History of the Ascendency of the Lunda Kingdom

Luba (Baluba) Ethnic group of present-day Zambia and Zaire. The Luba are regarded as one of the earliest peoples to practice Ironworking in Central Africa. Their ancestors were farmers who, as early as 400 CE, inhabited the Lake Kisale region of Katanga.

Oral tradition mentions Luba Chiefs in Malawi and Zambia, but very little is known about their early history.

The area in which the Luba lived was well suited to the growth of powerful Chiefdoms. The copper mines of the Katanga region were nearby; the soil was fertile and good for growing crops, especially cereals; nearby woodlands provided hunting grounds; waterways were an excellent source of fish; and ease of movement through the savannah stimulated trade.

The Luba were an agricultural people whose communities slowly grew into small trading and farming chiefdoms.

Between 1300 and 1400 they came under the sway of the Nkongolo Dynasty, which, in turn, was conquered in the early 1400s by Ilunga Kalala, whom oral tradition describes as a fierce hunter.

Ilunga Kalala expanded the kingdom’s boundaries and took control of the Katanga copper mines and the trade routes to East Africa. Later in the 15th century, members of the Luba aristocracy left the kingdom and moved west, where they centralized their power among the Lunda people, beginning the ascendency of the Lunda Kingdom.

The Establishment of the Lunda Kingdom

The Lunda Kingdom Monarchy was taking shape in Austral Equatorial Africa by 1450, along the upper Kasai River.

Some histories place the foundation of the Kingdom of the influential Bantu-speaking Lunda around 1450, when members of the Luba aristocracy - disappointed in their failed attempts to gain power in their own land - moved south-west into Lunda territory. Other accounts point to an earlier starting date for the Kingdom but note that the Lunda state remained a loose confederation and did not develop strong centralized government until about 1450.

The Luba newcomers married into the families of the Lunda Chieftains. Initially they made no major changes in Lunda political structures; they simply collected tribute from their Lunda subjects. In time, however, the Luba Chiefs began centralizing their authority, paving the way for the emergence of the Lunda Empire that became a major regional trading state from the 16th through the 19th centuries.

Administratively the Lunda Kingdom practised “perpetual kingship,” whereby a new king assumed the identity of the one he replaced. In essence, the successor to the title became the previous king. Through perpetual kingship, alliances and agreements could remain in force from generation to generation because they were made by the “same” king.

Tchokwe (Cokwe, Ciokwe, Bajokwe) Bantu-speaking Central African people. A mixture of many indigenous and immigrant peoples, they trace their origins to the Mbuti, hunter-gatherers who came under the demonstration of agricultural by Bantu-speakers about the sixth or seventh century. Around 1500 the Tchokwe came under the rule of the Lunda Kingdom when a disinherited Lunda Prince moved west into the area in southern Austral Equatorial Africa. Conquering the people in his path, the Prince created a Kingdom for the Tchokwe people.


The Tchokwe

On a contemporary map of Central Africa, three national, colonial-drawn borders artificially cut through the savannahs where the Tchokwe (also Cokwe, Tshokwe, Tutshokwe, Quioco, Bajok) people live in southern Zaire, northeastern Angola, and northwestern Zambia. Every year, many families, travelling along footpaths to visit relatives on the other side, cross back and forth across these often invisible boundaries.

Approximately 900,000 Tchokwe live in Moxico, Lunda Norte and South Lunda another 800,000 in Congo (formerly, Zaire), and 100,000 in Zambia. (See Bastin, 1966). All of these present-day Tchokwe (singular Kachokwe) trace their origins to Lunda nobles once living in the Nkalaany Valley of western Shaba, in today’s Republic of the Congo.

Origin Myth

According to oral history as recounted by Lunda and Tchokwe peoples alike, the Lunda nobles began moving out from the Nkalaany Valley in the sixteenth century when Chibinda Ilunga, a Muluba hunter from the East, arrived in the Lunda court and married the Lunda queen, Lweji (Lima 1971, 41–65; de Heusch 1982, 180–82).

