ZAMBIA HISTORY & CULTURE
The Great Rift Valley, which cleaves the earth from the Lower Zambezi River in Southern Zambia to the headwaters of the Nile in Egypt, is now known to be one of the cradles of the human race, and Zambia’s present population lives on lands that have been inhabited by our forebears for almost uncountable eons. Archaeologists have established that in the northern African Rift Valley, the civilizing process got underway at least 3 million years ago, and crude stone implements, similar to some of that age found in Kenya, have also been found beside the Zambezi river.
Early stone age sites have been unearthed in many parts of Zambia, the most significant being at the Kalambo Falls in the North and at Victoria Falls in the south. At the former there is evidence that primitive humans began using fire systematically some 60 000 years ago. At the latter, a complex has been fully exposed showing the development of skills from the most distant past (this ‘dig’ is enclosed at the Field Museum at the Victoria Falls). The skull of Broken Hill Man, dated to 70 000 years ago, gives an indication of what humans of that period looked like. It was during the next phase – the middle Stone Age – with its refinement in the manufacture of tools, differentiation between populations, and burial of the dead, that modern man probably emerged in Zambia, at least 25 000 years ago. We may imagine family groups of small-statured people living near water and sustaining themselves by hunting the abundant game as well as gathering fruits, tubers and honey from their surroundings (some skulls show serious tooth decay caused by honey?) They would often be on the move, following the antelope as they migrated with the seasons. By 15 000 years ago, the Late Stone Age commenced.
People began to live in caves and rock shelters, the walls of which they decorated with paintings. Very few of these have survived Zambia’s seasonally humid climate, and those which have, do not display the sophistication found in the Rock Art found in Zimbabwe or South Africa. But a surviving drawing of an eland at Katolola in the Eastern Province suggests that this art was more than decorative, that it had a ritual or religious meaning: it has been shown in South Africa that this animal was sacred to the Late Stone Age people there. This spiritual and artistic development occurred alongside another, the invention of the bow and arrow, which revolutionized hunting and also gave humans a mechanical weapon of war and a musical instrument! Although the people of the Late Stone Age neither tilled the soil nor kept livestock, we could not fail to recognize ourselves in them.
The Zambian Stone Age people probably resembled the present-day San, but towards the end of the period here, there is evidence, from skeletal remains, of Negroid physical features, the first indication that the hegemony of the aboriginal population is coming to an end. During the centuries between 300BC and 400AD Zambia was gradually taken over by Negroid people, who by the later date had occupied the whole country, even if so sparsely in some areas that the earlier way of life persisted into the present era. The newcomers’ material culture was radically different from that of the Stone Age. They were cultivators who kept domestic animals, they mined and worked metals, made pottery and lived in lath and plaster houses. We cannot know what language these Early Iron Age people used, but they were possibly the first of the ‘Bantu’ speakers – Black Africans whose millennia-long migration from, it is believed the Nigeria/Cameroon highlands, has made them dominant over most of the continent south of roughly 7 degrees N – a process completed in South Africa in 1994. A glance at the National Heritage Map of Zambia shows that Early Iron Age sites occur throughout the country and in the south this population was probably dense enough to displace (or absorb) the aboriginals completely. Iron Age technology triumphed, not merely because metal made good strong weapons, but because the how, axe and the knife allowed agriculture to establish itself and to expand through the forests. Slash and burn, known as chitemene is the prominent system of agriculture in parts of Zambia to this day.
