By Bashi Malumbo
According to oral tradition Bembas came from Angola which the Bemba call ‘Kola’. Some call this ‘Kale’. In 1485 while travelling southwest of Congo, the Portuguese found group of people at a place which was called “Bashi”. Nshinga was there chief but after the Portuguese Baptized him he was renamed as “Joani”. In 1507, Nshinga died and he was succeeded by his son Mubemba whom the Portuguese renamed after Baptism as “Aluphosho” which means (eager for war). When Mubemba died the kingdom split . some people went northwards and settled in the area was known as “Buluba” (Luba) near the Lunda Kingdom of Mwatiyamvo.
From Kola country, Mubemba’s people took with them four ornaments, which they called ‘nsalamu’. Of these four, three of them males idols and one was a female idol holding a child in her hands. These nsalamu can still be found today at Chitimukulu village. The three nsalamu that represent the males are named: “Chitimuluba”, “Kanabesa” and “Kabemba”, while the one that represents the females is anonymous. while in Luba land Mubemba’s people mixed and interacted with the people they found there, and eventually began to speak their Luba language.
Due to disagreement with his cruel father(mubemba), Mukulumpe left Luba land and headed northwards with some followers along the Lualaba River, and established his own kingdom there. One day when Mukulumpe’s men were out on a hunting expedition, they found a beautiful woman with big ears who introduced herself as Mumbi Lyulu Mukasa (he who fell from above), whom they took and presented to the chief. When the chief inquired where she came from, she said that she had dropped from the sky, and had no relatives. She also said that her clan name and totem (umukowa) was Ng’andu (Ngwena, the crocodile). so they gave her priases
Mumbi Mukasa uwa ponene kumulu.
Uwa pakalala amatwi nge nsofu.
Mumbi Mukasa who fell from the sky.
Who has large and floppy ears like an Elephant.
Mukulumpe married her and she bore him three sons, “Katongo”, “Nkole” and “Chiti”, and one daughter “Chilufya- mulenga”. When the sons grew up they were each
given a section of the kingdom to rule over but these sons became arrogant and rude to their father. consequently, out of anger mukulumpe plucked out Nkole’s eyes and allowed his to stay, but in the outskirts of the village, known as “mpongolo”(entrance). There he often played music on “Ichinkumbi” and “Umondo” to pass time. Mukulumpe was very upset with his two other sons to the extent that he dug trenches “ubuchinga” at the entrance of the village, and put poisoned spears inside and covered them with earth so that he can lure them to step into this trap. Nkole got wind of this scheme so he composed a song which he sang with “umondo” to alert his brothers:
This song is still tough in primary school with a “Murena buluka” tune of South Africa.
Mukulumpe later divorce, Mumbi, and expel her from the kingdom. Due to this action, Nkole and Chiti decided to leave their father but only asked for blessings known as “ukupaala amate”. The following are some of the people who followed:
Nkole and Chiti :Kalubila, Mutalemukulu, Chileshemukulu,Chimboola, Mashete, Kalulu wa mawanga, Mfungo, Nkweto wa cilinda, Nkweto wa cisungu, Mumena, Mumbimfumu etc. All These names are from the ng’andu clan where mumbi claimed to have come from and are still used by their descendants today. other who followed were included; Chintu wa mikumbi,Mwenga and Chanda,Papwa Mungombe,Kopa Mungulube, Chibesakunda, Kabinga Kabanda and white from Portugal, whom they called “Luchele Ng’anga” (Great Doctor). They sang praises about him such as:
‘LUCHELE NG ‘ANGA UWASHILE ULUKASA PEBWE, NAKABWA-LESA KAMUKONKAPO’
Meaning ‘Great doctor who left his foot on a stone, and his dog followed behind him’. The people were so fascinated to see the Doctor’s shoes left on the rocks whenever he went to have a bathe at the river.
Nkole and Chili’s group continued travelling eastwards until they came to Luapula River and crossed at a place called “Kashengeneka”. Chiti was the first to cross the river, and after crossing he shot his spear into a Mpundu tree and praised himself:
NINE MUTANSHI WASABWIKE BEMBA.
NINE NTALASHA MATANDA.
NINE MUKULUMPE WAMWENE UBWIKALO.
I AM THE FIRST ONE TO CROSS THE LAKE.
I AM NTALASHA MATANDA.
I AM MUKULUMPE WHO ESTABLISHED LIVELIHOOD.
