Country Listing

Zaire Table of Contents


Peoples of the Savanna: Southeastern Zaire

In eastern Shaba, stretching from the border with Tanzania and Zambia roughly to the Lualaba River, Vansina has distinguished three sets of communities: the Bemba cluster, the Hemba cluster, and the Haut-Katanga cluster encompassing peoples of Haut-Shaba Subregion (formerly Haut-Katanga). Settlement patterns are geographically fragmented so that representatives of one cluster live cheek by jowl with representatives of another or constitute an enclave in another group's territory.

The area has a long history of conquest and conflict. Most of the peoples of Haut-Shaba were subjects of the Kazembe Kingdom of Luapula, an offshoot of the Lunda Empire whose center was farther west. The Kaonde, the southwesternmost people in the Haut-Katanga cluster, living in present-day Lualaba Subregion (of Shaba Region), were ruled by still another Lunda king. After the middle of the nineteenth century, a group of long-distance traders, the Nyamwezi of central Tanzania, established the Yeke Kingdom, which lasted for thirty years. The introduction of new cultural elements by the Yeke and their trading activities both east and west had longer-range effects than the establishment of their political rule itself.

All of these kingdoms came to an end before the beginning of the twentieth century, leaving their people with polities of much smaller scale. The political pattern that preceded the institution of kingship and outlasted it was based on chiefs of the earth, basically ritual offices essential for maintaining fertility, and, occasionally, political chiefs.

Data as of December 1993