As iron ore does not outcrop everywhere, there was no doubt trade between places producing the metal and others which could sell, for example, dried fish from lakes or rivers, pottery or salt. Besides Iron, copper began to be mined and refined about 350 AD. It was used to make jewelry and, cast in the for of a cross, as currency: as copper is today Zambia’s largest industry that this has been a mining country for at least 1600 years. The archaeological record shows that by 800 AD the Early Iron Age population was becoming less homogenous, with for instance, distinct pottery styles in different areas and indications that political entities were developing. Some of these were related to the control on mineral resources and trade routes, and by 1300 AD the Early Iron Age had been superseded by a more complex culture. In the Zambezi Valley, a few dozen kilometres downstream from the present Kariba Dam is a site called Ing-ombe Ilede (where the cow lies down) which was uncovered accidentally during civil engineering works in 1960. Here, one below the other, are villages dating from about 700 – 1000 AD and another from about 400 years later. The first settlement is typically Early Iron Age, but the second testifies to a far more sophisticated economy. The pottery is of a much higher quality than that found elsewhere in the country: the dead, presumably only the rulers, were buried with beads of gold (probably from the mines of Zimbabwe) and with copper currency crosses. There were also large numbers of glass beads which could only have been imported from the Indian Ocean seaboard, 1000 kilometers to the east of the site where the Muslim Swahili were trading with Asia. (The Ing-ombe Ilede Treasure, as it is called, is on display at the Livingstone Museum)
Ing-ombe Ilede was obviously a small commercial state or principality, ruled by nobles, perhaps a plutocracy – and markedly different in structure from the village societies of the preceding period. It was a prototype of the kingdoms which characterized the Later Iron Age. They like Ing-ombe Ilede had firm trade patterns with the distant outside world. The centuries between 1500 and 1800 AD saw many of the peoples of Zambia organized into chieftaincies or monarchies. The Chewa in the East, the Lozi in the West, the Bemba and Lunda in the North, were the largest of these, all established under the influence, some as direct extensions of the large and powerful Lunda Empire of the Mwata Yamvo in what is now southern Zaire. By the 18th Century, probably much earlier, the empire was trading with the Atlantic Coast, and other states on the eastern seaboard, where the world economy was represented by the Swahili city-states from Somalia to south of the Zambezi delta. Copper, ivory, rhino horn had a ready market as well as slaves.
The European Factor
The wealth of the Indian Ocean trade was one of the elements (another was to spread the Gospel) that in the 15th Century inspired the Portuguese, who had recently re-conquered their country from Muslim Moors, to embark on their bold ‘Voyages of Discovery’. Africa has been circumnavigated from east to west by a Phoenician fleet in Pharaonic times, and the Portuguese were determined to do the same from west to east and break the Muslim grip on the supply of spices from Asia to Europe, which was being drained of bullion to pay for them. In 1498, Admiral Vasco da Gama, having sailed his ships around the Cape of Good Hope, arrived at Calcutta in southern India, and having bombarded and plundered the city, returned to Lisbon with a cargo of immense value.
By 1515 the Portuguese had through the force of arms seized the Indian Ocean trade and, what is relevant to the course of events in Zambia, established themselves on the coasts of Mozambique and Angola. Although the Portuguese happily bought the ivory and copper that central Africa produced, the slave rapidly became and for centuries remained a major item of commerce. This monstrous crime against humanity was as easily condoned by believers on God as was the holocaust by the Nazis. The tentacles of the slave trade penetrated remorselessly into the deep interior of central Africa, where, during the same period, the Later Iron Age monarchies we have mentioned were being instituted. Domestic slavery was part of the social order of these central African states, with, for example, miscreants, criminals and prisoners of war held in bondage. Very rarely did the Portuguese have to go raiding to capture slaves: by selling the rulers goods such as cloth, rum, jewelry and firearms they drew the rulers into their colonial economy as suppliers of slave labor for the mines and plantations across the Atlantic. Inevitably some of the African rulers became raiders, preying on weaker peoples around them to maintain their supplies of imported luxuries. Beside the influence brought to bear on Zambia by the Swahili and the Portuguese, the effects of the Dutch (and subsequent British) colonisation of the Cape and its hinterland from 1652 onwards would also be felt.
Invasions from the South
Perhaps as a response to foreign intrusions in southern Africa, Shaka of the Zulu, and Nguni clan, set about creating a centralized militaristic state in the early 19th century. Surrounding peoples who did not voluntarily agree to absorptions in the growing Zulu empire had no option but to flee for survival. Three of these groups were to make a forceful impact on Zambia, 1500 km to the north of the Zulu heartland in eastern South Africa. One of these was a Sotho clan from today’s Orange Free State: its leader was Sebitwane and he named his people Kololo after his favourite wife. Another was Mzilikazi, one of Shaka’s generals who quarreled with him and moved away. After being defeated by the Dutch settlers in the Transvaal, he and his Ndebele invaded and conquered Western Zimbabwe.
