Subsistence and Commercial Activities. In a habitat characterized by great seasonal and ecological variation, it is not surprising that the Lozi subsistence economy is both mixed and complex. Lozi agriculture produces such staples as bulrush millet, cassava, sorghum, and maize, plus a number of lesser crops, including groundnuts, sweet potatoes, beans, and melons. Agricultural crops, methods, and intensity vary with the location of the plot, the type of soil, the amount of moisture, and the population's needs. Most cultivation is done with hoes, the plow being a relatively recent, and not always practical, introduction. Fallowing, manuring, crop rotation, and construction of drainage ditches are known to the Lozi and applied where deemed necessary. Most Lozi also keep domestic animals—cattle in particular, but also poultry, goats, and sheep. Hunting, collecting, and fishing are all important adjuncts to the subsistence economy, and the Lozi use a variety of technical equipment in these activities.
Industrial Arts. The Lozi are skilled ironworkers. Blacksmiths smelt the iron ore obtained from stream and river beds and from swamp soils to produce axe, hoe, and mattock heads, snuff spoons, crocodile hooks, knife blades, dagger blades, iron ankle-rings, hammers, and other items. A skilled and experienced blacksmith will often embellish his work with punched ornamentations or bosses. Many utilitarian pots are vase shaped and without handles; some of these are decorated around the neck with patterns of a lighter or darker color, others are highly polished to give the appearance of glaze. Large urn-shaped maize bins are made of unbaked clay and also have clay lids. On the front of these vessels, close to the bottom, is a semicircular opening protected by an interior slide, which may be lowered or raised by horizontal handles.
The average Lozi can carve a knobkerrie or a handle for an axe or a hoe; the Lozi also produce excellent dugout canoes. Many of the wooden artifacts used by the Lozi, such as stools, bowls, and dishes, are probably obtained in trade from neighboring tribes.
Trade. Traditionally, economic exchange was carried on through barter and redistribution by the king, and trade between the Lozi and surrounding bush tribes formed a very important part of the economy. Fish and cattle, held in abundance by the Lozi, were bartered for bulrush millet; cassava meal; iron; many types of woods, bark, and grasses; and various tribal specialties of the bush people. Trade between the Lozi and the outside world began to develop in the nineteenth century, particularly with Arab and European traders. Although Loziland had few profitable exports, owing to its remoteness from the outside world, the Lozi did have ivory, beeswax, and slaves, which were exchanged for luxury items of the industrialized world. As the economic balance changed during World War II, cattle and dried fish began to be exported to centers of industry in the Rhodesias (now Zambia and Zimbabwe). Today the Lozi are part of a full-fledged cash economy with market mechanisms.
Division of Labor. The division of labor in subsistence pursuits largely follows sex lines. Men are responsible for livestock, hunting, most of the fishing, and the more arduous agricultural tasks; women do most of the work in agriculture and collecting, a little fishing, and most of the routine domestic chores. Occupational specialization was limited in the past, but has become increasingly important. Migration for wage labor opportunities has become a major means of support for the Lozi.
Land Tenure. In traditional Lozi society, all land and its products belonged to the king, and the king was obligated to provide his subjects with land and protection. In addition, every subject had the right to fish in public waters, hunt on public lands, and to use the natural raw materials of the land (e.g., clay, iron ore, grasses, reeds, trees). In return for the use of the land and its products, the king had the right to claim the allegiance of everyone living on his land, to demand tribute from their produce, to control the building of villages, and to pass laws affecting land tenure and use. In addition, the king retained direct control over unallocated land, had residuary rights to land for which an heir could not be found, and potentially had the right to give unused land to landless people or to use it for his own purposes or for public works. Land allotted by the king to villages was held in the name of the village headman, who, in turn, distributed parcels of land to his fellow villagers.
When an individual is given land from the king, he doesn't really own it. He has ownership of, or access to, that land only as long as he occupies his position within the village. Valued property, such as garden plots and fishing sites, were attached to particular villages and, specifically, to certain individuals or families within those villages. If a man leaves a village, he loses his rights to all land within that village. Once land has been acquired by right of blood or adoption, a family member (male) has the right to use it and to transmit it to his own heirs, and this right is protected by the courts, even against the wishes of the headman.