Wednesday, September 22, 2010




Kusiyo Mbikusita Lewanika


Western Province (Barotseland) is one of the nine provinces of Zambia. The Barotse Kingdom was established as far back as 1600 when the first King Mboo settled in the Barotse Plain. The Kingdom has had thirty-one Queens and Kings since then . The paper will discuss the traditional socioeconomic systems for monitoring wetlands and wetland natural resources as based on the (a) Barotse system of government, (b) Barotse legal system, (c) land tenure, and (d) the social structure of the Lozi people. The paper will also give a brief historical background on Barotseland.


Historical Background

Western Province is one of the nine provinces of the Republic of Zambia. Before Zambia’s independence on 24th October 1964, it was called Barotseland Protectorate. The first known leader was a woman called Mwambwa who was later succeeded by her daughter Mbuyamwambwa. She was succeeded by her son the first Litunga (or King) Mboo Muyunda. The state expanded under his leadership by sending his brothers and other relations to the surrounding areas to establish Lozi rule.
On the advice of his counterpart King Khama of the Mangwato in Bechuanaland and Francois Coillard of the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society, King Lewanika I accepted the British rule so that he would be protected against the impending German and Portuguese invasion and periodic Ndebele raids. On 27th June 1890, King Lewanika I and the British South Africa Company signed the Frank Lochner Treaty. The signing of the Lochner Treaty marked the end of the Lozi autonomy as it now become a British protectorate.
On 18th May 1964, Sir Mwanawina III Litunga of Barotseland and Kenneth Kaunda Prime Minister of Northern Rhodesia signed the "Barotseland Agreement 1964" which established Barotseland's position within Zambia in place of the earlier agreement between Barotseland and the British Government. The agreement was based on a long history of close social, economic and political interactions. The Barotseland Agreement granted Barotse authorities and people specified limited local self-governance rights and rights to be consulted on specified matters, including over land, natural resources and local government.

Western Province, present-day Barotsland, covers an area of 126,386 square kilometres. This is roughly 17% of the total area of Zambia, which is about 752,000 square kilometres. The Province is situated between longitudes 22º and the 25º 30’ East of Greenwich and 13º 45’ and 17º 45’ south of the Equator. It shares international boundaries with the Republic of Angola on the west and the Republic of Namibia to the south. Within the Republic of Zambia, the province shares boundaries with North Western Province in the north, Central Province to the northeast and Southern Province on the southeast.

Figure 1. Location of Barotseland
The topographic features of the Province are distinct from other parts of Zambia in that Kalahari Sand and the Zambezi flood plain, which is characterized by seasonal flooding, dominate it. This forces people to move to higher ground (upland) on the edge of the Barotse plain. The Barotse Plain on the upper Zambezi is about 160 kilometres long and 60 kilometres at its widest point and nearly 900 metres above the sea level. The province has altitudes ranging between 1,880 metres in the northeast and 814metres in the southeast.

The population for Western Province increased from 638,756 in 1990 to 782,509 in 2000. The average annual growthrate for the province is 2.1 percent, a decline from 2.8 percent in the previous intercensal period 1980 to 1990. This amounts to a 25 percent decline.

The Barotseland gained a special status under the British Colonial system as a British protectorate. Overall power over land was vested in the Litunga (King), through the Barotse Native Courts Ordinance Act (1939). This was later repealed after Zambia gained its independence bringing the province under the statutory law of the land. However customary laws are still firmly established in the province due to its special status, autonomous history and strongly centralized traditional laws and court system (Gils, 1988). The Barotse Royal Establishment is the custodian of the traditional laws and court system.

Barotse system of government is of five tiers or levels. Starting from the central government to the village level. The structure of the Barotse Government is shown in Figure 2.

The first tier of government is referred to as Namuso (literary the Mother Of Governments.) This is the central government of Barotseland. It has the Litunga as the Head of State and the Ngambela as Prime Minister. The Ngambela is the political, administrative and judicial head of the Barotseland. Second to the Ngambela is the Natamoyo. This title means “Master-of-Life” or “Redeemer”. He has the power of sanctuary or refuge in his person and house. The Ngambela works with other Indunas (Ministers) in-charge of specific sectors such as health, forests, canals, wildlife, etc.
The second tier of government is the regional government of the southern part of Barotseland, which is headed by the Litunga-La-Mboela, which means the Litunga of the South. She has the Sambi as the political, administrative and judicial head of the southern region of Barotseland. The government of Lwambi has it’s own Natamoyo and other Indunas

Barotseland is sub-divided into eleven (11) Chiefdoms each headed by a Chief. A Chief has a team of Indunas to assist him / her in governing the area. This is a tier of government. In each Chiefdom has an Induna as political, administrative and judicial head.

