Ingombe Ilede – Ask Any Zambian!

Ask any Zambian — who’s gone to school of course — about Ingombe Ilede and they will be quick to point out what it means.

Oh, that is Tonga and it means ‘Sleeping cow’,” they will tell you with eyes full of passion. But ask them why it is called thus, or why it is of importance and you will only get goggle-eyed stares. That information has probably slipped out of their heads over the years.

It had slipped out of my mind too, and so I had to do some painstaking research. Here is a bit of what I gathered.

We will start with the location.

The place is located in the Southern Province of Zambia, on a hill near the confluence of the Zambezi and Lusitu rivers, near Siavonga, close to the Kariba dam.

It is named ‘Sleeping cow’ because the baobab trees on location resemble a sleeping cow.

So what is the importance of this site?

Well, it is one of the most important archeological sites in Zambia. It was discovered in 1960 during civil engineering works. It has a lot of historical significance. The excavations done at the site have helped historians understand the development of trade in the region.

So what do these excavations reveal?

A number of burial places have been dug up that are reckoned to belong to the fourteenth century. The excavations at these burial places reveal a few people who were buried wearing ornaments of seashells and exotic glass beads. The presence of these articles shows that trade was taking place with the east coast of Africa. It is most likely that the glass beads came from India.

There are also other burial places that included gold beads, copper ingots and iron bells of a kind later associated with chieftainship. These burials are reckoned to have been done at time later than those discussed above because they show advancement in trade with the east.

The copper ingots probably came from the people of Great Zimbabwe, whereas the textiles (clothes and other woven fabric) came form India.

These burials also bring to light the emergence of class distinctions, because some artifacts were certainly associated with royalty, especially the exotic ones. The elite were buried with rich exotic ornaments whereas the burial places of the common folk were seriously devoid of these.

Occupied in the 7th century A.D, the site reached its pinnacle in the 15th century A.D. It is true to say that it owed its prosperity—in copper, gold and social life—to the rise of trade with the east.

Certainly, it is not just a name which exists on people’s lips; it is a real site which offers a window into the past, allowing us to peer into those early times when trade and commerce were just emerging.



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