Theories about the History of the LOZI

20 November 2016
Author  Saleya Kwalombota, Barotseland Post


I must confess this is the most complex historical background ever squared-up by different historians and authors. To summarize pieces of historical information from different authors is not an easy exercise as some of the information that may be of necessity to some readers might have been left out; however, I here below outline some contributions and comments over this topic.

In this article I will look at the LOZI background, settlement and clusters of the over 28 Barotseland tribes from both academic and oral historical sources.


There are different oral traditions regarding the origins of the Lozi people. The first, says they originated from the Rozwi of the Great Zimbabwe (Mainga 1973:13). To substantiate this theory, linguistic conjectures have been made between Lozi and Hurutshe, a dominant Shona language for similarities (Coillard 1902:224).

A second is a Lozi tradition that points to a Congolese origin (Gluckman 1968:1). This theory conforms to historical traditions of some other tribes in the North-Western and North-Eastern Zambia who migrated from the Lunda Kingdom in the present day Congo DR. Hence this source appears to be the most credible.

The third one is from the Lozi mythology which conveys that Lozis are people who are descendants of Mbuyu-wa-mwambwa daughter and wife of Nyambe (God) [Jalla 1954:80].


Historical and ethnographic investigations have borne different results while attempting to establish the early settlers of Barotseland. To start with, Turne (1952:9) proposes that the original people in Barotseland are known as Aluyi or Aluyana. With the passage of time, however, the group came to be known as Lozi.

In 1830, the Aluyi were conquered by the Kololo, a branch of the Sotho people of present day Lesotho/South Africa, led by Sebitwane, shortly after the death of Mulambwa which gave way to a power struggle between his two sons, SILUMELUME and MUBUKWANU. The Kololo could not pronounce the word Aluyi and therefore called their subjects ‘Arozwi’ or ‘Marozwi’, loosely translated as the ‘river people.’ The conquered Aluyi on the other hand did not have an ‘r’ in their vocabulary and corrupted these new terms to ‘Alozi’ and ‘Malozi’. After the overthrow of the Kololo and re-establishment of Aluyi rule in 1864, the people continued to refer to themselves as ‘Malozi’. It is this word that the British later perverted to be ‘Barotse’, hence, Barotseland. The Kololo invasion is why some people today think the Lozi came from South Africa. The truth, however, is that thirty four years of Kololo ‘colonization’ impacted the Lozi so much that siLozi, the national language of Barotseland, is completely and directly related (similar) to the SOTHO languages of South Africa.

In reality, the Lozi or river people consist of over twenty-five Bantu speaking people groups.


In as much as I group them, I will list every member tribe so as to remove any misunderstanding that might arise.

The LUYANA group comprises the following: Kwandi, Kwangwa, Kwangala, Muenyi and Mbowe peoples. The Kwangwa people are believed to have descended from Mbuyu-wa-mwambwa through her daughter Noleya. They first established their home in the surrounding area of Mungu (Mongu). Subsequently, they were conquered by King Ngalama and relocated to the highland to work in iron (Jalla 1954:10-12). Muenyi people originated from the Lunda together with the Luyi. The Kwandi's connection is illustrated linguistically for they speak a Luyi dialect.

With the passage of time, the Aluyana assimilated into the Lozi group the following tribes or clusters:-

1) Nyengo, Makoma, Ndundulu, Simaa, Mashi, Mishulundu, Yei and the old Mbunda. These tribes have unknown origins but it is believed that they are Luba speaking.

2) Another interesting cluster that was also incorporated is of NKOYA stock and comprises Nkoya, Mashasha, Lukolwe and Lushange. These or at least their 'ruling' lineage seem to have emigrated from Angola in the distant past (Pre 17th century: Mc Culloch, 1951:1).

3) Another group that was absorbed is made up of Ila, Tonga, We, Totela, Toka, Subiya, Shanjo, Leya, Lenje and Sala. These groups spoke TONGA related dialects.

4) The last group arrived late in Barotseland; first were MAWIKO (Westerners) which embraces the Lubale, Mbunda (not old Mbunda above), Lucazi and Chokwe, followed by the LUBA speaking class consisting of the Lunda, Ndembu and Mbwela (Turner 1952:9).

The Barotse nation, as can be concluded from the above given information, consists of many different tribes more than the tribes found in Zambia. Today, therefore, the word LOZI is used to refer to all the inhabitant tribes of Barotseland, a former British protectorate. In short it is a national identification rather than one single tribe.

Thus; a person from Barotseland is identified as LOZI or MULOZI; similarly, a person from Zambia is identified as ZAMBIAN. I must state here that the people of Barotseland have no cultural and linguistic similarities with the people of Zambia. This has been the determination factor from time immemorial; Barotseland has had a multiethnic society with diverse composition.


Lozi Kingship developed gradually from the ancestress Mbuyu-wa-mwambwa who hails from the Lunda/Luba Empire. Early settlement patterns followed original conquest of the small tribes and have intermarried considerably and practically no Lozi can claim to be a pure Aluyana.

In its broadest sense Malozi or Barotse describes all the inhabitants of Barotseland. In its full context, it refers to the national identity and in spite of each group's tribe consciousness, each group fall under the unique jurisdiction of the Litunga, King of Barotseland.

Bulozi fasi la bo ndata Luna!

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