Luvale people


Luvale / Lovale / Luena U/ Lwena

The Luvale people, also called (in Angola) the Luena or Lwena,are an ethnic group in Zambia and Angola. In Zambia they are found mainly in the North-Western Province of Zambia, centred in the town of Zambezi which was previously called Balovale. Some Zambian Luvale have left their ancestral lands for economic reasons and can be found in other locations in Zambia such as Lukanga Swamp. There is also considerable Rural-Urban migration to Lusaka. In Angola they reside in eastern Moxico Province.

The Lovale people are not united under one paramount chief but are composed of a number of subgroups speaking the Lovale language or dialects of it. The Luvale language (sometimes called Lwena) is a west central Bantu language, and a tonal language. The Lovale are closely related to the Chokwe who ended the Lunda Kingdom, and Chokwe and Lunda people also live in the same area.



Baluvale speak Luvale language. Luvale (also spelled Chiluvale, Lovale, Lubale, Luena, Lwena) is a Bantu language belonging to larger Niger-Congo language phylum and is spoken by the Lovale people of Angola and Zambia. It is recognized as a regional language for educational and administrative purposes in Zambia, where about 168,000 (2006) people speak it. However, there are about 2,015,000 Luvale speakers in both countries. Luvale is a tonal language.
Luvale is closely related to Chokwe.


History / Origin

Luvale  people are part of Bantu people that migrated from Cameroon to the Great Lakes areas and Southern Africa. The Lovale are closely related to the Chokwe who ended the Lunda Kingdom, and Chokwe and Lunda people also live in the same area. Luvale emergence started when Lunda princess, Luweeji fell for the charm of adventurer hunter Tshibinda Ilunga from the Luba establishment, about the 1600s, she had no idea her romantic escapades would result in dynastic discontent that would drive two of her brothers away in fits of rage. The disagreement caused the Luvale faction led by Mwana Yamvo to settle in their present locations in Zambia and Angola.

Luvale political strength (1830-1907) during Upper Zimbezi Slave trade
 The Luvale were the first in the Upper Zambezi to receive Ovimbundu traders in search of export slaves. As a general rule the Ovimbundu were not interested in taking the slaves themselves, but preferred instead to buy them for guns, cloth and jewellery. I have discussed elsewhere the response of the Luvale NamaKungu chiefs to the opportunities offered them by the slave trade and the links between Luvale expansion, guns and slaves. By the mid-nineteenth century, when we have travellers' accounts describing the region, virtually all of the major chiefs were also important slave traders. Given the nature of Luvale chiefly succession, it is clear that those who were able to control the slave trade and the economic power and access to firearms which it represented were those who became some of the most important chiefs.

The opportunities of the time gave to Luvale chiefs, and, quite conceivably, chiefly pretenders, the possibility of establishing a unique economic/military position of unprecedented strength in their competition for lands and followers. It is clear that the system of domestic production was being augmented by elements of a new mercantile economy in ways which strengthened chiefs and created 'big men' able to take advantage of international trade. In terms of Luvale-Lunda relations, the relative Luvale monopoly of firearms and the aggressive, expansionist policy which Luvale chiefs were following meant that any defenceless group was subject to enslavement. Luvale traditions are quite explicit in stating that many Luvale—in addition to the Lunda—were enslaved, and sometimes by their own chiefs. The systematic and large-scale enslavement of Lunda people by Luvale chiefs and 'big men' was less an indication of some ancient ethnic animosity as it was an acknowledgment, in a new situation moulded by mercantile capitalism, of the capabilities of the powerful over the powerless. Beginning in the 1890s, Luvale slaving parties, usually led by local chiefs or their agents, carried out a vigorous series of attacks against the Lunda which came to be known as the Wars of Ulamba. In an unprecedented request, the Lunda Chief Ishinde appealed to the Lozi Paramount, Lewanika, for help against the marauding Luvale. Lewanika, who undoubtedly saw an opportunity for expanding his influence, sent a military contingent against the offending Luvale chiefs which was defeated in 1892, Luvale military prowess finding an ally in disease among the Lozi.

