Subia People

Subia / Subiya

Subia / Subiya / Ikuhane / Veekuhane

Basubiya actually refer to themselves as the veekuhane and their language chiikuhane, although it is commonly known and referred to as sesubiya.

They are found in Botswana in the Chobe region, where four countries uniquely meet – Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia. Their capital village is Kasane and along the Chobe River, within other Chobe settlements such as Pandamatenga, Kachikau, Ngoma, Lesoma and Kazungula.

Basubiya are a tribe of the Lozi in Zambia, found in the chobe district as well, and needless to say Basubiya have their origins rooted in Zambia.

They are still found in Caprivi Strip, to the east of Namibia and around Victoria falls.

Subia People


They get their name from the second known Subia King, Ikuhane, who reigned until the 1570s. A single Ikuhane person is referred to as Muikuhane while many Ikuhane people are referred to as Baikuhane. The prefix Mu- is singular and the prefix Ba- is plural. However, Baikuhane are most popularly known as the Subia. The exonym Subia came from neighbouring people and it is derived from the word ‘subila’ which means light in reference to their light skin complexion. A single Subia person is referred to as Musubia while many Subia people are referred to as Basubia or Masubia.



The Subia are a Bantu speaking ethnic group that migrated southward of Africa. Itenge, the first known Subia King’s reign lasted until the 1570s. During this time, he led the migration from the north and settled at Kafue floodplains. Itenge’s son, Ikuhane, succeeded his father and his reign was from 1575 – 1600. Under his leadership, the people migrated from Kafue and settled along the Zambezi valley. They later moved southwards and settled along the Chobe River which the Subia also named Ikuhane River in his honour. Baikuhane simply means the followers of King Ikuhane or the people from the Chobe River and their language is called Chikuhane, also known as Chisubia.

Under the leadership of Lilundu Lituu (1640 – 1665) who succeeded his father Ikuhane, the Subia migrated from the Chobe River southwards and settled in Botswana. In 1876, Mwanamwale and a section of Subia men crossed the Zambezi River and established his leadership at Sesheke in Zambia. Mutwa Liswani II (1965 – 1996) established his royal headquarters at Bukalo in Namibia and is still the Subia headquarters until today.


Political Structure

According to Ndana (2011: 3) like other African groups, Veekuhane have clear political, social and economic structures/organisation. A hierarchical political structure is discernible even today, albeit in a more diluted form due to the influence of modern political organisation.

Matengu Masule, an oral historian claims that the Veekuhane ruling "cabinet" (Kaziva ka Itenge) had the Muniteenge (king) or simwine (chief) as its political figurehead and supported by three main branches: the Ngambela (the prime minister/advisor) responsible for administration of justice; the Inkazaana (female royalists) responsible for security and the Insuzuzu (the army commander) responsible for defence. Under each of these major branches there fell other key players. Below the army commander was the Namaya (female spy), Shamunziriri (the magician or medicine men) and the Mukuunkula-we-Nkoondo (the army). The advisor was assisted by the Manduna (councillors) and the Ichiimbizo/kapaswa/kapaso (the chief's messengers). The female royalists were assisted by the Muauumbe (security ladies) and the Mabukweenda (male strangers).


Social organization

The social and economic organisations of the Veekuhane are closely associated with the riverine environment to which they have adapted through centuries of their evolution as a people. The riverine environment is a source of food, building material, religious beliefs/practices, spirituality, and identity. It is difficult to imagine the Veekuhane outside the riverine environment.

Like in other human societies, among the Veekuhane, the family is the smallest social organisation and the foundation for the larger community. At the head of the family is generally the eldest male (usually the grandfather) with the youngest child occupying the very lowest rank in the family. A group of related families living closer to one another forms a ward. Relation could be a result of birth, marriage, adoption or immigration.

At the head of the family is the eldest male, usually the grandfather. Relation is a result of marriage, birth or adoption.

Marriage is of utmost importance among the Subia as it is a means of cementing and extending family relations. A man of age is expected to have work, have his own homestead called Ilapa and then find a wife to marry. The wife is expected to relocate to her husband’s homestead, joining her in-laws and becoming part of that family. The wife and children take the husband’s surname as they are part of his family. How the married couple manages its ilapa, ensures a particular status in society. Albeit waning in modern times, polygamy is prevalent among the Subia.