County Administrative Areas
In every Chiefdom there are County Administrative Areas referred as of Lilalo. The Silalo (singular) has an Induna who is its political, administrative and judicial head.

A Silalo has a number of villages (Minzi). Munzi (singular) has an Induna who is its political, administrative and judicial head.

Each level of government has a Kuta. The main responsibility of the Kuta is to carried out political, administrative and judicial functions of each tier of government.

(a) The Sikalu is the Kuta at Namuso. It consists of principal members are Manduna (Ministers), the Likombwa (Kings Aids) and Linabi (members of royal family). The Sikalo mainly deals with Legislation. The head of the Sikalo is the Ngambela. Selected Queen(s) (two or more) of the Litunga have the right to access to the Siikalo at certain times and had the right to discuss matters with the members of the Siikalo. They were to act as a check to any Law or Scheme that might detrimental to the interests of women.

(b) The Saa, like the Sikalu consists of members from the Manduna, Likombwa and Linabi. It also deals with Legislation. The head of the Saa is the Inete.

(c) Each Chiefdom has its own Kuta, which handles all political, administrative and judicial at a local level.

Kuta of Lwambi Sikalu Kuta Saa Kuta Kuta of Libonda

Chiefdom Level Kuta

Figure 2. Barotse Government Structure
Advisory Councils
The Katengo is composed of the Malume (Silalo and Village Indunas). It acts as a check to any proposed law that may be detrimental to the interests of the common people. The Katengo is also consulted when a law is proposed and gives its report to the head of the Saa who reports directly to the Ngambela.
A second advisory council, Anatambumu, is comprised entirely of women chosen by the Litunga and Sikalo from members of the royal family and other Barotse families. These have access to the Litunga at all times and can denounce to him anything that is against the interests of the people, and they can obtain views from the other women.

The main responsibilities of the Barotse Government can be summed up as follows:
• To conserve natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations.
• To provide every subject with suitable land for building a home and farming.
• To allow every subject to utilise of the specific natural resources according to laws, rules and regulations pertaining to utilisation of the specific natural resource.
• To distribute previously unallocated land to subjects who are short of land and to newcomers.
• To repossess all land which has been abandoned or for which family heirs cannot be traced.
• To make laws, rules and regulations.
• To prosecute people found to be contravening laws, rules and regulations.
• To adjudicate land disputes and other related cases.

Monitoring of Wetlands and Wetlands Natural Resources
The Litunga in consultation with the Ngambela appoints an Induna to be in-charge of specific natural resources. The Induna would perform the functions. Broadly, these are to:
• advise the Litunga, Chiefs and the citizenry on all issues concerning to specific natural resource.

• perform all the administrative work pertaining to the specific natural resource.

• plan, control and monitor the utilization of the specific natural resource.

• plan, manage and control the cropping of natural resources in terms of place, duration, timing and number of participants.


An elaborate and enforceable Legal System buttressed the traditional social-economic system for natural resource. It was acknowledged by both legal experts and social scientists who have written extensively on it.

Basic Terminology
The Barotse Legal System is based on milao (laws), liswanelo (rights), litukelo (rights of particular position or social status), mikwa (methods or ways of doing things), and mulatu (an offence or wrongdoing). The five cornerstones of the Barotse Legal System have been existence since the beginning of the kingdom. However, most laws were institutionalised during the reign of King Mulambwa in the 18th century. This included laws pertaining to acquisition, use and disposal of natural resources.

• Milao: According to the Barotse Legal System, Milao are legislative rules that need to be followed. These rules touched all aspects of life in Barotseland including the use of natural resources.

• Liswanelo: A body of rights that one enjoys according to gender, age and other situations. This includes access to and utilisation of natural resources. They also include ones responsibilities.

