” http://www.zyama.com/

Iowa/Peoples/Lunda%20People.htm (accessed June 10, 2010).

Mbajekwe, Patrick U. “East and Central Africa in the Nineteenth Century.” In Africa Volume 1: African History before 1885, edited by Toyin Falola. Durham, NC: Caro-lina Academic Press, 2000.

Mukenge, Tshilemalaema. Culture and Cus-toms of the Congo. Westport, CT: Green-wood Press, 2002.