After the retreat of the Lozi, the Luvale continued raiding the Lunda who fled ever deeper into the forests. It is likely that, had the demand for slaves continued, the Luvale would have decimated the Lunda, but the closure of the market, for which the Luvale were dependent upon the Ovimbundu, ended the Wars of Ulamba. It is still common, however, in the heat of modern politics, for Luvale partisans to recall the Wars of Ulamba as 'proof of their 'superiority' over the Lunda. It was these changes in the patterns of the Upper Zambezi's history which cast relations between Luvale and Lunda in terms of ethnic or tribal politics. However, the coming of colonial administration created even more serious—or at least more immediate—problems for both groups, and while the Wars of Ulamba helped to form each group's view of the other, opposition to certain British administrative policies required a temporary common front and cooperation.

The Early Administration of Balovale Sub-District, C. 1907-C. 1930
When Balovale boma was opened in 1907 it was a sub-district of Barotseland. This was because the agreements Lewanika had signed with the British South Africa Company (BSAC) gave the Company the right to administer all of Bulozi and its dependencies. Lewanika had convinced the BSAC, which was anxious to counter possible Portuguese claims, that the Upper Zambezi was a part of the Lozi domain—a claim, supported, in the Lozi view, by their intervention in the Wars of Ulamba. Because it suited both BSAC and Lozi interests, Balovale, as it was then called, was regarded as a part of Bulozi.
The Lunda and, especially, the Luvale were totally opposed to direct or indirect Lozi rule and complained vigorously to a succession of District Commissioners that the historical justification used for Lozi overlordship was mistaken. Nevertheless colonial administrators continued to assert Lozi rule and each 'recognized' Lunda and Luvale chief was placed under the nominal control of a Lozi induna . The language of local administration was Lozi. All major decisions were referred to the Barotse Province headquarters in Mongu. And the Lozi were given an essentially free hand to 'bring administrative order' into Balovale Sub-District. To add to the injustice of having autonomous peoples under their domination, the Lozi sought to indenture the local population by instituting a system of corvée labour, presumably for public works and the extension of royal gardens, and a royal tribute from the rich fishing grounds. Luvale and Lunda resisted Lozi sub-imperialism, presenting their cases to the local authorities through missionaries of the Christian Mission in Many Lands (Plymouth Brethren) and a cadre of newly literate Luvale and Lunda mission-educated teachers and evangelists.

While the Luvale and Lunda were cooperating to resist Lozi encroachments, they became aware that the British, Portuguese and Belgian governments had reached agreements concerning colonial borders that resulted in both groups being 'legally' divided between Northern Rhodesia, Angola and the Congo Free State. The Luvale refused to accept this division, continuing to regard the Kakenge chieftainship in Angola as their most important political title, as they do today. The Lunda of Mwinilunga opted for another solution by creating a second Kanongesha, their senior title, in Mwinilunga, leaving the original Kanongesha in the Portuguese territory he ruled. The Lunda of Balovale, with the help of local colonial civil servants, brought the Ishinde chieftainship from Angola into Northern Rhodesia, establishing there a Lunda Senior Chief against the claims of the existing Lunda chief, Mpidi. The Luvale attempted to assert the primacy of the Chinyama Litapi chieftainship, but this was denied by administrators who were not prepared to walk the sixty kilometres to Litapi. Instead the Ndungu chieftainship was moved from the Chavuma area to opposite the Balovale boma and declared 'senior.'
The division of the Upper Zambezi between three colonial powers and the subsequent restructuring of the hierarchy of local chieftainships, when combined with 'recognition' of a very few chieftainships, meant that the Lunda and, especially, the Luvale were given a political structure that was both almost wholly new and without significant customary power. Not only was the structure pyramidal to an unprecedented degree, but the recognition of a limited number of 'official' chiefs meant that the titles would remain permanent. In effect, the British created a form of positional succession.

In 1923, in an attempt to bring administrative 'order' into a district regarded by both the British and the Lozi as 'wild' and ungovernable. District Commissioner Bruce-Miller decided the Zambezi river would be the dividing line between the Luvale and Lunda 'tribes'. The use of the Zambezi as an administrative border, though it reflected a wholly erroneous understanding of culture, ethnicity, politics, and existing settlement patterns, was so compulsively appealing that virtually all District Commissioners attempted to employ it. The use of the river as a tribal boundary would have resulted in the bulk of the best arable land in Chavuma falling under Lunda authority when, by all accounts—then and now—Chavuma was a predominantly Luvale area under the Ndungu chieftainship. Bruce-Miller proposed not only that the newly arrived Lunda chief, Ishinde, take over Chavuma, but that the Luvale population be resettled on the eastern bank.

