The History of the Mbunda People


*The Mbundas are one of those Bantu tribes which migrated from the land which is now the country of Sudan, and came to reach the land of the now country of  Congo, then known as Kongo, at a place of the “Kraal of Kola” (Chimpaka cha Kola) long before the famed Mwachiyamvwa dynasty descended to the throne (litanda).

During their long trek, the early Mbundas (who had not yet adopted that name) passed through all the lands which today constitute the countries of Uganda, Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda. They were looking for that special land which they would call home but it had to have one unique and important characteristic: red soils which they called mbunda. This is the soil they left behind in south Sudan and they wanted to settle in a similar environment. Hence they did not settle anywhere until they reached it, traversing the thick forests of the equatorial area of eastern and southern Africa. This was long before the Great Bantu migrations commenced.

There is evidence which shows that big groups of people in Central Africa came from Sudan and Congo. Among these groups was a group from the kingdom of the Bantu from East Africa. In the year 1500, a group of people called the Bantu left present day Sudan. Among them was the Mbunda tribe, an ancient tribe which was among the largest tribes of East Africa. The Mbunda kingdom is a very ancient one which was there even when the Mwachiyavwa kingdom had not yet ascended to the throne.

*The Mbunda people come from the country of Sudan and came to a place called Kola where they found groups of Luba and Ruund peoples in present day Congo. One thing that indicates this is the similarities between some Mbunda names and those of the tribes from the Luba kingdom. From the Mbunda tribe there are names like Kaunda, Muti, Chiinga, Kavata, Chiti, Nkonde and others.

These names which we have mentioned are also found in the other tribes which came from the Luba kingdom. Mbundas with names like Chipoya, Chipango, Muthole, Kayata, Ngambo, Kawengo, Kapitha and Muthumali. These names are also found in those tribes from Mwachiyavwa, a Lunda king.

The other thing is this, the traditions of the Mbunda people are similar to those of the Chokwe, Lunda, Luchazi, and Luvale, although there are a few differences. The major foods of these tribes are the same and the intermarriages amongst them.

*From their palace at Namampongwe to Lubaland, to an enclosure they called Kola, they went to the east of the Kwilu and Kasai rivers. From there they went to the source of Lyambai, to Mithimoyi a tributary of Lwena river. Then they went on to Lungwevungu, Lwanginga and Kwandu up to Kwitu-Kwanavale, Kweve and Kunte. That is where the Mbundas who went into the land of the Luyi came from, during the reign of King Mulambwa.

*Presently the Mbundas are found in the western parts of Zambia, where they live together with the other tribes found there. Mbundas are also in North-western province of Zambia, in some parts of Kavompo district, under their senior chief Chikufele at Manyinga and Chief Chingumbe Chiyengele at Kayombo. There Mbundas also in Congo and Namibia (Chivanda), but the majority are in Angola and Zambia.

The Mbunda tribe is composed of 8 branches. Each branch speaks its own Mbunda dialect. The branches are: Mbunda-Mathzi, Mbunda-Shamuka, Mbunda-Mbalango, Mbunda-Yauma, Mbunda-Nkangala, Mbunda-Ndundu, Mbunda-Mashaka and Mbunda-Thango. We cannot write about the roots of the Mbundas in full without including the Lozis and their chiefs, as we shall show in this book.

* The Mbundas are hunters, traders, craftspeople who carve and build, who preserve their culture, and they are also brave warriors. The wars which they fought with other tribes and the wars which they fought to support the Lozis, is credible evidence to indicate their bravery in wars.

† Evidence about the hunting prowess of the Mbunda people can be deduced from the legacy of Mwene Kangulu ka VaMwene Shenda ya Mbunda.

