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The flag of the Lozi people

The Lozi people are an ethnic group primarily of western Zambia, inhabiting the region of Barotseland. Lozi are also found in Namibia (Caprivi Strip), Angola and Botswana.



The word Lozi means 'plain' in the Makololo language, in reference to the Barotse Floodplain of the Zambezi on and around which most Lozi live. It may also be spelt Lotse or Rotse, the spelling Lozi having originated with German missionaries in what is now Namibia. Mu- and Ba- are corresponding singular and plural prefixes for certain nouns in the Silozi language, so Murotse means 'person of the plain' while Barotse means 'people of the plain.'


Although Lozi tradition states that they have always inhabited Barotseland, it is generally believed that they migrated into Western Zambia from what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the 17th and 18th centuries. A group of Lozi known as Bayei continued their migration into the Okavango delta. In about 1830, an army that originated in the Sotho-speaking Bafokeng region of South Africa, known as the Makololo, led by a warrior called Sebetwane, invaded Barotseland and conquered the Lozi. They ruled until 1864 when the Sotho clique was overthrown following a Lozi revolt.

The political organisation of the Lozi has long centered around a monarchy, whose figurehead (a king) is known as 'Litunga' which means 'keeper of the earth.' The renowned Litunga Lewanika, who reigned from 1878 to 1916 with a short insurrectionist break in 1884-85, brought Barotseland under British control in 1890, when he agreed terms with agents of the British South Africa Company of Cecil Rhodes for the region to become a protectorate.

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. 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. There remains some support in the region for greater autonomy within Zambia or full independence.


Barotse handkiss

Lozi society is highly stratified, with a monarch at the top and those of recent royal descent occupying high positions in society. The monarch is known as the Litunga, 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.

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.


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