Luvale people

Luvale / Lwena

Luvale / Lwena / Lovale / Luena

The Luvale people, also called (in Angola) the Luena or Lwena,are an ethnic group in Zambia, Angola and Democratic republic of Congo.

Luvale People

In Zambia they are found mainly in the North-Western Province of Zambia, centred in the town of Zambezi which was previously called Balovale. Some Zambian Luvale have left their ancestral lands for economic reasons and can be found in other locations in Zambia such as Lukanga Swamp. There is also considerable Rural-Urban migration to Lusaka. In Angola they reside in eastern Moxico Province.

Globally, this group totals 1,593,000 in 3 countries. (, 2023)

Their primary language is Luvale.

The Lovale people are not united under one paramount chief but are composed of a number of subgroups speaking the Lovale language or dialects of it. The Luvale language (sometimes called Lwena) is a west central Bantu language, and a tonal language. The Lovale are closely related to the Chokwe who ended the Lunda Kingdom, and Chokwe and Lunda people also live in the same area.

Luvale people


Baluvale speak Luvale language. Luvale (also spelled Chiluvale, Lovale, Lubale, Luena, Lwena) is a Bantu language belonging to larger Niger-Congo language phylum and is spoken by the Lovale people of Angola and Zambia. It is recognized as a regional language for educational and administrative purposes in Zambia, where about 168,000 (2006) people speak it. However, there are about 2,015,000 Luvale speakers in both countries. Luvale is a tonal language and is closely related to Chokwe.



Luvale (Lwena in Angola) peoples are closely related to Chokwe, and their history is interconnected with both Chokwe and Lunda political movements, which have historically dominated the region. Between 1600 and 1850 they were under considerable influence from the Lunda states and were centrally located in Angola. In the second half of the 19th century, considerable development of the trade routes between the Chokwe homelands and the Angolan coast led to an increased participation in trade of ivory and rubber. Wealth acquired from this allowed the Chokwe kingdom to expand, eventually overtaking the Lunda states that had held sway over them for so long.



The Luvale economy is mainly agro-fishery based. Its agrarian sector is centered around the staple crops of manioc, cassava, yams, and peanuts. Tobacco and hemp are also grown for snuff, and maize is grown for beer. Domesticated livestock is also kept and includes sheep, goats, pigs, and chickens. Meat supplements are garnered through hunting. There is a exclusive association of big game hunters (Yanga), but everyone contributes to the capture of small game animals. The farming and processing of agricultural products is done almost exclusively by women among the Luvale. Slash and burn techniques and crop rotation are practiced to naturally conserve the land.
The Luvale are renowned fishermen; each year they export dried catfish to mining centres of the Copperbelt.


Socio-political structure

The Luvale are matrilineal and uxorilocal. Luvale do not recognize a paramount leader, but instead offer allegiance to local chiefs who inherit their positions matrilineally from the maternal uncle. The chiefs (mwana nganga) consult with a committee of elders and ritual specialists before making decisions. Villages are divided into manageable sections, which are governed by family headmen. All members of Luvale society are divided into two categories, those who are descended from the founding matrilineal lines and those who are descended from former enslaved populations.

Chieftainship is restricted to a single clan among some thirteen clans, the NamaKungu. All children of female chiefs are therefore chiefs (vamwangana ). A child of a male chief is called Mwana Uta or 'child of the bow'. He can never become a mwangana . This means that, depending on the number and fecundity of female chiefs, it was possible to have hundreds of Luvale chiefs at any one time. With very few exceptions, chiefly genealogies tend to be very shallow for obvious reasons. During the slave trade certain vamwangana were able to create important new chieftainships. These coexisted with older titles, and with the Kakenge, whose ancient chieftainship provided the necessary legitimizing historical links which each chief required to be accepted as a mwangana . This proliferation of chiefs with vastly varying degrees of actual authority was to confront the early colonial administration with the 'need' to create a clear hierarchy of political power and one which was small enough in number to be 'manageable'.



As is custom, when a couple is ready to be married, the groom is required to pay a bride price to the woman's family. In Luvale, the bride price is called "matemo" or "vikumba" ( meaning 'things'). It is offered to the bride's ("mwenga") relatives as a sign of respect and appreciation.

