Angola Table of Contents

The hyphenated category Lunda-Chokwe constituted an estimated 8 percent of the Angolan population in 1988. As the hyphenation implies, the category comprises at least two subsets, the origins of which are known to be different and the events leading to their inclusion in a single set are recent. The Lunda alone were a congeries of peoples brought together in the far-flung Lunda Empire (seventeenth century to nineteenth century) under the hegemony of a people calling themselves Ruund, its capital in the eastern section of Zaire's Katanga Province (present-day Shaba Province). Lunda is the form of the name used for the Ruund and for themselves by adjacent peoples to the south who came under Ruund domination. In some sources, the Ruund are called Northern Lunda, and their neighbors are called Southern Lunda. The most significant element of the latter, called Ndembu (or Ndembo), lived in Zaire and Zambia. In Angola the people with whom the northward-expanding Chokwe came into contact were chiefly Ruund speakers. The economic and political decline of the empire by the second half of the nineteenth century and the demarcation of colonial boundaries ended Ruund political domination over those elements beyond the Zairian borders.

The Chokwe, until the latter half of the nineteenth century a small group of hunters and traders living near the headwaters of the Cuango and Cassai rivers, were at the southern periphery of the Lunda Empire and paid tribute to its head. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the Chokwe became increasingly involved in trading and raiding, and they expanded in all directions, but chiefly to the north, in part absorbing the Ruund and other peoples. In the late nineteenth century, the Chokwe went so far as to invade the capital of the much-weakened empire in Katanga. As a consequence of this Chokwe activity, a mixed population emerged in parts of Zaire as well as in Angola, although there were virtually homogenous communities in both countries consisting of Chokwe, Ruund, or Southern Lunda.

The intermingling of Lunda (Ruund and Southern Lunda) and Chokwe, in which other smaller groups were presumably also caught up, continued until about 1920. It was only after that time that the mixture acquired the hyphenated label and its members began to think of themselves (in some contexts) as one people.

The languages spoken by the various elements of the so-called Lunda-Chokwe were more closely related to each other than to other Bantu languages in the Zairian-Angolan savanna but were by no means mutually intelligible. The three major tongues (Ruund, Lunda, and Chokwe) had long been distinct from each other, although some borrowing of words, particularly of Ruund political titles by the others, had occurred.

Portuguese anthropologists and some others accepting their work have placed some of the peoples (Minungu and Shinji) in this area with the Mbundu, and the Minungu language is sometimes considered a transitional one between Kimbundu and Chokwe. There may in fact have been important Mbundu influence on these two peoples, but the work of a number of linguists places their languages firmly with the set that includes Ruund, Lunda, and Chokwe.

Economic and political developments in the 1970s affected various sections of the Lunda-Chokwe differently. Substantial numbers of them live in or near Lunda Norte Province, which contains the principal diamond mines of Angola. Diamond mining had been significant since 1920, and preindependence data show that the industry employed about 18,000 persons. Moreover, the mining company provided medical and educational facilities for its employees and their dependents, thereby affecting even greater numbers. How many of those employed were Lunda-Chokwe is not clear, although neighboring villages would have been affected by the presence of the mining complex in any case. In the intra-Angolan political conflict preceding and immediately following independence, there apparently was some division between the northern Lunda-Chokwe, especially those with some urban experience, who tended to support the MPLA, and the rural Chokwe, particularly those farther south, who tended to support UNITA. In the 1980s, as the UNITA insurgency intensified in the border areas of eastern and northern Angola, Lunda-Chokwe families were forced to flee into Zaire's Shaba Province, where many remained in 1988, living in three sites along the Benguela Railway. The impact of this move on the ethnolinguistic integrity of these people was not known.

A somewhat different kind of political impact began in the late 1960s, when refugees from Katanga in Zaire, speakers of Lunda or a related language, crossed the border into what are now Lunda Sul and northern Moxico provinces. In 1977 and 1978, these refugees and others whom they had recruited formed the National Front for the Liberation of the Congo (Front National pour la Libération du Congo--FNLC) and used the area as a base from which they launched their invasions of Shaba Province. In the 1980s, these rebels and perhaps still other refugees remained in Angola, many in Lunda Sul Province, although the Angolan government as part of its rapprochement with Zaire was encouraging them to return to their traditional homes. The Zairian government offered amnesty to political exiles on several occasions in the late 1980s and conferred with the Angolan government on the issue of refugees. In 1988, however, a significant number of Zairian refugees continued to inhabit LundaChokwe territory. The significance for local Lunda-Chokwe of the presence and activities of these Zairians was not known.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress