Lunda - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Lunda individuals tend to be embedded in social networks made up of numerous distinct, yet often overlapping, social units. These include the household, the village, the matrilineage, local cohorts, ritual cults, religious communities, occupational associations, civic clubs, and perhaps political parties. These social units vary in their methods of recruitment, the claims they make on the individual, and the benefits they offer in return. Individual commitment to particular social units varies over the course of a lifetime as people's ambitions, capacities, and strategies change. Lunda enjoy a great deal of flexibility in residential affiliation and choice of personal association. The social landscape is fluid and ever-changing.

Hierarchy, expressed in an idiom of age, is the dominant feature of traditional social organization. Notions of hierarchy are embedded in the language; they are expressed in routine greetings, and they set the norms of daily social interaction. The hierarchy extends from the most recently born up to the paramount chief. It cuts across lineages, villages, and national boundaries.

Political Organization. Historically, the Lunda are remarkable for their drive to maintain local autonomy while simultaneously building up wide-ranging social, economic, and political networks. During the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries, the Lunda king at Musumba (Mwantiyanvwa) was able to exact tribute from wide areas of Central Africa. Otherwise, he made few demands and exerted little influence on daily village life. Headmen oversee the affairs of each village. The longest-standing headman in a particular area is generally recognized as the senior headman. Subchiefs preside over clearly defined territories. The power of headmen, senior headmen, and chiefs resides in their ability to mobilize a consensus on local issues. They possess little coercive force and cannot dictate the course of events. Shifting agriculture and residential mobility enable individuals to simply leave the territory of an unpopular leader.

Today the central governments of Zaire and Zambia continue to recognize traditional leaders as the custodians of rural lands. There are, however, national structures (i.e., executive, legislative, and judicial bureaucracies of government) superimposed on the traditional framework, as well as representatives of the ruling political party. In reality, the relationship between government bureaucrats, party functionaries, and traditional leaders is fluid, highly variable, and often quite volatile. Functional power tends to gravitate toward the most powerful local personality rather than toward particular positions.

Conditions brought about by the civil war in Angola have not been conducive to the formation of any stable political organization among the Lunda of that country.

Social Control. Most petty crimes and misdeeds are handled by informal local gatherings presided over by headmen, senior headmen, and chiefs. The focus is primarily on restitution, through the imposition of fines paid to the aggrieved party. Individuals dissatisfied with the outcome of local negotiations may carry the case first to local constitutional courts, and then to higher courts of appeal. There is a clear preference, however, for dealing with these problems locally, as constitutional courts tend to punish offenders by imposing fines paid to the court or by incarcerating the offender, rather than requiring restitution to the aggrieved party. Serious crimes, as well as those committed in urban areas, are mandated directly to constitutional courts.

Conflict. Most of Lunda territory is lightly policed, and serious conflicts are rare. The local docket is dominated by cases of untethered domestic animals straying into neighbors' gardens, accusations of adultery, and the occasional drunken brawl, most of which are swiftly resolved. In Angola, however, conflict of a military nature was a constant concern during the civil war.

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