Country Listing

Zaire Table of Contents



Zaire's population is composed of as many as 250 different ethnic groups, most of which are Bantu-speakers. The largest Bantuspeaking groups are the Luba, Kongo, Mongo, and Lunda. In 1992 some sources reported that the Luba, Kongo, and Mongo groups as well as the non-Bantu-speaking Zande and Mangbetu together made up about 45 percent of the population. Calculations of the number and relative sizes of ethnic groups in Zaire are at best approximations, however. These groups are neither fixed entities nor the sole or even primary points of reference for all Zairians. On the contrary, for most purposes and in most contexts, rural Zairians see themselves primarily as members of a local community or of a clan (see Glossary) or lineage (see Glossary). Ethnic identity has become salient only under certain conditions, and the precise boundaries of ethnic groups have shifted with circumstances. Ethnicity and regionalism (the latter based in part on ethnic considerations) were, and continue to be, of substantial importance in the political orientation of Zairians, but the units involved have always varied in composition, cohesion, and ideological selfconsciousness .

Given the difficulty of categorizing ethnic groups in such a way as to satisfy objective criteria on the one hand and the subjective standard of common identity on the other, and given the sheer number of named groups, only a brief survey of the major entities based on common (or closely similar) language and culture is attempted here. A mapping of clusters of related or culturally similar entities shows a limited correspondence to the major geographic regions of Zaire, and these provide a framework for the survey. The basic source on this subject is Jan Vansina's work from the 1960s, Introduction l'ethnographie du Congo.

Data as of December 1993