The Luvale at Chavuma and elsewhere resisted every effort to resettle them, and violence soon broke out with the Lunda, who supported the plan. Bruce-Miller pursued this foolish and unnecessary policy until he was replaced. Even though the forced resettlement policy was never actually attempted again, it became an article of faith among subsequent District Commissioners that the Luvale belonged 'properly' on the Zambezi's west bank and the Lunda on its east bank. Commitment to this point of view, reflected in the formulation of subsequent policies, has been the single most important stimulus to tribal strife between Lunda and Luvale. Every local political decision was—and still is—evaluated in terms of whether it will further or diminish each side's claim to Chavuma, the area's best agricultural land.

As Luvale and Lunda struggled against Lozi sub-imperialism and between one another over Chavuma, they were slowly subjected to a process of bureaucratization. We actually know very little about the local, internal effects of the creation of bureaucratic administrative structures in rural Africa. But in Balovale each person was required to declare for the district register his/her 'tribe', chief, headman and village. Never were people asked about their clan which, when combined with allegiance to a chief and headman, was the actual avenue of access to land, fishing and hunting rights, and social acceptance. At the same time, the positions of the chiefs themselves came under scrutiny with a view to limiting the number of chiefs and creating a hierarchy of chiefs for each 'tribe'. Clearly, the chiefs with the largest land areas and populations under their sovereignty were going to be 'recognized', and there was considerable difficulty among both the Luvale and Lunda chiefs when Ndungu and Ishinde were moved to lands traditionally held by other chiefs. Thus the chiefs and headmen, who also faced the problem of 'recognition', were naturally eager to have the greatest number of persons possible inscribed in their 'book'.

The population of the district in 1948 contained, in addition to Luvale and Lunda, significant numbers of Luchazi and Chokwe and some Mbunda. Large numbers of Luchazi had entered Northern Rhodesia after the failure of their revolt against the Portuguese in 1916–1917 and the brutal repression which followed. They originally entered Bulozi, but because of Lewanika's objections to such large concentrations of 'foreigners', some were resettled at Kabompo. Neither Bulozi, where they felt they were treated as slaves (vandungo ), nor the forest lands of Kabompo were attractive, and many Luchazi migrated into Balovale grasslands and settled among the Luvale either in their own villages or as resident 'foreigners' in Luvale villages. No doubt this was also a time of significant intermarriage among Luchazi and the Luvale, who regarded the Luchazi as 'relatives' sharing the same clans as well as the same historical and social traditions.

The use of intermarriage to blur and redefine ethnic affiliations is a major theme of Luvale and Lunda history, extending for centuries into the past. Luvale traditions speak of how the Luvale chiefs of the NamaKungu clan occupied the Upper Zambezi with a mixture of force and monopolies on cultural and technical innovations and consolidated these with the autochthones, the Mbwela, through intermarriage. Even today it is common for Luvale to admit privately that even though they are Luvale, they are also 'really' Mbwela. The function of intermarriage, especially in times of crisis, has played an important role in allowing crossing of ethnic lines.

From the scanty data extant, it is difficult to gain a firm idea of the scale of Luchazi (as well as Mbunda) migration into Balovale. The 1920s and early 1930s was a period of important ethnic movement and redefinition, with the 'safest' ethnic identity in terms of rights of residence in the sub-district being either Luvale or Lunda. The choice of ethnicity was related to area of residence: non-Lunda residing in Chavuma would, if forced, choose a Lunda identity to protect their farms and rights of residence after the relocation policy was announced in 1923. Non-Luvale residing on west bank lands would have to choose Luvale ethnicity to protect against their resettlement to the east bank or their return to Kabompo and possibly Bulozi.

But how were these kinds of alignments possible when, in the case of Chavuma and the better lands and fishing/hunting areas, a wholesale incorporation of 'new' Luvale or Lunda would be resisted by those threatened by the increased competition for resources? The answer, however tentative, requires some discussion of local language, clan structures, cultural taxonomies, material culture and historical traditions. We are so accustomed to identifying the differences between people that often we fail to establish the continuities.