A groom may welcome a bride with a small celebration ("vitilekela"). At this time, people of his village will greet the bride, encouraging her to be a good person and feed the village's children and strangers. Some days later, the bride goes through a ritual introducing her to her own hearth. This "lighting the fire" ritual characterizes all female transitions and is also performed for girls who have reached puberty and for new mothers. Sometime later the groom gives gifts ("vifupa wenga") to the bride's relatives which enable him to eat within their village or villages. This is followed by a return gift to the bride's matrilineal relatives which thereafter enables them to eat at the groom's village.

Traditionally, the groom was expected to provide everything in the marriage (a house, food, clothes), so the wife leaves her home without her personal items including clothing. However, in modern times due to economic reasons, intercultural marriages and urbanization, the wife usually brings her own kitchen items which are purchased for her as part of a pre-wedding ceremony called a kitchen party.



The Luvale have a largely agrarian economy, and their staple crops are manioc, cassava, yams, and peanuts. Tobacco and hemp is grown for snuff, and maize is grown for beer. The farming and processing of agricultural products is done almost exclusively by the women of Luvale. Slash and burn techniques and crop rotation are practiced to naturally conserve the land. Pigs, chickens, sheep and goats are kept for domestic use.

There is an exclusive society of hunters called "yanga", who are responsible for catching bigger game, but everyone contributes to the capture of small game animals. However game has become scarce in much of their region. They are known for being renowned fishermen and export dried catfish to the mining centers of the Copperbelt.



Like many other African tribes, a child's name is usually influenced by the circumstances surrounding its birth. Children may be named according to the time and place of birth, events or circumstances of birth, birth order, or after kinsmen.

Immediately following the birth of a child, the midwife, also known as Chifungiji, bestows a temporary name upon the newborn. When the child's umbilical cord drops off, the parents, usually the father, will bestow a name upon the newborn. The mother is allowed to name the second child; grandparents and uncles may also name subsequent children. Once a child is named by its parents, this name will be permanently used in interactions. It is common that parents will greet the baby in words and songs, using a variety of names; the one that makes the baby smile or soothed is assumed to be the 'right' one. If the child continuously and habitually cries, this indicates the name is inadequate. The name must then be changed to another. This stems from the Luvale belief in reincarnation. Sometimes the name is changed if the child become seriously sick. In that case, a traditional healer ("chimbanda") will treat the child and select a new name, for it is believed the previous name is now associated with misfortune.

Examples of names given to describe circumstances include "Kahilu" meaning 'he who has returned/come back'. The female version is "Omba". Christianity has also had an impact on the naming culture with names being localized, for instance, 'Daniel' becomes 'Ndanyele'.


Religious Belief

The BaLuvale recognize a an ancient traditional god of creation and supreme power, Kalunga.  They believe that Kalunga has power above every other deity. It is believed to be omniscient and all seeing.  He is recognized as the god of the sky and has jurisdiction over the spirits of both the living and the dead. They worship and revere Kalunga who blesses the good and punishes the wicked one. Apart from Kalinga The Baluvale recognize a series of nature and ancestral spirits (mahamba). These spirits may belong to the individual, the family, or the community, and neglecting them is sure to result in personal or collective misfortune. Evil spirits may also be activated by sorcerers (orwanga) to cause illness, and this must be counteracted to regain health. In order to accomplish this, individuals normally consult with a diviner (Nganga), who attempts to uncover the source of the patient's problem. The most common form of divination among Luvale involves basket divination, which consists of the tossing of up to sixty individual objects in a basket. The configuration of the objects is then "read" by the diviner to determine the cause of illness.



Within Zambia the Luvale are famous for their traditional beliefs in witchcraft or voodoo which are still commonly practised, in both rural and urban areas. The Lovale people together with the Chokwe, Luchazi and Mbunda are famous for the Makishi dancers who perform a masquerade in intricate masks and costumes.

In Zambia the Luvale people hold the 'Makishi festival' to mark the end of the 'kumukanda' (or 'initiation'). Every 5 years or so, boys from the same age group (young teenagers) are taken into the bush for 1–2 months where they undergo several rites of passage into manhood. These involve learning certain survival skills, learning about women and how to be a good husband, learning about fatherhood, and also they are circumcised. The Luvale consider uncircumcised men to be dirty or unhygienic. It is said that in some very rural areas where the kumukanda is maintained in its strictest traditional sense that if a woman is to pass by the boy's 'bushcamp' whilst they are undergoing kumukanda then she must be punished, even killed. To celebrate the boys' completion of the kumukanda the Makishi festival welcomes them back to the village as men. The night before men from the village take their masks to the graveyard and sleep there, allowing the spirits of their ancestors to enter them. The following evening they appear in the village with their masks. Although the other members of the community know roughly who is taking part, they do not know who is under which mask. The masks represent specific characters: Pwebo (a female character... 'pwebo' meaning 'woman' in Luvale) and Chizaluke amongst others.

