THE BEMBA: A HISTORICAL STUDY OF ZAMBIA’S MOST POLITICALLY-INCLINED TRIBE

A dive into history

Richards, a prominent historian once noted: “The Bemba themselves are emphatic that they arrived with the Lunda and parted with them just south of Lake Mweru.” It should also be noted that, as the Lunda under Kazembe III moved east of the Luapula in the Mid-18th century, they took care not to fight the Bemba whom they regarded as relatives, of some sort. It was also recorded that when the Bemba chief, the Mwamba, (not Chitimukulu) heard that his “mother’s brother” (Kazembe III) was coming, he blocked the roads with human corpses and Kazembe respected the Bemba territory.

There’s never been a mention of democracy in these historical accounts, meaning this concept is new to our people. The Bemba developed a very warlike bias against the Bisa, the Lungu, Lala and, Cewa. Now here is where history turns ugly. The year is 1865 and this marks the first actual Arab invasion of Lake Mweru region. It would seem from historical accounts that an entire party of Arabs from Tanganyika (which is present-day Tanzania) entered the Bemba area with guns and one cannon. Kalongo, one of the leaders, established close ties with the reigning Chitimukulu, while Kumba Kumba, the other leader, made similar arrangements with the Mwamba. Guns, gunpowder, shot, calico and, beads were traded for ivory and slaves. This breaks my heart but that’s history. In fact, the Arabs successfully managed to reopen a dispute between the Bemba and Ngoni which led to a full-blown war that was fought into a stalemate.

In the attack upon the Ngoni, the Arabs and were afraid of the ranks of a combined Chitimukulu-Mwamba force. It was disastrous. Many slaves and cattle were captured, bringing into the hands of the Bemba chiefs the cannon, percussion caps, gunpowder and a substantial increase in prestige.

It was actually quoted that, “Kitimukulu’s fame was now established and he was greatly feared by the surrounding tribes, upon whom he continually made war, to establish his many sons in chieftainships and to increase his number of slaves.”

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