Chiti took over leadership and established a big village which they called “Isandulula-fyalo” (meaning that at this place they can expand their population). About 1700, Chiti sent four able bodied men to collect his sister Chilufya Mulenga from Mukulumpe’s Kingdom in Luba land. Chiti adopted the matrilineal system whereby his sisters’ sons, who were his nephews, could inherit his position. This is the system which is followed by the Bemba to this day.
Indeed, Chilufya Mulenga was brought to Isandulula, impregnated by one of the able bodied men. The child she bore was named Chilufya. As time went by, Chiti decided to leave isandulula, and he led his people through the Lala Kingdom, where Kankomba, was made chief of the Lala people, and they called him KankombaweLala.
They moved into eastern province- wards until they arrived in Chief Mwase ‘s Kingdom of the Nsenga people, who welcomed them due to fear of being attacked. During their stay with the Nsenga, Chiti differed with Mwase, over Chilimbulu, Chief Mwase’s wife, whom Chiti wanted to take as his own wife. It should be noted that Mwasemphangwe Village still existit today in Lundzi District of Zambia. The two leaders fought in public until Chiti was killed. Soon after Chiti’s death, Mwase and his people fled. Nkole the elder brother of Chiti took over leadership and decided to leave Nsenga land, and he moved on. Chiti’s body was embalmed with ilanda (cowpeas soup) and covered in Banana leaves, and was taken to be buried in another place. When they reached at Kaunga River they settled there briefly to mourn Chiti. This area was called Impunga (referring to the grief of losing a leader).
In revenge, Nkole mobilized an army and sent it to Mwase’s Kingdom to avenge his brother’s death. Mwase and his wife Chilimbulu together with many other Nsenga people were killed and others were taken as slaves. Mwase’s body was cut into small pieces and stored in “imitondo” (clay pots). From Chilimbulu’s body, they removed the skin of her berry which was nicely tattooed and stored in a container. This skin was later used as part of a potion that would enable crops to grow well and healthy. at the end of each war, Bemba warriors drank some medicine that contained a piece of the same skin according to the number of enemies killed in battle. This was done because the Bemba believed that it was a potion that would give them strength and courage.
Soon after the avengement and conquest of the Nsenga, Nkole led his people further north to a place called Mwalule and built a village there called Mulambalala (meaning- the end of grief). At this time they had problems with burying their chief Chiti’s body, because according to Luba traditions and customs, a chief was supposed to be buried in a cow-skin. So Nkole sent his army on a conquest mission to still cattle from which would make the burial covering. Nkole decided that before his brother’s body was buried, Mwase’s body should be burnt. During the burning of Mwase’s body pieces, the smoke from the fire suffocated Nkole which left him weak and sickly. Chiti’s body was buried at Mwalule (in Chinsali District of Zambia) together with a living person named Chitimwape as a pillow. this practice of burying Bemba chiefs with the living lasted until 1900.
Before long, Nkole died was succeeded by Chilufya. Nkole was buried at Mwalule next to his brother’s grave. From this time up to the present, Mwalule is the place where all the Bemba chiefs are buried. A senior member of the Bemba ethnic group called Shimwalule is assigned as caretaker of the cemetery. During the reign of Chilufya two kapasos( Chief’s body guards) named Kabwa (Dog) and Kayai, discovered a dead crocodile at the river bank. Upon hearing this news, all the Bembas were very pleased as they believed that it was a good omen of a prosperous future for them, because the crocodile is a very dignified animal and a metaphor for their chiefs who are Bena Ng ‘andu (the crocodile clan). At this place they built a palace for the Paramount Chief Chitimukulu of the Bemba where he resides up to this day. They first chased the people they found there such as Kalelelya, the Mambwe and the Musukwa, who went further north and settled near Lake Tanganyika near Tanzania.
When Chilufya took over, he gave some members of the royal family vast sections to rule over. Because of this, the Bemba people spread and covered three quarters of northern Zambia. With the coming of the colonialists Northern Zambia (Bemba Land) was divided into Northern and Luapula Provinces, while the Northern Province was further sub-divided into the following districts:
DISTRICT PEOPLE CHIEF
Every year the Bemba people throughout Zambia congregate at Chitimukulu village to celebrate ‘Ukusefya pa ng’wena’, an event commemorating their first entry into Bemba land, the victory in wars that they fought against other ethnic groups, and also celebrating the harvest of the first crops.
©️ Bashi Malumbo