The third, like Mzilikazi an Nguni, was Zongendaba. He led his followers out of Shaka’s domains in the 1820’s. These Ngoni (as they are known today) crossed the Zambezi in 1835 and went northwards as far as Lake Tanganyika where they settled for a while among the Bemba. In 1865, under Zongendaba’s successor Mpenzeni I, they established themselves permanently in what is now Zambia’s Eastern Province. Mzilikazi conquered Zimbabwe in 1837, while Sebitwane has crossed the Zambezi a few years previously and taken over territory just north of the Victoria Falls. From there he marched west to conquer the Lozi kingdom of the Upper Zambezi and founded his Kololo state. It would be a mistake to talk of Zambia at this time as a ‘country’. The area defined by the present boundaries was occupied by various kingdoms, for example the Bemba, the Lunda, the Kololo, the Chewa, the last much weakened by Ngoni pillaging. It has been argued that these entities, if left alone, could have developed into 20th Century nation states – central African Bhutans or Swazilands. But there are no ifs in history.
Missionaries and Colonizers
In 1840, David Livingstone, a 27 year old Scottish doctor and ordained minister, sailed from Britain to the Cape, to work as a medical evangelist with the London Missionary Society. He was to open central Africa to the gaze of British imperialists. Meanwhile, Portugal was planning to consolidate its African territories by uniting Angola and Mozambique across the central plateau. Unlike the Portuguese, the British knew next to nothing about the interior of this part of Africa. “Armchair Geographers” as Livingstone called them, thought the areas was a desert of blistering sand and were in the 19th Century as ignorant as their predecessors in the 18th, who had been nicely satirized by Jonathan Swift: ‘So geographers in Afric-maps, With Savage-Pictures fill their Gaps, And o-er uninhabitable Downs, Place Elephants for want of Towns.’
Livingstone was to give the true picture. He started his activities at the L.M.S.(London Missionary Society) station at Kuruman (in today’s Northern Cape), but soon moved north to found his own mission at Kolobeng, near Gaberone, Botswana, where he stayed for a decade. He made only one convert, Chief Sechele, who soon lapsed. Livingstone grew bored with conventional missionising and started going on longer and longer journeys of exploration, receiving help from a wealthy Englishman named William Cotton Oswell: the two of them were the first Europeans to visit Lake Ngami in the middle of the Kalahari, led there by Tswana guides who knew the way. Asked once to describe Livingstone, Oswell remarked: ‘Well to look at the man you would think nothing of him, but he is a plucky little devil.’
In 1851 Livingstone and Oswell crossed the Kalahari to visit Sebitwane, whom we have already met, on the Upper Zambezi. Oswell in his memoirs describes the King thus: ‘This really great Chief….just though stern, with a wonderful power of attaching men to himself.’ Livingstone was equally impressed and thought it a sign of God’s blessing that the Kololo language was similar to the Tswana he had become fluent in. But at Sebetwane’s he had his first sight of the slave trade – the Kololo nobles were wearing Manchester cloth obtained from the Portuguese in Angola in return for ivory and slaves. He and Oswell, who was also a staunch abolitionist, concluded that the only way to stop the trade would be through a new type of mission where a combination of Christianity and Commerce would lead to Civilisation: in fact a sort of Chr istian development program under which slaving would be replaced by ‘legitimate’ trade in for instance cotton, which grew in the area and for which there was a large market in Britain. The scheme would be managed by carefully selected Scottish settlers.
