The Luchazi of Zambia are numbering 123,000. They are part of the Bantu, Central-South people cluster within the Sub-Saharan African affinity bloc. Globally, this group totals 811,400 in 3 countries. Their primary language is Luchazi. The primary religion practiced by the Luchazi is ethnoreligion.
The Luchazi are native to Angola. However, they have been in a state of flux for many years. Problems with the Portuguese during colonial times led to movement of Luchazis across the borders into Zambia and Southwest Africa (now Namibia).
Later, during the civil war that engulfed Angola, many more followed. Even when the border between Angola and Namibia is officially closed, many crossed illegally because of the lack of food, clothing, and medical care in southern Angola. In the 1900s, financial conditions were difficult in Zambia and many joined family members in Namibia.
The Luchazi are a Bantu people, with cultural and linguistic similarities to other Bantu peoples. They are also called Ngangela or Nganguela by some other peoples in the region.
The Luchazi share history and heritage with other people in the region: Chokwe, Lunda, Luvale (Lwena) and Mbunda. The line of hereditary chiefs of all these peoples derive from a common ancestry.
The Luchazi group themselves in a circular living area called a kuimbo. In older times, the houses were built in the traditional circular style of Southern Africa, though now they favor a square or rectangular house.
Tidbits about the history of the Luchazi are sometimes found in information about the Chokwe, Lunda or Luvale. One source says, "Luchazi peoples are closely related to Chokwe, and their history is interconnected with both Chokwe and Lunda political movements, which have historically dominated the region. Between 1600 and 1850 they were under considerable influence from the Lunda states and were centrally located in Angola."
The Luchazi speak a southwestern Bantu language in the Ngangela group. Related languages are: Mbunda, Kangala, Tauma, Mbuela, Nyemba, Ngangela, Ngonzelo and Luembe. The Ethnologue reports that in Angola the Luchazi language is spoken in the Southeast Region and adjacent areas.
Their movements in recent years have caused many changes, especially linguistic changes. Some of the Luchazi have lost their language. In Zambia, many have begun to speak Luvale instead of Luchazi. Luvale is the speech of a closely-related peple by that name. Luvale is one of the official languages of Zambia.
In Namibia, some moved to Gcrico-speaking areas and have forgotten Luchazi. Those who speak Luchazi in Namibia speak a hybrid form with vocabulary from Afrikaans, Portuguese and English and other Bantu languages, such as Kwangali and Chokwe.
Within a kuimbo lives a family group of between 20 and 40 people, under the leadership of one man who is father or grandfather to the majority of those who live there. In addition, a number of nephews might have attached themselves to a particular uncle. This leader of the family has many responsibilities to his extended family. For example, he would be the one to pass along important information that affects the entire family.
Like most Bantu peoples, the Luchazi do not have one supreme king or chief. A group of kuimbos would be led by mwene. Some sources report that this local hereditary chief is called mwananganga, the name also used by the related Chokwe people. This title means "lord of the land."
In the past the mwene position was matrilinealy hereditary in principle. The mwene was chosen from a particular family. But in reality a mwene might be removed, usually by killing. A wise woman might also be chosen mwene.
The mwene administers the land of the group, assigns plots of land and dispenses justice. He resolves disputes and decides the penalty for sin. For the Luchazi, sin is the physical or relationship violation of the group or any member. A person who injured or killed another would be disciplined in kind.
The mwene would decide the penalty for theft. If a wife left her husband the mwene decided how her family would compensate the family of the husband. The mwene would receive a proportionate share of such a judgment.
Independence brought civil war to Angola. Many Luchazi fled to Zambia where they met the economic problems of that country. Some of the Luchazi remain in Angola, attempting to survive in the bush or in cities like Menongue and Cuito Cunivale.
A great number have fled to northern Namibia. Those who arrived in 1975-1977, prior to Namibian independence, are more secure than later arrivals, since they were granted Namibian documents at independence. In recurrent droughts, the Namibian government extends feeding programs only to those holding Namibian documents.
The Luchazi in Namibia lived as refugees; they left their home for a place where there is peace. This has also disrupted their culture. They could not participate in the political processes in their new countries and were financially disadvantaged.
Many of the Luchazi fled Angola after Namibian independence to live with their family members who had already migrated. Thousands of these people, all subsistence farmers, will have no governmental recourse if a drought develops. The Angolan war diminished food production there. Political and military fortunes since independence have not favored the poorly-educated Luchazis.