Written records and the oral testimonies of the peoples themselves suggest some confusion concerning the meaning of ethnicity and, especially, 'tribe'. Portuguese records tend to lump all of the peoples of eastern, savannah Angola and western Zambia (except the Lozi) under the pejorative term 'ngangela' . For the Portuguese, the ngangela was the vast plain which reached from the central Angolan highlands to the Zambezi. In this area they saw no significant cultural differences between the inhabitants. This term includes the people we know as Luvale, Luchazi and Mbunda, as well as other, smaller societies which view themselves as distinct from their neighbours. Gluckman clustered the same basic group under the Lozi term 'wiko', meaning 'peoples of the west'—again assuming that there existed little in their political, social or material cultures to differentiate them as separate groups. White wrote about the same people as the 'Balovale' and later as the 'Lwena'.

There are five indigenous 'languages' spoken in the Upper Zambezi, plus two imported languages, Lozi and English. Lunda, one of the five, is actually two mutually intelligible dialect clusters, Lunda and Lunda-Ndembu. The other four are the dialects of Luvale: the vakaKasavi (language spoken by the people along the Kasavi/Kasai river); vakaMbunda (spoken were the earth is red (mbunda )); vaka Yambeji (spoken along the Zambezi); and vakaMbalango (spoken in the plains area between the Lungevungu river and Bulozi). The Balovale are peoples who speak one of these dialects and live where the mavale plant grows. C.M.N. White preferred to use the term 'Lwena' instead of 'Luvale', but this term, which has connotations of venereal disease, was usually only applied to Luvale dialect speakers in the northern areas of Luvale country near the Lwena river in Angola but not in Zambia.
Lexicostatistical linguistic analysis of each language reveals that certain groups—the Luvale, Luchazi and Mbunda—are as close linguistically as they are culturally; that the Chokwe are similar both linguistically and culturally; and that the Lunda-speakers represent a somewhat different language and culture, and are related to a later stage of the historical traditions shared by each group. Locally, similarities are overwhelmingly acknowledged in opposition to differences—except where these might be exploited for some personal gain. In the past an attack along tribal lines was weak although 'tribal' differences today offer greater latitude for definition and manipulation.



The Luvale economy is mainly agro-fishery based. Its agrarian sector is centered around the staple crops of manioc, cassava, yams, and peanuts. Tobacco and hemp are also grown for snuff, and maize is grown for beer. Domesticated livestock is also kept and includes sheep, goats, pigs, and chickens. Meat supplements are garnered through hunting. There is a exclusive association of big game hunters (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 Luvale. Slash and burn techniques and crop rotation are practiced to naturally conserve the land.
The Luvale are renowned fishermen; each year they export dried catfish to mining centres of the Copperbelt.


Socio-political structure

The Luvale are matrilineal and uxorilocal. Luvale do not recognize a paramount leader, but instead offer allegiance to local chiefs who inherit their positions matrilineally 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 Luvale society are divided into two categories, those who are descended from the founding matrilineal lines and those who are descended from former enslaved populations.

Chieftainship is restricted to a single clan among some thirteen clans, the NamaKungu. All children of female chiefs are therefore chiefs (vamwangana ). A child of a male chief is called Mwana Uta or 'child of the bow'. He can never become a mwangana . This means that, depending on the number and fecundity of female chiefs, it was possible to have hundreds of Luvale chiefs at any one time. With very few exceptions, chiefly genealogies tend to be very shallow for obvious reasons. During the slave trade certain vamwangana were able to create important new chieftainships. These coexisted with older titles, and with the Kakenge, whose ancient chieftainship provided the necessary legitimizing historical links which each chief required to be accepted as a mwangana . This proliferation of chiefs with vastly varying degrees of actual authority was to confront the early colonial administration with the 'need' to create a clear hierarchy of political power and one which was small enough in number to be 'manageable'.


Religious Belief

The BaLuvale recognize a an ancient traditional god of creation and supreme power, Kalunga.  They believe that Kalunga has power above every other deity. It is believed to be omniscient and all seeing.  He is recognized as the god of the sky and has jurisdiction over the spirits of both the living and the dead. They worship and revere Kalunga who blesses the good and punishes the wicked one. Apart from Kalinga The Baluvale recognize a series of nature and ancestral spirits (mahamba). These spirits may belong to the individual, the family, or the community, and neglecting them is sure to result in personal or collective misfortune. Evil spirits may also be activated by sorcerers (orwanga) 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 Luvale involves 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.