Sebitwane, though scarcely interested in Christianity itself agreed that Livingstone could establish a mission in his country, if only because it might afford him protection against his enemy Mzilikazi of the Ndebele, whose warrior kingdom bordered his own. Although Sebitwane died shortly after coming to this agreement, his successor, Sekeletu undertook to honor it, and Livingstone promised to establish the mission himself. All that remained was to find a suitable outlet to the sea. The most economical passage for anticipated cotton (and ivory) exports might be through the Portuguese port of Luanda on the Atlantic and Livingstone decided to see if there was a feasible route from Barotseland (as the Kololo Kingdom is called) to there. The journey was financed by Oswell and Sekeletu, and after an interlude at the Cape to get supplies, Livingstone set off from the Upper Zambezi in 1853. The return journey of over a year was a nightmare, the route totally unsuitable for the export trade. Livingstone then convinced himself that the Zambezi could be ‘God’s Highway’ to the Indian Ocean. Again with the support from Sekeletu, Livingstone marched off eastwards down the river. He ‘discovered, and named after Queen Victoria, the great Waterfall, which the Kololo has already called Mosi oa Tunya (The Smoke that Thunders). To the Leya, who lived right beside it and held it sacred, it was called Shongwe (Rainbow).
After reaching the port of Quelemaine, Mozambique, towards the end of 1856, Livingstone sailed to Britain by way of the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. He was welcomed in triumph as the greatest explorer of the age. Livingstone put his 15 months in Britain to good use. He wrote and published Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa (1857), a detailed and ideologically loaded account of his experiences, which became an inspirational best-seller. He made speeches up and down the land promoting his idea of a cotton exporting Christian venture in central Africa, with the Zambezi as its ‘highway’. He resigned from the London Missionary Society, but arranged for them to send a mission to the Kololo (thus by not going himself, breaking his promise to Sekeletu). Meanwhile, the church of England backed a Universities Mission to Central Africa, which Livingstone would have under his aegis. To crown his glory he was appointed leader of a government sponsored expedition to the Zambezi, the secret objective of which was to found a British colony on the ‘healthy highlands’ (Livingstone’s phrase) near the present town of Mazabuka in southern Zambia. There would be a port for steamers nearby at the confluence of the Zambezi and Kafue Rivers.
But the whole grand scheme collapsed in ruin and recrimination when it was found that the Cabora Basa gorge in Mozambique, which Livingstone had not inspected, made God’s Highway totally un-navigable. The LMS mission to the Kololo was likewise a complete failure as most of its members died. After the Cabora Basa fiasco, Livingstone turned his attention to the area around Lake Malawi (which he claimed falsely to have discovered) and placed the Anglican mission at the foot of the highlands to its south. Its personnel suffered deaths and disasters and the remnants were soon withdrawn. At the end of 1863 the mandate of the Zambezi Expedition expired. Livingstone returned to Britain under a cloud of failure and disappointment with nothing seemingly accomplished. By the end of 1865 he was off to Africa again, seeking another place for his colony and searching in vain for the source of the Nile. He was apparently lost in the heart of Africa when his much-dimmed reputation was suddenly restored by the newspaper man H.M. Stanley in his reports and in his book How I found Livingstone (1872).
Livingstone died, his ambitions unfulfilled, at Chief Chitambo’s village near the southern shore of the Bangweulu Swamps in Zambia in 1873. Stanley had convinced the world that Livingstone was a hero-saint, and his embalmed body, was carried to the coast by his servants and shipped to Britain, to be entombed with royal honors in Westminster Abbey, London. A memorial has been erected on the spot in his honor. Livingstone’s new reputation however, did not crumble to dust with his remains. Within a year it had inspired Scottish missionaries to begin work in Malawi in his name. Also in his name the French Huguenot Francois Coillard was established in Barotseland a decade later and other Protestant missionaries were moving into Zambia. Not to be outdone, the Roman Catholics sent Henri Dupont of the White Fathers to convert the Bemba. With considerable help from both Coillard and Dupont, the British imperialist Cecil John Rhodes’ British South African Company (BSAC) had been able to take over the whole of Zambia by the end of the 19th century: that Frenchmen should have served the British Empire so well is one of the quirks of history! In 1911 the territory was named Northern Rhodesia, its capital the Town of Livingstone, overlooking the Victoria Falls. (In 1935 the seat of government was moved to Lusaka). Rhodes ambition was to make Africa British from Cape to Cairo (hence the name of Lusaka’s main street, Cairo Rd). Even in Zambia did not contain much mineral wealth – an important consideration for BSAC shareholders – the territory had to be occupied of only to prevent the Portuguese from winning their age-old claim to the area. It was now that the country’s borders came to be drawn, by agreement with other colonial powers.
