Identification. The Zande, whose homelands lie within three modern African states (Republic of the Sudan, Zaire, Central African Republic), constitute a large and complex amalgam of originally distinct ethnic groups, united by culture and, to a considerable extent, by political institutions and by language. Because they originated in kingdoms founded by conquest, however, some scattered enclaves of earlier peoples still speak their original languages.
Location. The Zande homeland extends for some 800 kilometers from west to east (13° to 30° E, i.e., from the Kotto River, a tributary of the Ubangi, to the foothills of the Bahr-alGhazal watershed) and about 400 kilometers from north to south (from 6° to 3° N, most of their land lying north of the Uele River). Most, therefore, live in sparsely wooded savanna country—a vast plain crossed by many small, tree-fringed streams—but the Zande of the Congo Basin live on the threshold of tropical rain forest, which grows denser with proximity to the equator. The habitat, climate, rainfall, and vegetation are thus quite divergent; in general, the rains fall from April to October, but the pattern varies not only geographically but also over time.
Demography and Linguistic Affiliation. There are said to be approximately a million Zande (about 300,000 of them Nzakara speakers). Of these, about 400,000 live in Zaire, 300,000 in Sudan, and 300,000 in the Central African Republic—where the population is said to be decreasing. In terms of Greenberg's categories (1963), the Zande language belongs to the Eastern Branch of the Adamawa-Eastern Language Family in the Niger-Congo Group; a newer classification places Zande within the Ubangi Branch of the Adamawa-Ubangi Group. Zande and Nzakara speech forms are mutually comprehensible, although these languages differ in some 30 percent of their lexicon.