Most Luchazi in Namibia came from rural Angola without any education and cannot compete for jobs with the more educated Namibian people groups. The Luchazi have no political influence in either Angola, Zambia or Namibia. Though great in number in Kavango Province (Namibia) the Luchazi have little authority since few of them are Namibian citizens. Some of the youth have gained a good education and are receiving some jobs in government, but they are in the minority compared to the native Kwangali.
The Luchazi are primarily agricultural though some families are honey-gatherers, fishermen and hunters. They grow cassava, yams and peanuts. They also grow maize, which is used for making beer. They make snuff out of tobacco and hemp, which they also grow. Farming is done by the women, while traditionally, the men were hunters.
Highest among the professions were the blacksmiths who made the spears and knives for the tribe. Many Western ways of making a living have now also been adopted. Western clothing was adopted generations ago, through missionary and Portuguese influences, and there is no movement to revive the past.
Family has an important place in Luchazi culture. The individual derives his identity from his relationship to an extended family group. The central figure in the Luchazi family is the man, whose decisions are final.
In the past, a man of 30 would marry a girl of 14-15, who was either a cousin or a niece. Intermarriage with other tribes was prohibited. Young people today marry at 19 or 20, though the girl can be as young as 15. Young people may marry from any tribe or race, though in the countryside the older practices are maintained.
Typically a young man talks to his father and mother about the girl that interests him. The mother then talks with the mother of the girl to arrange the bride-price. If the woman has never been married and has no children, the family would expect to receive 2 cows as the bride-price. A woman who has a child would be worth only 1 cow while a woman who has more than one child would be worth only 1/2 of a cow.
Children are disciplined by both parents, but the responsibility is assigned to the father. Because cerebral malaria leads to a high incidence of mental incompetence, a pattern has developed in the culture for determining who cares for each member of the family if stricken.
When the father of a family dies, the Luchazi now practice western patterns of inheritance. The wife and children share the wealth he leaves. In older times the inheritance went to his nephews when the man died. Nephews are the sons of a sister, since the sons of a brother were also considered sons.
Polygamy is still practiced by the Luchazi though it is outlawed by the established mission churches. Divorce is easy, though it must be negotiated between the families, as the marriage was. The children may choose which parent they go with. There are strong family and community sanctions against mistreatment of the wife or children.
Luchazi society is held together by the general principle of good behavior. For the Luchazi, a good person is one who respects others, is willing to resolve problems, is a friend to all others in the tribe, and who doesn't cause confusion or problems. A child who reached his majority without learning proper respect was liable to be put to death by the tribe.
Rites of Passage
Luchazi ritual traditions have almost died out. In the past, however, the Luchazi had a rich tradition celebrating the rites of passage. In the munda the young girl was given a feast by the women of the kuimbo. During the days of the feast she was taught the things that a woman needs to know.
Then she was eligible for marriage. For a boy, his father would choose a time between 6 and 8 years of age to take him into the bush to be circumcised in a ceremony called the mudanda. A day of feasting and dancing followed, called the mungongi. Some time later a second day of celebration called the mandumbu was held. During these sessions tribal regulations were taught.
If rain had not come when it was expected, the elders of the tribe would gather the men for an all night dance to appeal to the ancestor spirits for help.
The Luchazis are very artistic, though their art is used mainly for commerce today. Carvers apparently have always been valued among the Luchazi. Masks are a primary art form. Singing, playing drums, dancing and basket-weaving are honored arts.
Education is valued greatly. As a people the Luchazi are very poorly educated. Under the Portuguese, education past grade four was available only in the cities, leaving out most Luchazis.
The religion of the Luchazi was typical of Bantu religions, sometiems referred ot as animistic. Ancestral spirits were the predominant force, though Kalunga (God) was the great force behind everything. He was incredibly powerful, but could not be known. Worship was directed toward sticks or animal heads on sticks.
The cimbundu (pronounced chimbundu) are traditional healers who practiced their medicine with herbs and a white powder. The head of religious instruction was the mwene, not the cimbundu. He would rule in the affairs of the spirit, just as he ruled in the day to day affairs of the physical world. This harmony of leadership reflected the harmony of Luchazi society, who saw all things linked to the spiritual world.
As a result, spiritual truth was passed down orally from generation to generation and permeated everything related to life.
As with other Bantu peoples, medicine was linked to Luchazi religion. The cimbundu practiced a form of herbal healing mixed with spells and incantations. However, traditional medicine is not practiced much anymore. Some attribute this change to the reception of the Christian gospel; others link it to Portuguese persecution of traditional religion.
If the Portuguese heard that witchcraft was being practiced in a village, many times they would enter to kill everyone in the village. As a result traditional religion began to wane and finally to die in many areas.