The BSAC’s treaties of submission with Zambia rulers were often obtained by fraud and deceit and rulers who refused to capitulate willingly, like Mpezeni of the Ngoni or Mwata Kazembe were dealt with by force. The BSAC was not a benevolent Society. It was a business that had to make a profit and its rule was stamped with that motive, though it may be said that by putting an end to the tyrannical rule of cruel kings, to the slave trade, and to Ngoni raiding wars, it initially improved the lot of many people. Any BSAC hopes for substantial revenue from mining were soon dashed and to obtain income it imposed the Hut Tax (payable in cash) on all African males who had reached puberty. Tax revolts were surpressed with bullets, defaulters has their houses burned down and were imprisoned if caught. Forced labour at a pittance by men trying to forestall these penalties became the order of the day – tens of thousands were sent to work in the South African or Southern Rhodesian mines: the railway between the Victoria Falls and Katanga (Zaire) was financed from the Hut Tax – which consistently turned a profit. Some 20 000 Zambia forcibly recruited as porters for the British forces in East Africa during the First World War perished of disease or debilitation. Parts of Zambia were virtually depopulated of able-bodies men, large tracts of land (including the fine area where Livingstone would have established his colony) were handed over to White settlers. Africans enjoyed little or no say in their destiny, but the basic education provided for them by missionaries was not long in producing a cadre of politically conscious individuals.
By 1923, Company rule had become an objectionable anachronism for the British government, and in that year, the Colonial Office took over the territory, proclaiming it a Protectorate where African interests would be paramount. As far as Africans were concerned, Colonial Office rule may have been more benign, in a paternalistic way, than the Company’s, but it was a form of apartheid under which they were subject to racial discrimination including pass laws and restrictions on the occupation of land, their political aspirations expected to be fulfilled through a revamped tribal system. Whites meanwhile were a privileged elite with a prote cted economic position and the beginnings of representative government. Persons of mixed blood, and immigrants, mainly traders, from what are today India and Pakistan held an ambivalent place under this regime. The discovery and opening up during the late 1920’s and 1930’s of the rich underground orebodies along the Zambian Copperbelt were soon to make that small region – 120 km long by forty km wide – one of the worlds’ most concentrated and renowned mining areas. A number of small gold and copper mines had operated during BSAC times, but they were hardly viable, though the lead and Zinc development at Kabwe (first called Broken Hill – where the prehistoric skull was found in 1921), was. The deep ore bodies of the Copperbelt, most of which were located beneath ancient workings, were promising enough to attract large-scale investment from abroad. Over the years, the industry came to be controlled by two large groups, the South African Anglo American Corporation and Roan Selection Trust with a predominantly US shareholding. The BSAC, which owned the mineral rights, was to earn handsome royalty payments – 83 million pounds by 1963.
Exploitation of the reserves required a large labor force and Zambians from all over the territory were drawn to the Copperbelt. While the migratory system of the past tended to disperse people, the Copperbelt concentrated them so that a permanent population of African miners, working in a modern, technically advanced industry soon took root. They were essential to the production of up to 800 000 tons of refined metal a year. Even when ‘tribal’ affiliations remained in force, they became increasingly irrelevant in this new situation: a miner was primarily a miner, not a Tonga or a Bemba, and the same applied to workers in the enterprises that sprang up around the mines. As much as colonial authorities promoted ‘tribalism’ in their system of direct rule through the chiefs, the Copperbelt broke it down, creating a unity of interest that was eventually to be expressed in the state motto ‘One Zambia One Nation’. The management of the mines and all skilled jobs were in the hands of Whites, many of them from South Africa and imbued with racialism. An occupational colour bar prevented Blacks rising above manual or menial labour, but strengthened their unity of purpose.
