The Kaonde People and Social Structure

by Emmanuel Kafumukache
(Lusaka, Lusaka, Zambia)

Kaonde, also spelled Kahonde, also called Bakahonde, a Bantu-speaking people the vast majority of whom inhabit the northwestern region of Zambia. A numerically much smaller group lives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The Zambian wooded highlands average 4,000 feet (1,220 metres) in elevation; to the southeast begin open plains noted for their abundant wild animals.

Three groups with different histories are known as Kaonde; all are probably descended from the Luba people residing in what is now the DRC. When they settled their present territory in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Kaonde recognized the paramount chief of the Lunda empire to the north as their overlord. Several autonomous Kaonde chiefships arose in the 18th century, however, and came to prominence in the 19th century, a period marked by battles with the Lozi and by Kaonde slave raids against the Ila to the south.

Kaonde observe matrilineal descent and reside virilocally (with or near the kin of the husband) in large villages. Corn (maize), cassava, millet, sorghum, yams, squash, and beans are grown. Traditionally, the Kaonde piled and burned felled trees and underbrush and then planted crops in a square area of ash-enriched soil. Many wild fruits are gathered. Men hunt small highland game (cane rats, duiker, bushbuck) when it is available and fish during the arid months of June and July.

The Kaonde share many cultural traits with other Central Bantu speakers. For example, the Kaonde entreat the mediation of ancestral spirits, as do many peoples throughout northern Zambia and the southern DRC. The Kaonde also observe a traditional first-harvest ceremony called Juba ja Nsomo. During that annual festival, usually held on or about July 6, the chief is presented with and blesses the first harvest. Many Kaonde men work in mining centres of the Copperbelt. The Kaonde language is one of the seven official vernacular, or “local,” languages of Zambia, and it is used in Radio Zambia broadcasts.

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