Discontented with his rule, the queen’s brothers decided to emigrate. The Lunda diaspora includes the following peoples, who all trace their ancestors to these emigrating chiefs: Tchokwe, Minungu, Lwena (also known as Luvale), Luchazi, Songo, Lunda Ndembu, and Lunda of Kazembe. One of the brothers, Ndumba wa Tembo, settled in Saurimo, Angola, and it was his maternal nephew, Mwachisenge, who was given the title of supreme chief of the Tchokwe.

This same title, “Mwachisenge,” together with a special bracelet (lukano), has been passed down through the generations from maternal uncle to maternal nephew, as a sign of the highest chief among the Tchokwe. The present-day bearer of the bracelet and Mwachisenge title lives in Samutoma village, of Shaba province in Congo.

Historical Expansion The Tchokwe have been known throughout history as independent, indomitable warriors, hunters, and traders. By the eighteenth century, the Tchokwe had established power over the matrilineal peoples around them and had claimed rights to the farming and hunting. During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the Tchokwe were known as excellent hunters and traders all along the trade route from Central Africa to the Angolan coast, where they traded with Europeans. They exchanged ivory, wax, and male slaves for European weapons, mostly guns. In raids on other peoples en route, they captured the men as slaves and integrated the women and children into Tchokwe society through marriage. Thus they assimilated other peoples and expanded throughout the area.

Not until the 1880s did the Tchokwe return to the Congo, when a group of Lunda hired Tchokwe warriors to fight for them in Shaba province. For a brief time, these warriors gained victories over the Lunda (1880–1887) and thus facilitated the Tchokwe expansion into Shaba as well. The Tchokwe continued to expand north and west out of Angola until the late 1930s (See Miller 1970, 175–201 for Tchokwe history).

Village Life and Social Organization Tchokwe independence and ease of assimilating other peoples can be attributed in part to their political and social organization. Tchokwe political power is decentralized. Though all chiefs recognize the title Mwachisenge as a sign of supreme chieftanship, Chief Mwachisenge of Samutoma is a ritual chief who has little practical influence over the lives of Tchokwe people beyond his own village.

Tchokwe villages are insular, socially cohesive units. Though matrilineal, the women move to the homes of their spouses after marriage. A group of brothers and maternal uncles, along with their wives and children, build a village together. Often small, ranging from forty to eighty people, these villages frequently move their locations in search of better fishing, hunting, gathering, or farming areas or to escape sorcery accusations or conflicts with relatives.

As subsistence farmers and roaming hunters, the Tchokwe are extremely mobile and thus, of necessity, live in very small villages. This kind of self-sufficiency enables the Tchokwe to maintain their language and customs as they move from one locale to another and from one country to the next. As a consequence, their way of life survives times of great upheaval and change.

Folklore and Fame The Tchokwe’s reputation among neighbouring groups in Central Africa differs somewhat from their reputation in the West. Their neighbours know them as great hunters, sorcerers, diviners, and healers; they both fear their sorcerers and visit their healers. In a similar vein, Africanist scholars remember the Tchokwe for their history as expansionists, for their assimilation of other peoples along the trade routes of Central Africa. In contrast, many Westerners, especially art connoisseurs, recognize the Tchokwe for their artistic traditions. They admire the remarkable masks, ancestor figurines, carved chairs, and divining baskets, which can be viewed in museum displays on African life and art throughout the world.

Travellers and researchers, from the early 1900s on, have collected and/or documented Tchokwe arts, that is, the more visible, striking features of Tchokwe life: the ancestor figurines (mahamba), carved chairs (yitwamo), and masks (akishi) from the mukanda initiations (Bastin 1961; Crowley 1975).

Early twenty-first-century researchers study Tchokwe life in greater detail, paying attention to local concerns and daily routines; they document and analyze artistic expression and ritual performances in the contexts of Tchokwe daily life. For example, such studies concern the practices of healers (mbuki), diviners (tahi), and sorcerers (nganga), and the lives of women and women’s initiation rites (mwadi) (See Bastin 1982, 1988; Fretz 1987; Jordan 1993; Kubik 1988, 1993; Sesembe 1981; Yoder 1988).

