The Chokwe people, known by many other names (including Kioko, Bajokwe, Chibokwe, Kibokwe, Ciokwe, Cokwe or Badjok), are an ethnic group of Central and Southern Africa. They are found primarily in Angola, southwestern parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Kinshasa to Lualaba), and northwestern parts of Zambia.
Demographics and language
Estimated to be about 1.3 million, their language is usually referred to as Chokwe (or Kichokwe, Tshokwe), a Bantu language in the Benue-Congo branch of Niger-Congo family of languages.
Many also speak the official languages of their countries: English in Zambia, French in Democratic Republic of Congo, and Portuguese (as first or second language) in Angola.
460.000 Chokwe live in woodland savanna, but are also found along rivers and marshland with strips of rainforest.
Chokwe 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 Chokwe homelands and the Angolan coast led to increased trade of ivory and rubber. Wealth acquired from this allowed the Chokwe 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 Chokwe power.
The Chokwe do not recognize a paramount leader, but instead offer allegiance to local chiefs who inherit their positions from the maternal uncle. Mwana nganga (chiefs) 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 Chokwe society are divided into two categories: those who are descended from the founding matrilineal lines and those who are descended from former enslaved populations.
Society and culture
They are regionally famous for their exceptional crafts work, particularly with baskets, pottery, mask carving, statues, stools and other handicrafts. The art work include utilitarian objects, but often integrates Chokwe mythologies, oral history and spiritual beliefs. For example, the culture hero Chibinda Ilunga who married a Lunda woman and took over power is an often sculpted figure. The Cikungu art personifies the collective power of Chokwe's ancestors, while Mwana po figurines depict the guardians of fertility and procreation. The Ngombo figurines have been traditionally a part of divining spirits who are shaken to tell causes of illness, misfortune, not having babies and other problems faced by a family or a village.
Both chiefs and village groups are found in the Chokwe culture. Villages consist of company compounds with square huts or circular grass-houses with a central space that serves as the meeting place for the villagers.
The Chokwe are traditionally a matrilineal society, but where the woman moves to live with her husband's family after wedding. Polygyny has been a historic practice usually limited to the chief or a wealthy family.
The traditional religious beliefs of the Chokwe center around ancestor spirits worship. In groups where chiefs exist, they are considered the representative of god Kalunga or Nzambi, therefore revered and called Mwanangana or "overseer of the land." There is sometimes perceived to be a spiritual connection between works of arts such as handicrafts and carved objects and ancestors, as well as god Kalunga or Nzambi. With the colonial era, Chowke converted to Christianity en masse yet the original beliefs were retained to produce a syncretism of beliefs and practices. They have, for example, continued their spirit-rituals from pre-Christian era, as well maintained their elaborate rites-of-passage ceremonies particularly to mark the entry into adulthood by men and women.
The Chokwe 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 Chokwe. Slash and burn techniques and crop rotation are practiced to conserve the land naturally.
The Chokwe recognize Kalunga, the god of creation and supreme power, and a series of nature and mahamba (ancestral spirits). 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 wanga (sorcerers) to cause illness, and this must be counteracted to regain health. In order to accomplish this individuals normally consult with a nganga (diviner), who attempts to uncover the source of the patient's problem. The most common form of divination among the Chokwe 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.
With the colonial era, Chowke converted to Christianity massively yet the original beliefs were retained to produce a syncretism of beliefs and practices. They have, for example, continued their spirit-rituals from pre-Christian era, as well maintained their elaborate rites-of-passage ceremonies particularly to mark the entry into adulthood by men and women.