• Litukelo: A body rights that one enjoys according to their position or social status. This includes access to and utilisation of natural resources. They also includes ones responsibilities.

• Mikwa: Accepted methods or ways of doing things. This includes acquisition, use and disposal of natural resources.

• Mulatu: To be found guilty of going against milao, liswanelo, litukelo, and mikwa.

Administration of the Judiciary
The administration of the judiciary in Barotseland is done through Kutas. Kuta is where Indunas and the public meet to look at all matters pertaining to Barotseland be it of administrative or judiciary nature. It is a parliament as well as a court of law. The main business of the Kuta consists mainly in the hearing and settlement of cases and promulgation of Laws and orders for Public Works. There is a Kuta at every level of government. Persons not satisfied with judgment at lower Kutas have the right to appeal to the Siikalo Kuta at Namuso.
• Sikalu Kuta (Supreme Court). At Namuso, the Ngambela, or one next to him in rank during his absence, acts as the Judge and submits judgment to the Litunga for approval. The rest of Indunas acts as assessors. An important member of the Sikalu is the Natamoyo. Natamoyo means “Mother-of-Life” or “Redeemer”. He has the power of sanctuary or refuge in his person and house. He must be a member of the Royal Family, but from a line of female descendants. He sits next to the Ngambela in the Kuta. He can release any offender who is sentenced to any punishment, fine or death if he sees that the sentence is rather heavy for the offence.

• Chiefdom Level Kuta. Every Chiefdom has a Kuta with less powers that the Kuta at Namuso. This Kuta at have powers to settle cases except ones the Kuta consider difficult that are referred to Sikalu. In the Kuta there must be someone to act as Natamoyo.

• Silalo Kuta. Every Silalo has a Kuta with less power than the Chiefdom Kuta. The Kuta at Silalo have powers to settle cases except ones the Silalo Kuta consider difficult which are referred Chiefdom.


Land in Zambia is of two categories: customary and state land. There are two land tenure systems; freehold which has unlimited duration and leasehold which is limited by number of years. The land tenure for customary land is freehold while for state land is leasehold which for 99 years (Hansungule, n.d).
Under leasehold, land is owned by the state while individuals merely rent or hold it as tenants. Secondly, the leaseholder is required by law to pay ground rent to the state for renting the soil or land. The leaseholder cannot sell, transfer or assign any land, before obtaining consent of the President. This is because all the land in Zambia in entrusted to the President on behalf of all Zambia (ibid, n.d).
In the case of freehold (customary land), individuals own the land and their heirs can inherit it. However they cannot sell, transfer or assign any land without the consent of the Kuta. This because all customary land is held in-trust by the Litunga.

Customary Land Management Systems
All the land and natural resources in Barotseland are entrusted to the Litunga. Land in Barotseland is acquired and given through the Litunga. It is for this reason that the Litunga is referred to as the owner of land and cattle (Minya-Mupu-Na-Ngombe ) and the King of the earth (Mbumu-Wa-litunga ). This does not mean that he is entitled to do as he pleases with every piece of land within the boundaries of Bulozi. He is the custodian of the customary land. His rights are clearly defined. Traditionally, Lozi people say that the King is the owner of Bulozi and its trees and his servants and the cattle, the Prime Minister is owner of the Lozi people (Mbumu to minyo Uluyi ni itondo na bika ni ngombe, Ngambela to minyo Aluyi). This saying emphasises the importance of the Litunga as the giver of material wealth and the importance of the Ngambela as the leader of the nation. Once the Litunga gives, the recipient has definite protected rights in what he has received.

Land Ownership Types
There are five basic land ownership types in Barotseland.
• Mubu-Wa-Ngweshi: This land belongs to the Litunga, and is inherited by each Litunga who ascends to the Throne. It is scattered all over Barotseland. Entrusted to the Litunga and /or Litunga’s representative (District Chiefs) for the people of Barotseland, it is from this land Litunga and Chiefs can give land to people who ask for land for it for homesites,, agriculture, or other kinds of development. The land and natural resources found on this land are managed on behalf of the Litunga by Indunas at various levels.

• Mubu-Wa-Luu: District Chiefs and certain Indunas and members of the Royal Family have access to land, which is attached to their positions within the Barotse Royal Establishment. The family members cannot inherit this land, when the current holder of the position dies, resigns or dismissed, the ownership is transferred to successor. The present owner is responsible for the management of this type of land and its natural resources.

