Identification. "Lunda" is the most widely used English term to refer to literally hundreds of social groups whose oral histories link them in varying ways to a far-flung empire that controlled trade and tribute in much of Central Africa from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries. Local names for groups tend to reflect either geographical position, topographical features, or names of founding lineages of local ruling dynasties.
Location. The Lunda are broadly distributed in eastern Angola, southern Zaire, and northern and western Zambia. Most of this territory is characterized by high plateau ranging between 1,200 and 1,500 meters above sea level. The vegetation-soil types are generally described as Northern Brachystegia woodlands on clayey plateau soils in the extreme north, Northern Brachystegia woodlands on Kalahari Contact soils in the central region, and Cryptosepalum forest and Cryptosepalum-Brachystegia woodland on upland and central sands in the south. The landscape, however, is broken up into myriad micro-ecological niches, corresponding to bands of changing soil type and variations in elevation. The most common are thick forest, forest of low stunted trees, gallery forest along rivers, grassy plains, and sparse shrub land at the edge of plains. There are three rather distinct seasons. There is a rainy season that runs from roughly September to April, during which time 15 to 28 centimeters of rain may fall. May to July is the cold, dry season, during which time the temperature regularly drops down to around 4° C, and night frost sometimes occurs in low-lying valleys. August to September is the hot dry season, with temperatures regularly soaring into the 30s (C).
Demography. No reliable census figures exist for the number of individuals who consider themselves Lunda. A rough estimate is 500,000 in Angola, 750,000 in Zaire, and 200,000 in Zambia. Population densities range as low as 0.8 persons per square kilometer in some rural areas, but reach extremely high ratios in urban areas of all three countries.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Lunda language is Western Bantu at its root, with some overlay of Eastern Bantu and with local influences from the languages of people who existed in Central Africa before the Bantu expansion. A core vocabulary is mutually intelligible over vast areas, but understanding decreases as one moves away from the central point. Some groups, such as the Luapula Lunda, have almost completely adopted the language of the people among whom they settled.