Unlike these more easily observed and transported objects, the verbal arts have been minimally described until recent times. For instance, the documents of Tchokwe tales (yishima) from the early 1900s, translated into Western languages such as Portuguese, lack the vitality and aesthetic qualities of Tchokwe storytelling as performed for local audiences (See Barbosa 1973; Havenstein 1976).

Current studies focus on the teller’s interactions with the audience and record both verbal and nonverbal features of the performance. Such research includes documentation of both artistic and everyday forms of speech: for example, narrating and telling proverbs (kuta yishima), indirect speaking and telling parables (kubwa nyi misende), recounting historical events or recent news (kulweza sanoo), and “just talking” (kuta pande) (Fretz 1987; 1994; 1995).

Historically, whenever the Tchokwe relocated, they carried with them their knowledge of healing, divining, and sorcery, their renowned abilities in mask making and carving of ancestral figurines, and their oral tradition as represented by myths, tales, and proverbs. Thus, they created a web of interconnected traditions that still transcends the colonially imposed national boundaries.

Today, they continue to traverse the borders that separate their families and clans. However, as the political situations in the Republic of the Congo, in Angola, and in Zambia shift, the alliances between these neighbouring countries change, often making their journeys more difficult and urgent. Not only do they cross the border for family visits and for the lucrative diamond trade, but they also escape as refugees from war-torn areas. In addition, these erstwhile hunters and traders now cross more intangible, intellectual frontiers through radio broadcasts, education abroad, and leadership positions in international organizations.

As communication with the rest of the world accelerates, the opportunity for travel beyond their homelands increases for the more educated and well-connected. Having learned throughout their history to be resilient, to assimilate other cultures, and to create syncronistic arts, the Tchokwe, no doubt, will continue to improvise on new experiences and, thereby, both retain and revitalize their traditions.

References Barbosa, A. 1973. Folclore angolano, ciquenta cantos quicos, texto bilinque. Luanda: I.I.C.A.

Bastin, Marie-Louise. 1982. La sculpture tshokwe. Translated by J.B. Donne. Arcueil, France: Offset Arcueil.

—. 1988. “Entites Spirituelles des Tshokwe (Angola).” Cuanderni Poro 5:9–59.

Crowley, Daniel J. 1975. Aesthetic Value and Professionalism in African Art: Three Cases from the Katanga Chokwe. In The Traditional Artist in African Societies, ed. Warren L.d’Azevedo. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

De Heusch, Luke. 1982. The Drunken King or The Origin of the State, trans. Roy Willis. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Fretz, Rachel I. 1995. Answering in Song: Listener Responses in Yishima Performances. Western Folklore 9(2):95–112.

—. 1994. Through Ambiguous Tales: Women’s Voices in Tchokwe Storytelling. Oral Tradition, 9, no. 1:230–50.

—. 1987. Storytelling among the Tchokwe of Zaire: Narrating Skill and Listener Responses. Ph.D. Dissertation, Folklore and Mythology, UCLA.

Havenstein, A. 1976. Fables et contes anaolais. St Augustin bei Bonn: Verlag des Anthropos-Institus.

Holdredge, Claire Parker, and Kimball Young. 1927. Circumcision Rites among the Bajok. American Anthropologist n.s. 29:661–9.

Jordan, Manuel. 1993. Le Masque comme processus ironique: Les makishi du Nord-Ouest de la Zambie. Anthrooolosie et Societe 17, no, 3:41–61.

Kubik, Gerhard. 1981. Mukanda na makishi—Circumcision school and masks—Bescheidunasschule und Masken. Berlin: Museum fur Volkerkunde, Musikethnologische Abteilung.

—. 1993. Makisi Nvau Mawiko: Maskentraditionen im bantu-sorachiaen Afrika. Munich: Trckster Verlag.

