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Lozi people

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Lozi People
Flag of the Lozi people
Total population
Approximately 846,307
Regions with significant populations
First language
Second language
English, other Bantu languages
Christianity, African traditional religion
Related ethnic groups
Sotho people,other Sotho-Tswana peoples

Lozi people, or Barotse, are a southern African ethnic group who speak Lozi and Silozi, a Sotho–Tswana language| Khelobedu . The Lozi people consist of more than 46 different ethnic groups and are primarily situated between Namibia, Angola. Botswana, Zimbabwe , South Africa including half of the north-Western and western provinces of Zambia inhabiting the region of Barotseland.

Lozi is also a nationality of the people of Barotseland, an amalgamation of several smaller ethnic groups and tribes. The Lozi people number approximately 5,575,000. Lozi are also found in Zambia, Namibia (Caprivi Strip), Angola, Botswana, Mozambique (50,000), and Zimbabwe (8,000). The Lozi are also known as the Malozi, Nyambe, Makololo, Barotose, Rotse, Rozi, Rutse, Baloyi, Balobedu, or Tozvi.


The word "Lozi" means "plain" in the Makololo language, referring to the Barotse Floodplain of the Zambezi River, on and around which most Lozi live. It may also be spelled 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".[citation needed]


Harold Macmillan meets Paramount King Mwanawina III of the Barotse in Northern Rhodesia (1960).

Lozi tradition states that they have always inhabited Barotseland. 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.

Portraits of Barotse people (1881)

The political organisation of the Lozi has long centred on a monarchy, whose reigning head, the Paramount King, is known as 'Litunga' which means 'keeper of the earth.' The renowned Litunga Lewanika, whose latter name was a nickname from the Mbunda[1] meaning "unifier" following the Lozi revolt, reigned from 1878 to 1916, with a short insurrectionist break in 1884–85. He requested that Queen Victoria bring Barotseland under protectorate status. Great Britain, however, was uninterested in acquiring the territory. The granting of a royal charter to the British South Africa Company by Cecil Rhodes allowed the company to acquire Barotseland under the guise of the British government. Although under protectorate status, Lewanika eventually realized that he had been tricked and petitioned for the protectorate status to be corrected. Yet the land remained under Rhodes's control, and when the territory failed to produce gold, copper, or other exports, the "British South Africa Company defaulted on every commitment it had made to Lewanika," and few developments in infrastructure and education were made.[2]

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. In the run-up to independence, the Litunga, the Ngambela (Prime Minister), and about a dozen senior indunas went to London for talks with the Colonial Office, in an attempt to have Barotseland remain a Protectorate.[3]


Musical instruments 1870s
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, or Barotse Royal Establishment (BRE), is known as Mulonga, 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. The Lozi are not separated into clans, unlike most African ethnic groups.[4]

Lozi culture is strongly influenced by the flood cycle of the Zambezi River, with annual migrations taking place from the floodplain 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. These annual floods displace hundreds of people every year.



  1. ^ "Barotseland". barotselandpeacefoundation.org. Archived from the original on 24 February 2015. Retrieved 19 July 2017.
  2. ^ Reader, John. Africa: A Biography of the Continent. Vintage (7 September 1999); ISBN 978-0679738695
  3. ^ "Gervas Clay". spanglefish.com. Retrieved 11 April 2024.
  4. ^ Appiah, Kwame Anthony; Gates, Henry Louis, eds. (2010). Encyclopedia of Africa. Vol. 2. Oxford New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 87–88. ISBN 9780195337709.

External links[edit]

Media related to Lozi people at Wikimedia Commons