Kaonde people


Kaonde / Kahonde / Bakahonde

Kaonde, also spelled Kahonde, also called Bakahonde, a Bantu-speaking people the vast majority of whom inhabit the northwestern region of Zambia. A numerically much smaller group lives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The Zambian wooded highlands average 4,000 feet (1,220 metres) in elevation; to the southeast begin open plains noted for their abundant wild animals.

Three groups with different histories are known as Kaonde; all are probably descended from the Luba people residing in what is now the DRC. When they settled their present territory in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Kaonde recognized the paramount chief of the Lunda empire to the north as their overlord. Several autonomous Kaonde chiefships arose in the 18th century, however, and came to prominence in the 19th century, a period marked by battles with the Lozi and by Kaonde slave raids against the Ila to the south.

Kaonde people

Kaonde observe matrilineal descent and reside virilocally (with or near the kin of the husband) in large villages. Corn (maize), cassava, millet, sorghum, yams, squash, and beans are grown. Traditionally, the Kaonde piled and burned felled trees and underbrush and then planted crops in a square area of ash-enriched soil. Many wild fruits are gathered. Men hunt small highland game (cane rats, duiker, bushbuck) when it is available and fish during the arid months of June and July.

The Kaonde share many cultural traits with other Central Bantu speakers. For example, the Kaonde entreat the mediation of ancestral spirits, as do many peoples throughout northern Zambia and the southern DRC. The Kaonde also observe a traditional first-harvest ceremony called Juba ja Nsomo. During that annual festival, usually held on or about July 6, the chief is presented with and blesses the first harvest. Many Kaonde men work in mining centres of the Copperbelt. The Kaonde language is one of the seven official vernacular, or “local,” languages of Zambia, and it is used in Radio Zambia broadcasts.



The name Kaonde means thin one. It is from the name of the river where the Kaonde settled, River Kaondi, which is narrow and thin, hence the people living around it being called a Kaondi by the Lunda people.


Political and Social structure

The Kaonde people are organized in matrilineal clans, meaning people trace their family lineage through their mother and not their father. Typically, a wife and her new husband would live in her mother’s village after marriage.

In this type of society, one either adopts their mother’s family name or simply a personal name and then uses their mother’s clan name for additional identification. Thus, when tracing someone’s ancestry, you start by establishing his mother’s clan name.

The kinships recognized by the Kaonde are eight: Inanji (mother), mwisho (mother’s brother), kolojanji (older sibling), nkasanji (younger sibling), mwana (child), mwipwa (nephew or niece), nkambo (grandparent), munkana (grandchild).

The smallest organisation unit is the family and then the village under the village headman. A senior member of the family, often a male, is appointed as a village headman and is accountable to the chief. Often but not always, the headman is the oldest male in the family. Once inaugurated as the village headman, he adopts the name of that village.

A group of villages make up a clan under the leadership of a chief. It is the highest organizational unit. Each has its name drawn from objects of veneration, honorific titles, or events experienced by them or its ancestor.

Kaonde people

Religious Beliefs

The Kaonde believed in a god, Lesa, before the coming of Christian missionaries. They thought that Lesa was married and lived in the sky while his wife, Chandashi on earth. 

Lesa showed his power through thunder and lightning, and Chandashi manifested herself through earth tremors.

They also believed in spirits, Chimvule, who was in the form of the shadow. All things have shadows, therefore, having spirits. Each home had a stick known as chipanda planted outside the house, representing the Chimvule, and was also the place where the men would pray.

When a man died, he no longer had a shadow; therefore, his Chimvule remained on earth. The living had to appease the Chimvule of the departed to avoid its wrath.



The Kaonde are concentrated in the north-western Province of Zambia, in Solwezi, Chizera, and Kasempa which is their traditional capital. There are also a smaller number of Kaonde who reside in the Western Province of Zambia, particularly in a town called Kaoma. The Kaonde make up approximately four percent of the total population of Zambia, with around 400,000 in total.


Traditional ceremonies

The Kaonde celebrate different traditional ceremonies depending on the region/clan of residence. However, the main one celebrated by all Kaonde in Kasempa district (traditional capital) is the Juba ja Nsomo.

The ceremony is held in June every year to celebrate a new harvest, honour the ancestral lineage and share the cultural wealth as a community.

Preparations start as early as February when people bring contributions like sorghum & livestock to the palace. Tasting the first crop of every harvest before the chief is taboo. If this happens, chaos will rock the chiefdom and the area invaded by snakes and wild animals. 

At the end of May, the older women in the community then gather to pound sorghum for beer(munkhoyo). The Kaonde custom does not allow young girls to participate in this process.

During the event, the chief blesses the food and the land. He also prays to the ancestors to seek protection for his people. 

He then tastes the traditional beer spitting some on the ground as a libation to the spirits and spraying some in the air to thank the heavenly God for giving them the strength to cultivate. They drink at intervals and put their feet to work in dancing.

During the ceremony, people dress up in their traditional attire and teach the youth their ancient ways of life. 

Other notable ceremonies include:

Kaonde people


The Kaonde have several dances performed at the various traditional ceremonies, such as the Katembo is performed by men and older women, with the music described as similar to reggae. 

The mutomboko dance is a unique dance that honours hunters after a successful hunt, and the shonongo dance requires a partner and is similar to ballroom dancing. It is also performed at the Juba ja Nsomo ceremony. 



