Ndembu - History and Cultural Relations

Between 1750 and 1800 the Ndembu, led by their chief, Kanongesha, migrated from the large Northern Lunda (or Luunda) Empire of the paramount chief Mwantiamvwa in the Kapanga District of the southern Congo. In their new home, they abandoned their former patrilineal descent system in favor of the local matrilineal pattern and also lost their centralized organization. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Ovimbundu slave traders and Chokwe and Lwena raiders took many slaves from among the Ndembu and sold them to the Portuguese for guns and cloth. The British South Africa Company began to administer Mwinilunga District in 1906, and missionaries soon arrived. In 1913 many Ndembu fled over the border to Angola to avoid taxation.

In the 1930s the Ndembu began to travel for work to the new copper-producing cities in central Zambia and the Katanga region of the Congo. A money economy took root. It was not until 1964 that Zambia won independence from the British. From 1964 to 1970, because of high copper prices, the gross national product of Zambia rose to two thousand times its value in the early 1960s. That prosperity also reached the Ndembu. In the early 1970s prices slumped, however, and an endemic depression developed. The Ndembu population had risen sharply during the copper boom but did not fall when hard times arrived. Maize production in Mwinilunga fell lamentably below government targets, and the people have been hard put to feed themselves on dwindling crops of cassava (manioc).

The Ndembu tend to hold themselves politically apart from their neighbors. Formerly, they traded cassava to the copper towns; nowadays they supply pineapples to a government canning factory. In the 1970s and 1980s they peacefully absorbed a number of refugees from war-torn Angola. Their present cultural relations occur mainly in the religious sphere. There is much interaction and visiting in the form of conference meetings of the Christian Fellowship, the Apostles of John Maranke, and Baha'i adherents.

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: