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

The reckoning

However, this obviously could not last forever. The British were able to exploit the divisions within the Bemba primarily due to the competition between Mwamba on the one hand and the Chitimukulu on the other hand. In 1897, a six-day battle was fought at the village of Chiwali, a Senga chief, on the border of the Mwamba-Bemba.

This battle was between a force of Arabs and Mwamba-Bemba and the combined British-Senga forces. The Mwamba- Bemba force was finally routed and Kapandansaru, the Arab chief, captured. So consequently, the powers of the Arab slavers were broken.

This little war had far-reaching results. External raids by the Bemba upon the surrounding tribes were checked. The Bemba Kings, being confined within their own boundaries, turned, as if in rage, upon their own people, and inflicted upon them atrocious mutilations and other horrors, which previously they had reserved for their enemies alone. Many Bemba were actually sold into slavery by their own chiefs.

The Bemba was once described as: “A people who did not know how to hoe, that their only trade was war.”

They didn’t do any farming or trading; they simply raided a people, captured them and, sold them as slaves and some of them were exported to Persia, Turkey and, Arabia.

African Slavery

This all looks to be pretty grim and I wish I could sugar-coat history but that’s just the way it is. So, you can imagine the huge adjustment the Bemba had on their hands. Unlike the Mambwe or most tribes in Zambia, they paid little attention to farming and cattle rearing. Not to say that they did not do these things though. For most Bembas, the only way to survive was to seek employment and ways to subsist outside their territory. As they spread out, they took their language and culture with them. No wonder Bemba is spoken in about half of all the provinces in Zambia in spite that their traditional homeland only encompasses two or three provinces. Now, what does this all have to do with today’s politics?

Well, the Bemba as a tribe has been historically active in political issues. So, it was really no hustle for them to extend that disposition to national politics. Harry Kalaba, the leader of the Democratic Party on a T.V. interview once said, “It is strange that when two people are seen speaking Tonga in public, someone would say that they love themselves but it’s very rare that the same sentiments would be expressed if they were speaking Bemba.” The reason why it is like that is because of the huge influence this tribe has had on the Nation. Accusations of tribal politics have been in existence in Zambia for quite some time. It is not a recent phenomenon. Actually, one of President Kaunda’s problems in governing the fledgling nation was the incipient tribalism and ethnic divisions that were encroaching slowly in his government. Due to this, the vice president of the United National Independence Party (UNIP), Simon Mwansa Kapwepwepwe left the party to form the United Progressive Party (UPP). Much in opposition to Kapwepwepwe’s decision, members of UNIP advocated for the banning of UPP and recognition of a one-party state. But that is another discussion for another day.

As a Vigilante Scholar, I always try to maintain a reasonable point of view without the influence of any subjective bias. Therefore, I feel I must mention that this post is not intended to paint a bad picture of any particular tribe in this country. I have always felt that History is an ugly subject. However, I feel it is grossly unfair to bring in tribal politics as a means to achieve political ambitions. Indeed, I have found that the generation of today, (my generation), cares very little about a person’s tribe or where he is from. It is only the ‘old-timers’ that I think still have a problem. As much as tribalism bleeds Zambia, I think that the real issue today that has plagued this country is the political apathy and lack of patriotism. I do hope this little treatise has been helpful to you in understanding your history and present political leadership.

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