In 1935, they staged a strike against unfair taxes; in 1940 there was a pay strike with 13 miners killed. In 1948, the first African Mineworkers Union was formed; in 1955 there was 100 % stoppage over pay conditions that lasted 58 days – ending with victory for the miners. The mining companies now started seriously, if slowly, to move Africans into management. On the broadly political front, African nationalist feeling had been growing since the 1939-45 world war, in which many Zambians fought for the Allies in Burma. By the end of the 1940’s, the Northern Rhodesia African Nationalist Congress, led by Harry Nkumbula, had been formed out of various Welfare Associations initiated by the ‘mission graduates’ of the pre-war decades. The nationalist movement was given impetus in the early 1950’s when the Colonial Office agreed to have Northern Rhodesia joined in a federation with Nyasaland (Malawi), a British ‘protectorate’, and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Southern Rhodesia, under White settler rule, was bankrupt, and saw Northern Rhodesia, with its copper wealth as, to quote one of its political figures, a ‘milch cow’. Zambian opposition to Federation, in which few Whites and Asians were prominent, was not strong enough to prevent its imposition in 1953. During its ten years of existence, as Zambians had anticipated, hundreds of millions of pounds were siphoned off to Southern Rhodesia. The White settlers there built up and impressive economic structure while the ‘milch cow’ remained without a single decent tarred highway, let alone a university or even an adequate school system or health service.
In the mid- fifties, the failed campaign against Federation became a struggle for full independence. When battle-weary Nkumbula seemed inadequate to the task, his ANC split. Younger and more dynamic nationalists formed first the Zambia African National Congress (which was banned and its leaders imprisoned) and then in 1958, the United National Independence Party. When he came out of detention, Kenneth David Kaunda, a charismatic activist who had been a school teacher was given the leadership of the new party. UNIP engaged in a continuous and largely peaceful campaign for independence (though there was a violent uprising in the north if the country, put down by the Federal Army). By 1960 the British Government, in the famous ‘There is a wind of change blowing through Africa’ speech by the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, had acknowledged that the days of colonial (or minority) rule on the continent were coming to an end. The premier of the White dominated Federation Roy Welensky, threatened to declare unilateral independence from Britain, but was baulked. When Zambia trade unions, including now powerful miners, threw their weight behind UNIP, the nationalist momentum became unstoppable. Intense and often violent rivalry between Kaunda’s UNIP and Nkumbula’s ANC was eventually neutralized in a transitional coalition government.
The Federation was dissolved in 1963, its only enduring monument the Kariba Dam across the Zambezi, intended by the federalists to bind Northern and southern Rhodesia forever. In January the following year Zambia’s first universal adult suffrage elections were held and though the ANC performed well in a few substantial areas, UNIP won convincingly, Kaunda becoming Prime Minister. Then at midnight on 24th October 1964, Zambia became an independent republic with him as president. Kaunda remained in office for 27 years. Although during his early years great strides were made in the areas of education, health and infrastructure, his attempts to ‘decolonise the economy by nationalising it completely, produced only inefficiency, corruption and a disastrous decline. His one party participatory democracy; which gave UNIP sole power, soon fossilized into an autocracy maintained by police-state methods. In 1990 an obviously collapsing economy together with political frustration, led to serious food riots and an attempted military coup d’etat that had people dancing in the streets. When the disorders could be halted with only firearms, opposition to the regime became so deep and widespread and the demand for change so urgent that Kaunda had to concede. [See More Notes Under Zambia Government]
Zambia’s contemporary culture is a blend of values, norms, material and spiritual traditions of more than 70 ethnically diverse people. Most of the tribes of Zambia moved into the area in a series of migratory waves a few centuries ago. They grew in numbers and many traveled in search of establishing new kingdoms, farming land and pastures. Before the colonial period, the region now known as Zambia was the home of a number of free states. Each having comprehensive economic links with each other and the outside world along trade routes to the east and west coast of Africa. The main exports were copper, ivory and slaves in exchange for textiles, jewelry, salt and hardware. During the colonial period, the process of industrialization and urbanization saw ethnically different people brought together by economic interests. This, as well as the very definite influence of western standards, generated a new culture without conscious effort of politically determined guidelines. Many of the rural inhabitants however, have retained their indigenous and traditional customs and values. After Independence in 1964, the government recognized the role culture was to play in the overall development of a new nation and began to explore the question of a National identity. Institutions to protect and promote Zambia’s culture were created, including the National Heritage Conservation Commission. Private museums were also founded and cultural villages were established to promote the expression of artistic talents.