Makishi Masquerade and Activities
Makishi (singular, Likishi) are masked characters associated with the coming of age rituals of the Vaka Chiyama Cha Mukwamayi communities of the north-western part of Zambia. The term refers to the masks and costumes that constitute a character being portrayed. The masks are believed to be a manifestation of the spirits of dead ancestors who return to the world of the living. The Makishi Masquerade is connected to the Mukanda, an initiation school held annually for boys between the ages of eight and seventeen. At the beginning of the dry season, young boys leave their homes and live for one to three months in an isolated school.
The Mukanda involves the circumcision of the initiates, tests of courage, and lessons on their future role in society as men and husbands. During the Mukanda, Makishi are supposed to return from the world of the dead to protect and assist the boys in their transition from childhood to adulthood. While at Mukanda, the boys are separated from the outside world - the separation marking their symbolic death as children. Therefore, the boys are called Tundanji - people who do not belong to the world of the living, to be reborn as adults at the completion of the Mukanda. The graduation is marked by the performance of the Makishi.
Masquerade and the whole community is free to attend (Phiri 2008)

Historical Background
The Mukanda and Makishi Masquerade ritual used to be celebrated by the Vaka Chiyama Cha Mukwamayi communities, which include the Luvale, Chokwe, Mbunda and related peoples, who originally lived in the north-western and western provinces of Zambia. The Mukanda School had an educational function of transmitting cultural values, practical survival skills as well as knowledge about nature, sexuality, religious beliefs and the social values of the community. In former times, it took place over a period of up to six months. What was learned from the school was not to be disclosed to anyone, especially the un-initiated and women as proclaimed in this song translated by Wele (1993) as follows:

According to Luyako (2004), Makishi are a representation of certain characteristics in society and carry lessons for the students in the way they appear, and perform in dance and song. For example, there is Kayupi, who represents royalty. He is referred to as the king of all Makishi and behaves accordingly in all his characteristics and functions. Chizaluke represents a dignified personality that goes with wisdom and old age. On the other hand, Chileya represents a fool with a childish characteristic, mimicking others, wears undignified dressing and dances like a learner and not an expert. Others are the Mupala, who is the lord of the Mukanda and protective spirit with supernatural abilities, while Mwanapwebo is a female character representing the ideal woman and is responsible for the musical accompaniment of the rituals and dances. Each initiate is assigned a specific masked character, which remains with him throughout the entire school.

According to Luyako, the creation of the Makishi was done behind the seclusion of the school. The colours of the mask and costumes are symbolic and religious, with reference to the ancestors (Luyako 2004). The initiator of the Mukanda is called the Chijika Mukanda, and the attendant of each initiate is called a Chilombola. Parents chose the Chilombola for their children, depending on the character of the person to be
chosen to take up this role. A Chilombola had to be a person of good character who was supposed to be the child’s mentor not only during the Mukanda School but throughout his life after the school (Cheleka 2002).



Likumbi Lya Mize

The official traditional ceremony is Likumbi Lya Mize, and is one of the most popular traditional festivals in Zambia. Taking place during the last weekend of August, it includes two initiation ceremonies, one for girls and one for boys. The name translates to "ceremony of the Mize" which is the name of the headquarters of the Luvale and is located in the town of Zambezi in North Western Province. The ceremony generally lasts a week and includes activities such as dancing by masked male dancers ("makishi") and by girls who have undergone the "wali" initiation ceremony, speeches by the chief and government officials, and drumming.


The wali ceremony occurs when a girl begins her first menstruation cycle. She is taken into seclusion and brought to a fig tree ("muulya"), a symbol of fertility, where she remains until a grass hut ("litungu") is built for her. She is given protective medicine by an older woman who acts as a teacher and guide during the process ("chilombola"). The initiate (who is referred to as "mwali") is also assigned a younger girl ("kajilu" or "kasambibiijikilo") who helps with chores.