A married woman is expected to relocate to join her in-laws, although as Shamukuni observes, a groom could under certain circumstances live with his in-laws permanently (1972:170). A married couple is expected to have their irapa, a Chiikuhane word that has both literal and metaphorical meanings for home, enclosure and family respectively. How the couple manages its irapa, ensures a particular status in society. Albeit waning in modern times, polygamy is prevalent among Veekuhane.


Religious Beliefs

While it is difficult to establish the institutional religion of Veekuhane, it is possible to note that they have always believed in the existence of a supreme being (Ireeza) whose transcendence could only be bridged by routing their requests through intermediaries known as vazimu (ancestors/gods). Several praise epithets from a common Subiya prayer are used to denote the Supreme Being: Shandandulu(All knowing); Muvuumbi (Creator); Sha-Mukuungayokunganyairoongo (the moulder who puts together clay);Shamanganga (The Healer / The Great Doctor) to mention only these. To Veekuhane, belief and veneration of Ireeza did not contradict the use of traditional medicine. Rather, they saw the constructive utilization of flora for medicinal purposes as sanctioned by the Creator.

Although research needs to be carried out on Veekuhane sacred sites, there is nevertheless the famous Chidino cha Luchiindo (the Shrine of Luchiindo) where the Muniteenges were sent to be invested in ruler-ship matters and could go to consult their ancestors and seek guidance on chieftain matters. It is in such shrines where rain-making ceremonies are conducted. Stories about that voices of people singing and talking could be heard when at Luchiindo. Due to its sacred nature, entry to this only surviving shrine is restricted, with possibilities of no return. Although still un-researched, water is in my opinion a major symbol of Ikuhane spirituality. Given the people's adaptation to and comfort with water and the flood plains, and the regular intervals with which floods occur, it is my belief that water as a source of life and as life itself, lies at the very core of Subiya spirituality.



According to Shamukuni, Veekuhane have a diverse economy that includes: pottery, blacksmith, basketry, hunting, carving and agriculture. As agriculturalists, they continue to till the land, rear animals predominantly cattle and chicken, and few sheep, goats, donkeys and horses. Cattle are a source of draught power, protein in the form of milk and meat, and symbol of social status as the more cattle one has the more power s/he commanded in society. Further, cattle and so are other edible domestic animals play significant religious functions as in the case of healing and cleansing ceremonies. Oral traditions hold that prior to the advent of coffins, cattle skins were used to wrap the deceased prior to interment.

Veekuhane are also a fishing people of repute who have perfected their fishing skills over the many centuries of their evolution. Before the adoption of the modern fishing nets, they employed traditionally crafted nets known as lukuku which when cast in specific fishing areas would allow fish to get in but deny them exit. The danger with this technology was that it trapped unintended victims such as pythons which when caught, were nevertheless put to good use for human consumption and as sources of necessary healing oil to cure mild deafness as well as being ointment which when applied on one's body scarred away snakes. Other than traps, fish was also killed using spears. Fish remains to date an important part of Ikuhane diet not only as a source of protein but also as a source of intelligence. There is a belief among the people that one who eats fish and its head in particular, performs well in school.


Subia astronomy

Astronomy is a natural science that the Subia use to study and interpret celestial objects and phenomena. This includes objects that they could see with their naked eyes, like the sun and moon. The moon is called Mwezi. Its function is for light at night, to tell the month, which is also called Mwezi, and seasons. The sun is called Izuba. Its function is for daylight, (hence why a day is called izuba as well) and the sun is used to tell the time of day used to determine directions.


Subia food and cuisine

The staple food of the Subia is maize meal porridge called Inkoko. It is often eaten with Zambezi Bream fish along with vegetables or the porridge is eaten with milk called Masanza. This dish is often served at gatherings, weddings or funerals.


Subia culture and attire

The Musisi is a dress worn by Subia women. The word musisi means ‘skirt’. It consists of two skirts with a stiffened top layer to keep the shape of the dress. It is popular for the dress to be made from satin and worn with a matching small wrapper around the waist called Cali in Subia.


Subia music

The music performed by the Subia is called Chipelu. Chipelu music and dance are social activities that take place throughout the year at different social events in the community. It is performed by dance groups for the king at his palace or when he visits the communities in their villages. Dancing also takes place at weddings, political rallies or school meetings but not at funerals. Each Chipelu group composes its own songs usually addressing social issues in the community.


Subia arts and crafts

The Subia are fine potters due to their free access to clay soils and wood for the ovens. They are also known for their skill at crafting baskets which can be used in harvesting crops and sifting maize flour. They also make necklaces from beads, mats out of reeds and whole canoes for fishing.