In the Makololo language, the word “Lozi” refers to the Barotse Floodplain of the Zambezi, where the majority of Lozi reside. The German missionaries in what is now Namibia first used the spelling Lozi, but it can also be written Lotse or Rotse. For example, Murotse means “person of the plain” and Barotse means “people of the plain” in the Silos language, respectively. Mu- and Ba- are the corresponding single and plural prefixes for some nouns.


In Northern Rhodesia, Harold Macmillan visits the Paramount King of the Barotse (1960). According to Lozi legend, they have always lived in Barotseland. Around 1830, an army known as the Makololo, which had its origins in the Sotho-speaking Bafokeng region of South Africa, and was commanded by a warrior by the name of Sebetwane, invaded Barotseland and defeated the Lozi. They seized sway until the Sotho clique was deposed in 1864 as a result of a Lozi uprising. people in Barotse portraits (1881)The Paramount King, the leader of the Lozi political structure, is referred to as “Litunga,” which means “keeper of the earth,” and is the dominant figure. Following the Lozi uprising that ousted the Sotho clan, the famed Litunga Lewanika, whose last name was a nickname from the Mbunda[1] meaning “unifier,” reigned from 1878 to 1916 with a short insurrectionist break in 1884-85, requested Queen Victoria to bring Barotseland under protectorate status. Great Britain, however, was uninterested in acquiring the territory.

A granting of a royal charter for the British South Africa Company of Cecil Rhodes allowed the company to acquire Barotseland under the guise of the British government. Although under protectorate status, Lewanika eventually realized that he had been tricked and petitioned for the protectorate status to be corrected. Yet, the land remained under Rhodes’s control, and when the territory failed to produce gold, copper or other exports, the “British South Africa Company defaulted on every commitment it had made to Lewanika,” and few developments in infrastructure and education were made.

Although Barotseland was incorporated into Northern Rhodesia, it retained a large degree of autonomy, which was carried over when Northern Rhodesia became Zambia on its independence in 1964. In the run-up to independence, the Litunga, the Ngambela (Prime Minister) and about a dozen senior indunas went to London for talks with the Colonial Office, in an attempt to have Barotseland remain a Protectorate. The Litunga, Sir Mwanawina Lewenika III, quoted his grandfather’s words to Queen Victoria, that “My country is your blanket, and my people are but the fleas in your blanket.” Although before colonial times, the region was self-sufficient in food and exported crops to neighbouring regions, today it is the least-developed region of Zambia, with only one major road into the province, from Lusaka to Mongu, and only intermittent supplies of electricity.


Lozi society is highly stratified, with a monarch at the top and those of recent royal descent occupying high positions in society. The monarch or Barotse Royal Establishment (BRE) is known as Mulonga, and Lozi society tolerates little criticism even of an unpopular Litunga. Criticisms of a Litunga by a foreigner are treated as criticisms of the Lozi nation as a whole. The Lozi are not separate into clans, unlike most African ethnic groups. Lozi culture is strongly influenced by the flood cycle of the Zambezi river, with annual migrations taking place from the flood plain to higher ground at the start of the wet season. The most important of these festivals is the Kuomboka, in which the Litunga moves from Lealui in the flood plain to Limulunga on higher ground. The Kuomboka usually takes place in February or March. These annual floods displace hundreds of people every year.

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