Ndembu - Orientation

Identification. The Ndembu constitute the southern arm of the ancient empire of the Lunda in the Congo. Their domain was trisected in 1905 by the territorial boundaries created by the European nations that annexed central southern Africa. These territories were named, until independence, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), the Belgian Congo (now Zaire), and Portuguese Angola (now Angola). Despite of their peripheral and rural position, the Ndembu have experienced considerable economic change. They have been closely studied, particularly with regard to their complex ritual.

Location. The Ndembu inhabit the western portion of Mwinilunga District in Zambia's Northwestern Province, (approximately 11° to 12° S and 24° E), in territory roughly 560 kilometers from the nearest sizable city. The land forms part of the plateau region of northwestern Zambia, consisting of mostly poor laterite soils. It was formerly under high savanna forest with evergreen gallery forest along the rivers but has undergone considerable deforestation around settled areas. Owing to its situation close to the Zambezi-Congo divide, it is a source area for many rivers. Precipitation, which begins each year in November and ends in April, varies from about 100 to about 150 centimeters. The average low temperature is 7° C in June; during the "second winter" of the tropics (January through February), the temperature briefly dips to around 15° C. In September and October the average high temperature is 32° C.

Demography. The Ndembu, numbering about 40,000 in Zambia, constitute about 1 percent of the total population. The average population density is around 2.8 per square kilometer, increasing to 18 in settled areas beside the roads and a much higher figure in townships. The infant mortality rate is about 140 per thousand.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Ndembu language, which is part of the West Central Bantu Language Zone, is agglutinative with ten noun classes.

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