Lima, Mesquitela. 1971. Fonctions sociolosiaues des fiaurines de culte “hamba” dans la societe et dans la culture tshokwe. Luanda: Institute de Investicacao Cientifica de Angola.

McCulloh, Merran. 1951. The Southern Lunda and Related Peoples (Northern Rhodesia, Ancrola. Belgian Conao). Ethnographic Survey of Africa, West Central Africa, Part I. London: International African Institute.

Miller, Joseph C. 1970. Tcokwe Trade and Conquest in the 19th Century. In Pre-Colonial African Trade, ed. Richard Gray and David Birmingham. London: Oxford University Press.

—. 1988. Wav of Death: Merchant Capitalism and the Angolan Slave Trade 1730–1830. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Sesembe, Nange Kudita wa. 1974. Tshikumbi, Tshiwila et Mungonge: Trois rites d’initiation chex les Tutshokwe du Kasai Occidental. Cultures au Zaire et en Afriaue 5:111–35.

—. 1981. L’homme et la femme dans la society et la culture Tchokwe: de l’anthropologie et la philosophic. Unpublished dissertation. Universite Catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.

Yoder, P.Stanley, 1981. Disease and Illness Among Cokwe: An Ethnomedical Perspective. Ph.D. Dissertation, Anthropology, UCLA.


Language : Wuchokwe (Bantu)

Neighboring Nations : Luba, Lunda, Lwena, Ovimbundu, Songo

Types of Art : The Tchokwe are well known for art objects produced to celebrate and validate the royal court. These objects include ornately carved stools and chairs used as thrones. Most of the sculptures are portraits, which represent the royal lineage. Staffs, scepters, and spears are among other implements sculpted to celebrate the court.
History: Tchokwe origin can perhaps be traced to the Mbundu and Mbuti Pygmies. Between 1600 and 1850 they were under considerable influence from the Lunda states and were centrally located in Angola. In the second half of the 19th century though, considerable development of the trade routes between the Tchokwe homelands and the Angolan coast led to increased trade of ivory and rubber. Wealth acquired from this allowed the Tchokwe kingdom to expand, eventually overtaking the Lunda states that had held sway over them for so long. Their success was short-lived, however. The effects of overexpansion, disease, and colonialism resulted in the fragmentation of Tchokwe power.

Economy : The Tchokwe grow manioc, cassava, yams, and peanuts. Tobacco and hemp are also grown for snuff, and maize is grown for beer. Domesticated livestock is also kep, and includes sheep, goats, pigs, and chickens. Protein is added through hunting. There is an exclusive association of big game hunters known as Yanga, but everyone contributes to the capture of small game animals. The farming and processing of agricultural products is done almost exclusively by women among the Tchokwe. Slash and burn techniques and crop rotation are practiced to conserve the land naturally.

Political Systems : The Tchokwe do not recognize a paramount leader, but instead offer allegiance to local chiefs who inherit their positions from the maternal uncle. The chiefs (mwana nganga) consult with a committee of elders and ritual specialists before making decisions. Villages are divided into manageable sections which are governed by family headmen. All members of Tchokwe society are divided into two categories: those who are descended from the founding matrilineal lines and those who are descended from former enslaved populations.

Religion : The Tchokwe recognize Kalunga, the god of creation and supreme power, and a series of nature and ancestral spirits (mahamba). These spirits may belong to the individual, family, or the community, and neglecting them is sure to result in personal or collective misfortune. Evil spirits may also be activated by sorcerers (wanga) to cause illness, and this must be counteracted to regain health. In order to accomplish this individuals normally consult with a diviner (nganga), who attempts to uncover the source of the patient's problem. The most common form of divination among the Tchokwe is basket divination, which consists of the tossing of up to sixty individual objects in a basket. The configuration of the objects is then "read" by the diviner to determine the cause of illness.


