The earliest known inhabitants of Zambia were the San, a group of hunter-gatherers who relied on stone tools to hunt antelope and search for fruits and nuts. Zambia was the San people’s favorite hunting ground up to the 4th century when other tribes from the north began arriving. The new tribes were the more technologically advanced Bantu people. As they migrated south they turned the hunting lands into farmland and the San were slowly edged out. Decedents of the San still live in this area and are known for their unique “clicking” language, but most of the other tribal dialects are derived from the Bantu language.
The first European explorers arrived in the late 1700’s followed shortly by the first British explorer, Dr. Livingstone, of “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” fame.
Vast copper deposits were soon discovered and Northern Rhodesia (as Zambia was then known) was declared part of the British sphere of influence in 1888. In 1964 the Republic of Zambia was formed as an independent country.
Initially Zambia was a one-party socialist country which appeared to work. The economy improved and Zambia took a leadership role among African countries seeking independence. But copper prices fell, government corruption became rampant and in 1991 the constitution was changed allowing for a multi-party system. Fortunately, in the last 6 years the economy is turning around and we find Zambia to be a relatively stable and wealthy African nation.
Being polite is very important:
- If one is more than 6 months younger than another he/she approaches with downcast eyes and kneels when talking with the elder.
- Similarly the wife approaches her husband and kneels before him when talking.
- They greet everyone in public, not just those they know. This was confirmed by the friendliness of the people when we visited local markets.
At puberty boys and girls are taken to the boma (an outdoor enclosure in each village) for puberty rights. (Boys are taken together separately from the girls.)
- Boys: Groups of 30-100 puberty age boys have 3 months intimation. They are circumcised and have a 6 week healing time. They are also taught to hunt, take care of themselves, survive in the village, build a house, etc. When they emerge after 3 months they are considered men.
- Girls: Similarly girls have a 4-5 weeks intimation during which they become women. They learn to cook, do house chores, and to look after themselves, husband and children. After this time they can no longer be “friends” with boys and are told, “Boys have long snakes between their legs and if you’re bitten, you’re dead.”
Most marriages are still arranged today. Sometimes the families make the arrangements without conferring with the potential bride and groom, but more often today couples choose one another.
- Boys and girls don’t date publicly; they meet secretly so others don’t know they are getting to know one another. That way, if it doesn’t work out girls aren’t thought to be “loose”.
- Once the couple decides they’d like to get married, the boy goes to his uncles (not parents) to tell them he has met someone and wants to get married. The uncles go to the boy’s parents to tell them. The uncles then go visit the girl’s family to propose marriage. They present the bride’s family with two plates with money in between. If the family opens the plates, they are accepting the proposal. Once proposal is accepted by the family, there is negotiation of “novolo” (dowry), generally paid in cattle.
- If the girl gets pregnant before marriage, the boy is charged “damage” in addition to the dowry.