Lozi - Sociopolitical Organization



During the days of the Lozi Kingdom, there was no higher territorially based organization than the village, except for the kingdom as a whole. Beginning with British rule, however, territorial organization was introduced, with villages organized into districts, districts organized into Barotse Province, and the province, in turn, forming a part of a larger political unit or state. In contrast, the Lozi Kingdom was hierarchically organized into a system of nonterritorial political sectors. Members of a sector owed allegiance to the sector head, a man who held a senior title in the Lozi court. These sectors were dispersed throughout the kingdom and served as judicial, military, and administrative units.

The Lozi Kingdom was highly stratified socially. At the top was the royalty ( linabi and bana bamulena ), composed of all those who could trace their descent from a king bilaterally within four to five generations. Husbands of princesses and commoners related to royalty were also of high status. Below them were the ordinary commoners. Slaves and serfs formed the lowest strata. (The institutions of serfdom and slavery were abolished in 1906.) The king was the ultimate authority. In earlier times, a chief princess held almost equivalent power over the southern portion of the kingdom, but British rule eroded her powers. In addition, the Lozi courts had a number of stewards, councilors, and members of royalty, all of whom participated in decision making. The most important office next to that of the king was that of ngambela, chief councilor, sometimes referred to as the "imperial chancellor," a commoner who represented the commoners' interests in the court. Allocation of power within the Lozi power structure was highly complex and dichotomized. Commoner interests were balanced against royal interests from the top down.

The prerogatives and functions of the king and his courts have undergone steady erosion since the beginning of British colonial rule. As part of a larger political unit, the king was no longer the ultimate power. Power in judicial matters was first limited to minor legal cases and later placed completely within the Zambian judicial system. Similarly, the right to collect tribute was taken from the king. By 1965, most of the governance of the Lozi was through Zambian national agencies, and the right to distribute land rights was virtually the only power that the king could still exercise.

Sanctions maintaining relationships among the Lozi are general and diffuse; breaches of their rules lead to far more serious consequences than a lawsuit in court. Penalties applied to an erring kinsman may range not only from loss of rights to cattle and land, but also the loss of support from fellow kinsmen in various economic endeavors. Conscience and sentiments are major factors in inducing conformity and in making redress for wrongs. Generally, the settlement of everyday problems and the administration of justice is handled at the village level. Should the verdict not satisfy the parties involved, the case is passed along to the next level in a hierarchial court system, until satisfaction is obtained.

Historically, warfare was very common among the Lozi. Lozi kings fought not so much to enrich themselves, although they obviously increased their power and prestige through successful military operations, but to obtain land and cattle, to add to their subject population, and to extend the area of tribute-exchange in which the conquered shared. At the height of their power, the Lozi ruled over some twenty-five tribes of from 300,000 to 400,000 people spread over an area of some 200,000 square kilometers. After British rule was established in 1890, the Lozi domain was restricted to Barotse Province of Rhodesia (later, Zambia). In traditional society, rebellion against the authority of the king was common. Often contenders for power were the king's councilor or groups of councilors, who had enlisted a prince of the royal family on their behalf. When a group of councilors mutinied against a king, because of the king's policies or because he favored another group of councilors, they attacked neither the kingship itself nor the rights of the royal family to it. Each party put forward its royal candidate for the throne and fought in his name. Clearly, commoners could only seek power by serving their own royal candidate for the kingship.

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