Zambia’s boundaries are shaped like a butterfly, due to European invasion in the early 1900’s, and the country is named after the river Zambezi which flows along its south westerly borders – but what about its people?
The population of Zambia is among the lowest in Africa at about 10 million people, yet Zambia has the highest ratio of urban population in Africa with around 40 percent of the population living in cities. More than 70 ethnic groups live in Zambia, creating a variety of norms and values. Most of its people migrated inland from Zimbabwe and Mozambique. A number of free states traded within Zambia before it was colonialised by Britain. They also traded to East and West Africa, as they exchanged slaves, copper and ivory for textiles and hardware materials.
“Copper is king” is a popular phrase in Zambia, which derives from the copper industry, that provides Zambia’s most valuable exports. It has a growing economy due to the employment opportunities from the copper Belt and other towns.
Those who traded in and out of Zambia were eventually controlled by Britons when it was claimed as British territory. Much of the same trade still existed, but British settlers sold Zambia’s copper and ivory for their own profit before it became independent in 1964. British colonialists enforced their dominant culture onto Zambian tribes, but the rural indigenous tribes kept their rich culture and traditions. As just one example, they believe waterfalls are holy places where certain spirits live.
Traditional healers, who practice their religion in every rural area, will often go into the woods or bush to contact spirits. Animism beliefs are common in Zambia. The animals in worshipped vary between the location of tribes. The belief that crocodiles have special powers is held by tribes close to the Zambezi, but most tribal rituals are based on beliefs in the power of ancestors and nature. This is commonly referred to as witchcraft and elderly tribespeople are known as “wizards” and “witches”.
Traditional culture plays an important role in attracting tourists willing to learn about Zambian tribes. Traditions are recognised as part of the National Identity, as well as the eagle from the country’s official coat of arms. The Zambian Coat of Arms was unveiled in 1964 after independence, composed of an African Fish Eagle hovering above a pickaxe and hoe. The eagle symbolises liberty and the pickaxe and hoe are intended to represent the country’s economic stability through trading copper as a self-sufficient nation.
Official holidays celebrated by the government include: New Year’s Day (1 January), Labour Day (1 May), African Freedom Day (21 May), Unity Day (in July), Heroes Day (in July), Youth Day (9 August), and Independence Day (21 October). Government offices and banks are closed on these days and there are planned festivals in the larger cities such as the capital city of Lusaka. Residents of the cities traditionally return to their clans for these times of celebration.
Ultimately, it’s always good to understand and know various cultures, because that broadens your outlook.