The hyphenated Nation of the Lunda-Tchokwe. As the hyphenation implies, the category comprises at least two subsets, the origins of which are known to be different and the events leading to their inclusion in a single set are recent. The Lunda alone were a congeries of peoples brought together in the far-flung Lunda Empire (seventeenth century to nineteenth century) under the hegemony of a people calling themselves Ruund, its capital in the eastern section of Zaire's Katanga Province (present-day Shaba Province).

Lunda is the form of the name used for the Ruund and for themselves by adjacent peoples to the south who came under Ruund domination. In some sources, the Ruund are called Northern Lunda, and their neighbours are called Southern Lunda. The most significant element of the latter, called Ndembu (or Ndembo), lived in Zaire and Zambia.

The people with whom the northward-expanding Tchokwe came into contact were chiefly Ruund speakers. The economic and political decline of the empire by the second half of the nineteenth century and the demarcation of colonial boundaries ended Ruund political domination over those elements beyond the Zairian borders.

The Tchokwe, until the latter half of the nineteenth century a small group of hunters and traders living near the headwaters of the Cuango and Cassai rivers, were at the southern periphery of the Lunda Empire and paid tribute to its head. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the Tchokwe became increasingly involved in trading and raiding, and they expanded in all directions, but chiefly to the north, in part absorbing the Ruund and other peoples. In the late nineteenth century, the Tchokwe went so far as to invade the capital of the much-weakened empire in Katanga. As a consequence of this Tchokwe activity, a mixed population emerged in parts of Zaire as well as in Angola, although there were virtually homogenous communities in both countries consisting of Tchokwe, Ruund, or Southern Lunda.

The intermingling of Lunda (Ruund and Southern Lunda) and Tchokwe, in which other smaller groups were presumably also caught up, continued until about 1920. It was only after that time that the mixture acquired the hyphenated label and its members began to think of themselves (in some contexts) as one people.

The languages spoken by the various elements of the so-called Lunda-Tchokwe were more closely related to each other than to other Bantu languages in the Zairian-Angolan savanna but were by no means mutually intelligible. The three major tongues (Ruund, Lunda, and Tchokwe) had long been distinct from each other, although some borrowing of words, particularly of Ruund political titles by the others, had occurred.

Portuguese anthropologists and some others accepting their work have placed some of the peoples (Minungu and Shinji) in this area with the Mbundu, and the Minungu language is sometimes considered a transitional one between Kimbundu and Chokwe. There may in fact have been important Mbundu influence on these two peoples, but the work of a number of linguists places their languages firmly with the set that includes Ruund, Lunda, and Tchokwe.

Economic and political developments in the 1970s affected various sections of the Lunda-Tchokwe differently. Substantial numbers of them live in or near Lunda Norte Province, which contains the principal diamond mines of Angola. Diamond mining had been significant since 1920, and preindependence data show that the industry employed about 18,000 persons. Moreover, the mining company provided medical and educational facilities for its employees and their dependents, thereby affecting even greater numbers. How many of those employed were Lunda-Tchokwe is not clear, although neighbouring villages would have been affected by the presence of the mining complex in any case.

In the intra-Angolan political conflict preceding and immediately following independence, there apparently was some division between the northern Lunda-Chokwe, especially those with some urban experience, who tended to support the MPLA, and the rural Tchokwe, particularly those farther south, who tended to support UNITA. In the 1980s, as the UNITA insurgency intensified in the border areas of eastern and northern Angola, Lunda-Chokwe families were forced to flee into Zaire's Shaba Province, where many remained in 1988, living in three sites along the Benguela Railway. The impact of this move on the ethnolinguistic integrity of these people was not known.

A somewhat different kind of political impact began in the late 1960s, when refugees from Katanga in Zaire, speakers of Lunda or a related language, crossed the border into what are now Lunda Sul and northern Moxico provinces. In 1977 and 1978, these refugees and others whom they had recruited formed the National Front for the Liberation of the Congo (Front National pour la Libération du Congo-FNLC) and used the area as a base from which they launched their invasions of Shaba Province. In the 1980s, these rebels and perhaps still other refugees remained in Angola, many in Lunda Sul Province, although the Angolan government as part of its rapprochement with Zaire was encouraging them to return to their traditional homes.