Mwene Kangulu was a famous elephant hunter in Mbundaland and was based in the Mulai river area in Mexico province of present day Angola. He killed a lot of elephants and then traded in ivory in exchange for slaves which he in-turn traded with the Vimbali people who traded them to the Portuguese. One of the biggest customers of Mwe Kangulu in terms of the ivory was Chief Lewanika of the Lozi people who resided in an area east of Mbundaland that time. The Kangulu-Lewanika ivory trade was so prolific and lucrative that Chief Lewanika saw it fit to safeguard this important ivory source. So he sent an ambassador by the name of Induna Sikongo to the palace of Mwe Kangulu to ensure that this ivory trade was not threatened in any way. To reciprocate this trust shown in him by Chief Lewanika, Mwene Kanugulu gave his second daughter by the name of VaMwene Makuwa to Sikongo as a bride. Years later after the death of Sikongo senior, his son Sikongo Kalweo, went to see Lewanika to ask for a piece of land to settle the family. Lewanika told Sikongo to pick any place in his kingdom and his request would be granted automatically. So Sikongo chose the area just a little west of where his present village is at a place called Mungomba. That was how the Sikongo family came to settle at what is today Sikongo sub-boma of Kalabo district in the Western Province of Zambia where Sikongo the son later died in the late 1980s. The Sikongo village is still there even today.

The other daughter of Mwene Kangulu was VaMwene Shenda whom he married to his nephew, Mwene Litwe lya Vamwene Muwawa, and produced three children: Mwene Tuta Lyato Litwe, Mwene Maliti Chimbanda Litwe and VaMwene Chinoya Chindama Litwe. Mwene Maliti is the late father of this reviewer of the book (Dr. Byemba Maliti) and died in 1996 at his village at Sikongo. Mwene Litwe was also a renowned hunter in his own right and very rich. This part of the Kangulu family also settled at present day Sikongo, where VaMwene Shenda is now buried at a burial site called Natooma, long before the partition of Africa by the Europeans.

To safeguard this lucrative ivory trade with Mwene Kangulu, Chief Lewanika became greedy and made the now famous claim that the area up to present day eastern Angola was part of his Barotseland kingdom (which included parts of North-Western, Copperbelt, Central and Southern provinces of Zambia).

We find the word “Mbunda” in other tribes, in mentioning the nature of soil. “Mbunda” describes soil that is reddish, and also “Mbunda” describes meat.

The word “Mbunda” comes from a prayer or eulogy called Ng’ombelo which was recited and as an offering while praying to God. In this prayer also was the offering and pleasing of their ancestral spirits. During the Ng’ombela they used to make offerings to Chief Nkuungu, the first Mbunda chief, and to give him respect together with his daughter Chieftainess Naama who was the second chief in the Mbunda royal lineage.

The Ng’ombelo prayer also signified the end of making offerings to the ancestral spirits due to the following things:

  • Praising ancestral spirits for giving the people the luck to get a bumper harvest.
  • In ensuring that hunters kill many animals or even just a single large animal.
  • In ensuring that families of people have good health and giving them luck to have many children.
  • To request the ancestral spirits to forgive people, if a family of people feels that it has wronged its spirits.
  • In commencing and ending their rituals.
  • What was used during offerings were a holy white powder called theke, blood of domestic animals or wild animals, beer and fresh agricultural produce (fresh fruits). From all these they used to get only samples as offerings to the ancestors.The Ng’ombelo which the Mbundas used their journeys was started before they went into Mbundaland, the land which is between the Lungwevungu and Kwitu-Kuvangu rivers. In those olden years the Mbundas used to cherish and strengthen their royal family, they used to make offerings at the beginning of cultivations, in tasting the first fruits, when going to hunt, even in the snare enclosure, at the start of journeys, or when starting a new settlement, and at the time a child is born, or when under diseases, and when coming back from war, on reaching a village for the first time, where there are relatives, and when the masquerades were being brought out, and when taking on a dead person’s name, this was the time to make offerings.

