Ganguela (pronunciation: gang'ela) or Nganguela is the name of a small ethnic group living in Angola, but since colonial times the term has been applied to a number of peoples East of the Bié Plateau. In addition to the Nganguela proper, this ethnographic category includes the Lwena (Luena), the Luvale, the Mbunda, the Lwimbi, the Camachi and others.
Nganguela is a term, pejorative in connotation, applied by the Ovimbundu to the peoples living east and southeast of them. The essentially independent groups constituting what was no more than a Portuguese census category was split by southward penetration of the Chokwe in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Only two groups in the western section of the territory accepted the name Nganguela; the others carried names such as Lwena (or Lovale), Mbunda, and Luchazi--all in the eastern division. The Lwena and Luchazi, roughly equal in number, constituted about a third of the census category of Nganguela, which in 1988 accounted for an estimated 6 percent of the Angolan population.
All of these peoples live on subsistence agriculture, the rearing of small animals, and from gathering wild fruit, honey and other foods. Each group has its own language, although these are related among themselves. Each group also has its own social identity; there exists no overarching social identity encompassing them all, so that one cannot speak of these groups as one people divided into subgroups.
The groups in the western division of the Nganguela were cattle raisers as well as cultivators. Those in the eastern division near the headwaters of the Zambezi River and its tributaries also relied on fishing.
All the groups included in the Nganguela ethnolinguistic category spoke languages apparently related to those spoken by the Ruund, Southern Lunda, and Chokwe. Lwena and Chokwe, although not mutually intelligible, were probably more closely related than Chokwe was to Ruund or Lunda. Except for sections of the Lwena, during the time of kingdoms most of these peoples were outside the periphery of Lunda influence, and some (in the western division) were affected by Ovimbundu activity, including slave raiding.
Of the ethnolinguistic categories treated thus far, the Nganguela have had the least social or political significance in the past or in modern times. For the most part thinly scattered in an inhospitable territory, split by the southern expansion of the Chokwe, and lacking the conditions for even partial political centralization, let alone unification, the groups constituting the category went different ways when nationalist activity gave rise to political movements based in part on regional and ethnic considerations. The western division, adjacent to the Ovimbundu, was most heavily represented in the Ovimbundu-dominated UNITA. Some of the groups in the eastern divisions were represented in the MPLA-PTA, which Mbundu and mestiços dominated, although the Lwena, neighbors of and related to the Chokwe, tended to support UNITA.
In the 1980s, the spread of the UNITA insurgency into the Nganuela-inhabited area adjacent to the Zambian border led to the flight of many Nganguela families into Zambia. The extent of this flight and its effects on the ethnolinguistic integrity of the Nganguela were unknown.
The peoples called "Ganguela" have been known to the Portuguese since the 17th century, when they became involved in the commercial activities developed by the colonial bridgeheads of Luanda and Benguela which existed at that time. On the one hand, many of the slaves bought by the Portuguese from African middlemen came from these people. On the other hand, in the 19th and early 20th century the "Ganguela" peoples furnished wax, honey, ivory and others good for the caravan trade organised by the Ovimbundu for the Portuguese in Benguela.
After the collapse of the caravan trade, the "Ganguela" were for long — in fact until the very end of the colonial period — of little interest for the Portuguese. This is why they were relatively late subjected to a colonial occupation to which — with the exception of the Mbunda — they offered near to no serious resistance.
During the few decades under colonial rule, their way of life changed less than in most other regions of Angola. As a rule, they were neither the object of systematic missionary work, nor subject to heavy tax levy or the recruitment as paid labour. The only important economic activity developed by the Portuguese in their area was the production of timber, for factories in Angola or in Portugal.
During the anti-colonial war, 1961–1974, and especially during the Civil War in Angola, some of these groups were affected to a greater or lesser degree, although their active involvement was rather limited. As a consequence, many took refuge in neighbouring Zambia and (to a lesser degree) Namibia. In particular, almost half of the Mbunda settled in Western Zambia, but this people maintains an overall cohesion through their traditional authorities both in Angola and Zambia.