The Zairian government offered amnesty to political exiles on several occasions in the late 1980s and conferred with the Angolan government on the issue of refugees. In 1988, however, a significant number of Zairian refugees continued to inhabit Lunda Tchokwe territory. The significance for local Lunda-Tchokwe of the presence and activities of these Zairians was not known.


Se não mantivéssemos estes objectos juntos, esta pequena migalha da cultura mundial perder-se-ia. A arte Africana ao entrar na Europa influenciou estéticamente artistas como Picasso ou Matisse que admiraram a animação dos objetos e seu primitivismo...

A cultura Lunda ou Kioka, nasceu das tribos Bantu, silvícolas, recolectores e caçadores que esculpiam todos os aspectos da vida. Traçavam seus dotes artísticos com uma simples faca fazendo instrumentos de uso diário como pentes, adornos vários e artefactos de uso em suas casas e cozinhas. As paredes de suas casas eram decoradas, seus corpos tatuados, seus penteados adornados com criatividade.

Na falta de registos escritos, a cultura oral que passava de pais para filhos, tal como a sua arte primitiva e costumes, eram as bases que perpectuavam no tempo. Este é o legado Kioko ou, tchockwe, sendo que sua arte constitui raridade e, por isso, mais reputada na avaliação de seus artigos da arte a nível mundial.

As revistas “Art d´Áfrique Noir” de Roul Letuart referem a arte Tchockwe como sendo das obras mais cotadas no mercado de artes primitivas; as famosas estátuas T´chipinda e Lunda mais conhecidas por Mwatshianvua e Lweje-Ya-Konde (casal fundador do império Lunda), atingiram nesse mercado de arte, o 1º lugar da tabela de preços. Isto é referido no livro “Identidade e Patrimônio Cultural” da autoria do antropólogo e escritor Henrique Abranches.

Acácio “Sakapwma”, iniciou suas esculturas em madeira respeitando a arte, conteúdo, e corte com machadinha, faca nativa e formões. Esculpiu o casal do império Lunda, de rara beleza, talhando a madeira de forma muito pessoal preservando a traça original. Independentemente dessas peças preciosas que marcam sua obra, esculpiu outras de renome e forte cunho na identidade deste povo, o “T´shipinda Katele” (caçador), o casal “Mama Wa-Knkw” e “Mwkuluana Wa Kwkw” (pensador e pensadora), talvez a representação mais marcante e admirada internacionalmente, pois que mostra um casal de velhos esperando a morte.

Como obra inédita, tem uma peça única em madeira, com quatro pessoas que mostra a cena do “Kaponye” (parto). Além das estatuetas temos as máscaras, masculinas e femininas: umas decorativas, outras para uso em danças populares ou profanas.

É rica a diversidade deste conjunto, sendo as máscaras por demais importantes em suas vidas. O bastão decorativo é uma peça importante e de uso dos chefes ou notáveis como insígnias do poder. O artista “Sakapwma”, não poderia deixar de criar quatro destas belas peças.

Em relevo, criou cenas do quotidiano representadas numa tábua de madeira e duas peças de alumínio fundido, uma dourada a outra prateada. No conjunto do espólio de arte tchockwe, trabalho rico em arte e de difícil elaboração é a incisão de figuras e simbologia em cabaça natural, obra que os nativos muito praticavam e valorizavam. Não há referência de haver outro branco que tenha ousado gravar em cabaça.

No campo das esculturas, não poderia faltar o trabalho em marfim; a realização de um artista é reconhecida devido à dificuldade e paciência na sua elaboração; e Acácio “Sakapwma” executou uma jarra com altura 38,5cm, com o diâmetro interno de 13x10,5 cm e o peso de 2kg. Esta peça consumiu 18 anos de trabalho na sua execução.

José Manuel Primo Videira (Nelo)

Subscreve: O Soba T´chingange

Federation of the Free States of Africa
Secretary General
Mangovo Ngoyo

Email:   [email protected]