The Ng’ombelo in Mbunda was recited in the following manner:

The Mbunda Prayer:

      Kalunga, kwithu, kwithu,

      Isha-Kashivi, Isha-Mulovole,

      Kalunga ka Mathzethze,

      Mukunyoka mukuwala,

      Chithuku cha Kapamba,

      Chindombe cha Malanga,

      Njambi lilumangeya, shulukila misheshe,

      Ndachi valela ngongo,

      Mungongo mwa yunda,

      Muneng’aneng’a muti watongama mwimbi,

      Makolikoli tuthzila va mu Kuvangu,

      Livung’uvung’u lya kukenga na mesho,

      Kethi lya kunyamukila, lya ngongo ya chithupa,

      Wembile ngoma, Kathong’o Kaleng’a chow a londele kwilu,

      kwithu, kwithu!

      Wa vulye, wa vulye,

      Ove Nkuungu, Mbunda oyo,

      Livu lyeni olyo,

      Thitu yeni oyo,

      Mbunda ya thong’o ya futa na ninga, ya katavu ka Ndongo,

      Mbunda ya Naama ya Nkuungu, muyilya muyinena,

      Vakulu voshe kamunungathane,   Kwithu, kwithu!

English translation:

God, long live, long live,

      Father of Kashivi, Father of Mulovole,

      God of patience,

      In rain in drizzle,

      Lightning of Kapamba,

      Chindombe of droughts,

      Creator who roars, come down on trees,

      Ndachi being reared in strictness,

      Mungongo where he terminates,

      Muneng’aneng’a a tree on which a fish eagle lands,

      Makolikoli the birds of Kuvangu,

      Livung’uvung’u is only to be seen with eyes,

     Not to be rushed for, with the strength of a bone,

      The drummer, Kathong’o Kaleng’a then climbed up,

      long live, long live!

      Be praised, be praised,

      You Nkuungu, that is Mbunda,

      That is your soil,

      That is your meat,

      Mbunda which is coloured which is mixed with blood, cut off by Ndongo,

      Mbunda of Naama of Nkuungu, you eat it you bring it,

      All ancestors  preserve it in unity, Long live!

 This prayer was in two parts: the words in the first part are a combination of Lunda, Luva and Mbunda. It is difficult to translate these words into contemporary Mbunda because this is an ancient language, and again those who had the talent to understand and know the meanings of these ancient words at this moment are difficult to trace. Some of the words are not able to be translated to contemporary Mbundas, but the other words in the prayer are simple and easy.

The prayer starts with the words: “ Kalunga, kwithu, kwithu”. Kalunga is the same as Njambi. The words “kwithu, kwithu” are words to praise the ancestors (also to wish someone a long life). The words are used at the beginning and end of all prayers.

* These words of the prayer are for praising God, and worshipping him, and to revere and to praise him for all that he provides us, for his protection, and for his endless mercy, and his foresight. The words “vulye, vulye” are to praise  kings and royalty.

The prayer goes on to praise and persuade the spirit of Chief Nkuungu, founder and first chief of the Mbundas and the royal lineage, the one who was the owner of that reddish soil and its meat. The prayer goes on to show the nice taste of the red meat flavoured with groundnut powder.

The last part of the prayer shows the reddish soil and the meat, which were symbols of Mbundaland. It continues to bless those founders of the royal Mbunda lineage, Chief Nkuungu and her daughter Chieftainess Naama. The ending of the prayer there is the building up that these chiefs and all the spirits to unite in preserving the Mbunda clan and wishing it a good life.

From the beginnings there is no tribe which conquered and vanguished them. They started, they preserved, they united and strengthened their culture, their language and their chieftainship in their country of Mbundaland; that land which was between the Lungwevungu and Kwandu, andKwitu-Kavangu and Kwene and Kunte. We can say that there was not time the Mbundas left their country to go and fight and plunder other African tribes.

But at other different times they fought gallantly in wars when they were attacked by others, and be able to defend themselves strongly to defeat their attackers.

*The Mbundas were not conquered and vanguished in hundreds of years that passed until 1914 when the Portuguese brought the war to colonise the land of the Mbundas.

