Lunda Tribe of Africa: African Tribal People

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Location: Congo (Zaire), western Zambia, northern Angola, Africa

Population: 175,000

Language: Cilunda, Kiluba (Bantu)

Neighboring Peoples: Yaka, Suku, Chokwe, Pende, Lwalwa, Luluwa, Luba, Lwena, Salampasu

Types of Art: Although it is impossible to isolate specific examples of Lunda art, their political activity in the region and their patronage of artists living in neighboring ethnic groups influenced the artistic styles found throughout the region. It is believed that all objects historically linked to the Lunda were originally carved by neighbors, including Chokwe, Luba, Ding, and Lwena.

History: Lunda history is intricately tied to the peoples living throughout the entire region of south central Congo (Zaire), western Zambia, and northern Angola. From the early 17th century until the late 19th century when the Chokwe took over regional power, the Lunda empire was the dominant political and military force in this area of Africa. A political union with the neighboring Luba peoples dates back to a royal wedding between Lweji, daughter of a Lunda land chief, and Cibinda Ilunga, son of the first Luba king, Kalala Ilunga. Following this union many dissatisfied clans left the centralized Lunda area and colonized new areas of central Africa, extending the Lunda empire enormously. Lunda influence remained considerable from Lake Tanganyika almost to the Atlantic Ocean, until Chokwe and then colonial interventions diminished their power.

Economy: The economic pursuits of Lunda peoples are dictated by the region in which they live. Those who live along the rivers and ponds which are common in southern Congo (Zaire) are fishermen. Women farm maize, millet, yams, sorghum, squash, beans, sweet potatoes, palm oil trees, and tobacco. Since the 17th century trade between the Lunda and the Shaba province to the east has played an important role in regional economics. During the height of Lunda influence their traders played an important role in the slave and ivory trade that moved goods and people from central Africa to the coasts for international export. Hunting plays an important social and ritual role.

Political Systems: The head of the Lunda is entitled Mwaat Yaav and, together with a council of royal dignitaries, was at one time responsible for overseeing political decisions for the entire kingdom. Localized politics were presided over by land chiefs, who wielded a great deal of religious power, and by administrators appointed by the royal court. The majority of the Lunda kingdom was ruled indirectly with traditional leaders in individual regions given the opportunity to make local decisions, as long as proper tribute was paid to the Lunda overlords. It is believed that the Lunda may have at one time been patrilineal, but as they conquered and incorporated various ethnic groups that were matrilineal, their political system transformed to reflect a preference for matrilineal descent.

Religion: Nzambi is recognized as the supreme creator god, and appeals are never made directly to him. Instead, ancestor spirits, who are responsible for doing both good and bad, are called upon to fulfill individual and community requests at all major community functions. Divination plays an important role in maintaining a system of balance in the community, determining which spirits require appeasement and when such activities should occur. Basket divination and rubbing oracles are the most common forms of divination among the Lunda. Trees are planted in a sacred grove during chiefly succession rites to represent the ancestors of the current chief.

 

Credits:  Christopher D. Roy also see credit page 
Professor of the History of Art
The University of Iowa

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