• Mubu-Wa-Bana-Ba-Malenaz: Members of the Royal Family hold this land in trust. This is hereditary - passing from generation to generation in the same family membership. However, should be a situation such that there is no one to inherit the lands to the trusteeship reverts to the Litunga. Members of the Royal Family and their Indunas are responsible for the management of this and its natural resources.

• Mubu Wa Lusika: This land belongs to ordinary citizenry of Barotseland. This is hereditary - passing from generation to generation in the same family membership. This type of title is also referred to as Katongo-Ka-Shangwe. Family concerned responsible for the management of this and its natural resources

• Mulalambuwa: This is land that is far from any human settlement. No village or person has claim over it. Any person can acquire this land by following prescribed procedures through the Silalo Induna. The land and natural resources found on this is managed on behalf of the Litunga by Indunas at various levels.

Adjudication of Land Disputes
The main business of the Kuta consists mainly in the hearing and settlement of cases. Many of these cases concern land disputes. Identifying and agreeing on boundaries of the disputed land is a major part of the proceedings of the Kuta. Physical features such as lakes and foot paths mark boundaries.


The Lozi are usually referred to as the plains people. The plains people’s way of living has been greatly influenced by the flooding regime of the Zambezi River. The local people together with their livestock annually move from the wetlands of the Zambezi flood plain to higher upland. This movement is known as Kuomboka (to come out of water). The migration from the plain to high land releases pressure on consumption of natural resources. Periodically public announcements pertaining to cropping of natural resources in a specified area are made. There are three types of cropping: sitindi (fish) sitaka (birds) and lisulo (wild animal). The cropping of natural resources is a controlled activity in terms of place, duration, timing and number of participants.
• Sitindi: Organised public fishing using special spear in specified lagoons and lakes on a selected day.
• Sitaka: Periodically birds in a specified location will be cropped. Only adult birds were killed. It was not allowed to kill nursing birds or its chicks.
• Lisulo: Once in a long whilea hunting expedition will take place in a specified area. During the lisulo only specified animals would be killed. Nursing animals and their young ones were not killed.

From a traditional perspective natural resources in Barotseland were used for home consumption and for the common good of the community. Benefits accrued from natural resource were shared in such a way that the local community had a portion and people in authorities at all levels had their portions too. People in authority distributed part of their portions to the vulnerable that is namukuka (single women), widows and the elderly and contributed to homes, which had visitors. Hence the Siluyana saying, “Kwa lya mbumu kwa mu bika” which means people have a share from the King’s food plate. Some portions were stored for rainy days, needy areas and ceremonies.


The best method of natural resources monitoring is community-based whose main thrust is to ensure that benefits of conservation accrue to the people who are directly involved in the management of natural resources. The traditional systems of natural resources monitoring is such method. The erosion of power of traditional authority in the country and Barotseland in particular is the greatest challenge to traditional systems of natural resources monitoring.
Central government natural resource management systems are seen by local communities as the preserve of a team of civil servants from government ministries. Consequently, local communities became disoriented and abandoned their traditional responsibility which included ensuring that strict observation of the timing of burning of fields, protection of trees and wildlife without permission of traditional authorities, and fair distribution of the benefits of the community’s natural resources.


Barotse Native Government (1956) Orders and Rules

Central Statistical Office, Lusaka, Zambia (2001) Preliminary Report for the 2000 Census of Population and Housing

Gils, H. van et al (1988) Environmental Profiles Western Province, Zambia

IUCN Regional Office for Southern Africa (1995) Indigenous Knowledge Systems in Natural Resources Management in Western Province, Zambia.

Kusiyo Mbikusita Lewanika (2001) The Role of Traditional Rulers in the Management of Natural Resources in Barotseland a paper presented at the Community Workshop On Formation of Community By-Laws.

Manyando Mukela, The Ngambela (Prime Minister), Barotse Royal Establishment (2001) Practices of the Barotse Royal Establishment in the Management of Natural Resources a paper presented at the Community Workshop On Formation of Community By-Laws.


  1. Kusiyo may mean Not being there or absence of something.Am not exactly sure what the other menaings may be but the baove is certainly one of the variants of the meanings.