Within Zambia the Luvale are famous for their traditional beliefs in witchcraft or voodoo which are still commonly practised, in both rural and urban areas. The Lovale people together with the Chokwe, Luchazi and Mbunda are famous for the Makishi dancers who perform a masquerade in intricate masks and costumes.

In Zambia the Luvale people hold the 'Makishi festival' to mark the end of the 'kumukanda' (or 'initiation'). Every 5 years or so, boys from the same age group (young teenagers) are taken into the bush for 1–2 months where they undergo several rites of passage into manhood. These involve learning certain survival skills, learning about women and how to be a good husband, learning about fatherhood, and also they are circumcised. The Luvale consider uncircumcised men to be dirty or unhygienic. It is said that in some very rural areas where the kumukanda is maintained in its strictest traditional sense that if a woman is to pass by the boy's 'bushcamp' whilst they are undergoing kumukanda then she must be punished, even killed. To celebrate the boys' completion of the kumukanda the Makishi festival welcomes them back to the village as men. The night before men from the village take their masks to the graveyard and sleep there, allowing the spirits of their ancestors to enter them. The following evening they appear in the village with their masks. Although the other members of the community know roughly who is taking part, they do not know who is under which mask. The masks represent specific characters: Pwebo (a female character... 'pwebo' meaning 'woman' in Luvale) and Chizaluke amongst others.

Makishi Masquerade and Activities
Makishi (singular, Likishi) are masked characters associated with the coming of age rituals of the Vaka Chiyama Cha Mukwamayi communities of the north-western part of Zambia. The term refers to the masks and costumes that constitute a character being portrayed. The masks are believed to be a manifestation of the spirits of dead ancestors who return to the world of the living. The Makishi Masquerade is connected to the Mukanda, an initiation school held annually for boys between the ages of eight and seventeen. At the beginning of the dry season, young boys leave their homes and live for one to three months in an isolated school.
The Mukanda involves the circumcision of the initiates, tests of courage, and lessons on their future role in society as men and husbands. During the Mukanda, Makishi are supposed to return from the world of the dead to protect and assist the boys in their transition from childhood to adulthood. While at Mukanda, the boys are separated from the outside world - the separation marking their symbolic death as children. Therefore, the boys are called Tundanji - people who do not belong to the world of the living, to be reborn as adults at the completion of the Mukanda. The graduation is marked by the performance of the Makishi.
Masquerade and the whole community is free to attend (Phiri 2008)

Historical Background
The Mukanda and Makishi Masquerade ritual used to be celebrated by the Vaka Chiyama Cha Mukwamayi communities, which include the Luvale, Chokwe, Mbunda and related peoples, who originally lived in the north-western and western provinces of Zambia. The Mukanda School had an educational function of transmitting cultural values, practical survival skills as well as knowledge about nature, sexuality, religious beliefs and the social values of the community. In former times, it took place over a period of up to six months. What was learned from the school was not to be disclosed to anyone, especially the un-initiated and women as proclaimed in this song translated by Wele (1993) as follows:

According to Luyako (2004), Makishi are a representation of certain characteristics in society and carry lessons for the students in the way they appear, and perform in dance and song. For example, there is Kayupi, who represents royalty. He is referred to as the king of all Makishi and behaves accordingly in all his characteristics and functions. Chizaluke represents a dignified personality that goes with wisdom and old age. On the other hand, Chileya represents a fool with a childish characteristic, mimicking others, wears undignified dressing and dances like a learner and not an expert. Others are the Mupala, who is the lord of the Mukanda and protective spirit with supernatural abilities, while Mwanapwebo is a female character representing the ideal woman and is responsible for the musical accompaniment of the rituals and dances. Each initiate is assigned a specific masked character, which remains with him throughout the entire school.

According to Luyako, the creation of the Makishi was done behind the seclusion of the school. The colours of the mask and costumes are symbolic and religious, with reference to the ancestors (Luyako 2004). The initiator of the Mukanda is called the Chijika Mukanda, and the attendant of each initiate is called a Chilombola. Parents chose the Chilombola for their children, depending on the character of the person to be
chosen to take up this role. A Chilombola had to be a person of good character who was supposed to be the child’s mentor not only during the Mukanda School but throughout his life after the school (Cheleka 2002).