During the period of seclusion (which could last between four and six months), girls are prepared for marriage through being taught about hygiene, sex, and domestic chores. On the first day of their seclusion, the girl will make a girdle ("zeva") which she will wear for the duration of the ceremony. They are not allowed to run too fast, lie on her stomach, eat certain foods, be seen with members of the opposite sex, or speak unless necessary. She must also refrain from contact with fire, which is associated with life, and its absence, coldness, is symbolic of death; only her grandmother kindles the fire for her. When a girl returns to her village, she has to be covered in a traditional cotton cloth ("chitenge"). In recent times, seclusion lasts instead only a week to a month.

To graduate, she must perform various dances symbolizing the skills she has acquired. She is then covered in oil and red ochre. Afterwards, she is presented to her new husband. Due to a modernized legal system the initiation ceremony now happens later in a woman's life (before marriage) although it still happens at puberty for Luvale girls from rural areas. Child marriages are now illegal in Zambia, so even if a girl reaches puberty at 13 in a rural area, she may do the wali but not get married straight away. Previously, arranged marriages would take place, but in modern times, couples marry for love.


Luvale males between the ages of 8 and 12 will participate in the "mukanda", sometimes called the kumukanda, a coming age ceremony. It typically takes place at the beginning of the dry season. There are three distinct stages, the first being the preparation, which begins when a village headman ("chilolo") or important elder, having reached consensus with the families of young uncircumcised boys, publicly announces that the time for the mukanda has come. The candidates are then gathered together at the mukanda, where they are circumcised; at this stage, the initiator of the mukanda ceremony becomes known as the "chijika mukanda", or the "planter of mukanda." They will then invoke the spirits before the muyombo tree to bless and purify the children who will undergo the operation. The Luvale consider uncircumcised men dirty or unhygienic.

The second stage is the seclusion, where young boys will leave their homes and live for one to three months in an isolated bush camp. This separation from the outside world marks their symbolic death as children. It is said that in some very rural areas where the mukanda is strictly maintained that if a woman is to pass by the boy's "bush camp" whilst they are undergoing mukanda then she must be punished, even killed. The initiates ("vatunduji" or "tundanji") will undergo tests of courage and learn lessons on their future role as men and husbands. They will be taught skills such as making masks, or "makishi", wood-carving, basketry, smithing, and other practical skills. They are also allowed to play games and sports. The curriculum also includes cultural instruction in the ancient form of design and calculus known as "tusona", a tradition of ideographic tracings that are made in sand. Like the female initiates, the boys have teachers who guide them through the process. These are also referred to as "makishi" ("likishi" is the singular, meaning mask); each likishi has a distinct role. The makishi wear elaborate masks and dyed woven costumes made from barkcloth. The masks are made of wood and embellished with plant fiber, cordage, beads and other materials to convey the age, gender, social rank and power of the archetypes they embody. Signs and symbols on the masks are meant to indicate the forces of the universe. They represent the spirit of a deceased ancestor who returns to the world of the living to assist the boys in their transition from childhood to adulthood. During the ceremony, they will symbolically arise and assemble from the graveyard ("kuvumbuka"). Each boy is assigned a specific likishi, who remains with him throughout the entire process.

There are a variety of roles the makishi can take. Although all makishi are men (their identity is never revealed and it said that they dress in graveyards to shield themselves from the public), there are some female representations of women. The following list details many, though not all, of the possible makishi roles.

The completion of the mukanda is celebrated with a graduation ceremony, the makishi masquerade. The boys are welcomed back into their community as adult men; the entire village is free to attend the makishi masquerade and pantomime- like performance. After the ritual, the makishi masks are burned or buried, symbolically returning them to the world of the dead. In recent times, masks have incorporated notions of the new; newer representations of makishi might include the face of a boom box, a VCR player, radio, or etc.

The mukanda has an educational function of transmitting practical survival-skills as well as knowledge about nature, sexuality, religious beliefs and the social values of the community. In former times, it took place over a period of several months and represented the entire reason behind the makishi masquerade. The practice is not unique to the Luvale, and is also performed by many other groups. Today, it is often reduced to one month in order to adapt to the school calendar. This adjustment together with the increasing demand for makishi dancers at social gatherings and party rallies, might affect the ritual's original character.