Like many other Zambian tribes, the Kaonde name their children based on circumstances that take place when the child was born, or name them in honor of an ancestor or living relative. Typical Kaonde names include Butemwe, which means ‘love’, and Kapijimpanga, which means ‘hunter’.

They name their children based on events surrounding the birth of a child or in honour of an ancestor or living relative. A typical example includes Butemwe, which means love, and Kapijimpanga, meaning hunter.



Like the Luvale tribe, when a young Kaonde girl from a rural area has her first menstrual cycle, she goes through an initiation period called Kisingu. She is kept in isolation for about a week in a wooded area where she sleeps under a selected tree on a mat and is covered in chitenge, a patterned cotton cloth. She is unveiled at the Juba ja Nsomo ceremony. The older women from her community perform the machancha dance.

In the past, a stick with a white flag would be hung signifying that she was ready for marriage. As early marriages are now illegal, no match is made for the girl.

When a young Kaonde girl has her first menstrual cycle, she goes through an initiation period called chisingu. 

She is kept in isolation for about a week in a wooded area. Here she sleeps under a selected tree on a mat and is covered in a chitenge(a patterned cotton cloth). She is then revealed at the Juba ja Nsomo ceremony, with older women performing the machancha dance.

Boys nearing puberty receive a special medicine from their brothers-in-law, which is spread on their chest, and then they follow another prepubescent ritual. 



Once a man chooses his bride, he sends his mother and sisters with gifts to the girl’s parents to ask if she is ready for marriage. If the answer is yes, then the marriage is arranged. 

The mother and sister return home, and the man proceeds to the girl’s village, where they are given a spare hut. They spend their first night(kulajika). No coitus takes place. 

The following day, the bride’s mother cooks a big bowl of porridge and takes it to the bridal hut. The bride leaves the hut while the husband remains. 

A day after, the marriage ceremony happens. The man is never allowed to look his mother-in-law in the face.



Kaonde (kiiKaonde) is a Bantu language spoken primarily in Zambia but also in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Kaonde and its dialects are spoken and understood by perhaps 350,000 people or more. It is estimated that approximately 2.3% of Zambians are native Kaonde speakers. Kaonde speakers overwhelmingly live in the Northwestern and parts of Central regions of Zambia.

Fewer numbers of Kaonde speakers live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, they are not known or identified by the term Kaonde but rather by the term Luba.

In Zambia, Kaonde people occupying the following districts: Solwezi,Mufumbwe,Kasempa,Kalumbila and Mushindamo in the North-Western province, and Mumbwa in the Central province. Kaonde villages can also be found in the northern parts of Kaoma District in the Western Province.

Just like any other tribe in Zambia, Kaondes are ruled by the traditional leaders. The following are the chiefs of the Kaonde people recognised by the government of Zambia: Senior Chief Kapiji Kasongo Kamuyange Mujimanzovu, Senior Chief Kasempa, Chief Kapiji Mpanga, Chief Mumena, Chief Matebo, Chief Ingwe, Chief Mukumbi Kizela, Chief Mushima Mubambe, Chief Mulendema, Chief Mumba, Chief Kaindu, Chief Mukumbi Katotola and Senior Chief Mukumbi Ibaloli ( Originally, Mukumbi Ibaloli is a Lunda)

Strictly speaking, the term "Kaonde" refers to a group of people who are identified by a common language known as kiiKaonde. This group of people, like many others in Zambia, was originally part of the Luba Kingdom. They migrated south to area surrounding a stream called Kaonde in river Congo Basin. From there, the people migrated into what is now Northwestern Zambia. This group of people called their language kiiKaonde. Speakers of other Bantu languages use the prefix "chi" other than "kii" to refer to this language.



The Kaonde are known for their unique traditional houses. Typically Kaonde houses, or lukelo, were made out of termite mounds and dried grass. A nkunka house is made entirely out of grass.


Clans and kinship

The Kaonde are a matrilineal tribe, meaning kinship is carried through a mother’s line. Typically a wife and her new husband would live in her mother’s village after marriage, although today, as a result of urbanisation and the rise of inter-cultural marriages, modern couples may choose to live in larger cities around the country.

There are eight forms of kinship recognised by the Kaonde. According to The Fractured Community: Landscapes of Power and Gender in Rural Zambia by Kate Crehan, these are: “inanji (mother), mwisho (mother’s brother), kolojanji (older sibling), nkasanji (younger sibling), mwana (child), mwipwa (nephew or niece), nkambo (grandparent), munkana (grandchild).”


Economic Activity

Sorghum is considered the staple food of the Kaonde. Sorghum is used as the main ingredient in the production of traditional beer called munkhoyo, which is mostly consumed at the Juba ja Nsomo ceremony. Other foods consumed include millet, cassava, beans, maize and fish. The Kaonde would practice a form of slash and burn farming method similar to the Bemba tribe’s chitemene.

They practice salt-making, a skill passed on to younger generations. The women who specialized in this art gather soil from Kaimbwe Salt Pan. They burn the earth and put the ash through a dish with holes. 

Water is then sieved through until it comes out clear. The mixture is then heated until all the moisture evaporates, leaving the salt. 

The salt is then made into cone shapes and heated until it is solid, forming a type of salt rock called nsumba.

They also cultivate crops like sorghum, maize, millet, beans and cassava and practice hunting.

Some of them knew how to work with iron to produce spearheads, hoes and knives.