*As per their culture and nature, of defending their country, their stood up and fought with those white people who brought the war to colonize their land. When the Portuguese captured and kidnapped their chief, the paramount chief Mbandu Kapova Mishambo, and took him to foreign countries, they got and killed many whites in many wars. But when ammunition ran out, that was how the whites got the strength to conquer Mbundaland; since the Mbundas did not know how to manufacture ammunition, they used to buy it from the Ovimbundus and the areas of the Portuguese. After this war that is when Mbundaland was named Angola, together with the country of the Portuguese to the west of Africa.

*The Mbunda tribe was united over hundreds of years until the thirteen chieftainship of Chief Yambayamba Kapanda, when they started to have divisions, by going to settle in different areas.

From there again, during the reign of the fifteenth chieftainship of Chief Ngonga I “Chiteta” (the beheader), the Mbundas continued to separate. After the murder of Chief Katavola I Mwechela, the Mbundas divided themselves into 6 dialects from the original Mbunda ya Mathzi (Mbunda of oils). These dialects are called:

*1) The Mbunda Mbalango of Chief Muundu of Chief Mahongo, and Mbunda Mbalango of Chief Kandala of Chief Mbambi. These are the one who went to a place called mbalango, the sources of rivers, like Lungwevungu and Lwanginga.

*2) The Mbunda Yauma, of Chief Mwiinga of Chief Mbiya, of Chief Kalomo of Chief Mushanya. These are the ones who went into the water lilies or fish of Kwandu river. Like in “Chenga of Kembo”, or like in “Chunga of Ndeke”, or like in “Chunga of Chikeleti”.

*3) The Mbunda Nkangala of Chief Kavavu of Chief Ntongo of Chief Thingithingi. These are the ones who came from water lilies or from fish that’s why they went to settle in Nkangala forest, a forest with scattered trees.

4) The Mbunda Ndundu of Chief Kambembe of Chief Nkuvwa of Chief Membe and Mbunda Mashaka of Chief Chikololo of Chief Muthandi, of Chief Kafwilo. These are the ones who came from water lilies and fish who went to settle in ndundu forests and mashaka forests.

*5) The Mbunda Thango, these are the ones who went to settle at the source of the Lungwevungu and Lutembwe rivers.

*6) The Mbunda Shamuka of Chief Chitengi-Chingumbe Chiyengele. These are the Mbundas who left Mbundaland during the reign of Chief Ngonga Chiteta, they came to settle in Barotseland.

*And seven Mbunda tribes today live in Lungwevungu, Lwanginga and Kwandu rivers and their tributaries. They crossed the Zambezi river, and went to settle on the rivers Kabompo, Zongwe, Lwena, Lwampa, Luyi, Lyamanyinga, Lukute and their tributaries. These are the Mbunda Mathzi, together with the Mbunda Yauma, Mbunda Nkangala, Mbunda Mbalango, Mbunda Shamuka, Mbunda Ndundu and Mbunda Thango, who live together with Lozis and Nkoyas.

*The Mbunda culture is based on their traditions, life styles and taboos. The Mbunda focused mostly on maintaining their traditions and their culture. This book reveals the traditions and culture of the Mbunda people. This book is helpful to all modern people, those who have grown up in missions, in educational institutions, in Europe and in towns.

*This book about “ The Roots of The Mbunda People in the Beginning and Their Culture” helps everyone who reads it to understand the traditions and lifestyles of the Mbunda people, in Zambia, Namibia, Congo DR and Angola.

 *Countries Inhabited by the Mbunda People and their Areas 

  1. Angola:- Kwandu-Kuvangu and Moxico Provinces.
  2. Congo (DRC):- Between the Kwilu and Kasai Rivers
  3. Namibia:- Rundu District
  4. Zambia:- Western and North-Western Provinces


† Contributed by Prof. Dr Byemba Maliti as told by his father, uncles and grandmother Shenda.


Source: “The History and Cultural Life of the Mbunda Speaking Peoples” , Papstein, R. (Series Editor), Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Wikipedia, ” Chikota cha VaMbunda Ku Thang’ulu na Chithemwa Chavo”, Cheke cha Mbunda Cultural and Writers Association (2011), Lusaka, Zambia.