Salampasu people


Salampasu / Salampaso

The Salampasu people live east of the Kasai River, on the frontier between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola. Their name is said to mean “hunters of locusts”, but they were widely viewed with terror by adjacent groups. They maintain strong commercial and cultural relations with their southern neighbors, the Chokwe and the Lunda, to whom they pay tribute. The Salampasu are homogeneous people governed by territorial chiefs, who supervise village chiefs. Their hierarchical power structure is counterbalanced by a warriors' society. A people with a reputation as fearless warriors, the Salampasu have retained the custom of a rough and primitive life. Warring and hunting are privileged occupations, but the women do some farming. reports a population of 244,000 (2024)

Salampasu People

They maintain strong commercial and cultural relations with their southern neighbours, the Tschokwe (Chokwe) and the Lunda, to whom they pay tribute. The Salampasu are ultimately governed by a few high-ranking chiefs who are, in turn, assisted by territorial chiefs, who supervise village chiefs. This hierarchical power structure is counterbalanced by a warriors’ society. The Salampasu live mostly from hunting, but the women do some farming.



The Ethnologue describes the location of the Salampasu people as Southeastern part of Kasaï Occidental Province of Democratic Republic of Congo, east of Luiza, on the frontier between the DRC and Angola.  Another source describes live their villages as one road wide, where they live along many rivers in narrow strips along the river.

In the fifties, the Salampasu lived in Luiza territory, in high altitude savannahs. They are known in the litterature as fierce fighters and head-hunters, for whom ritual suicide by hanging was frequent (Jobart 1925). This territory is also inhabited by southern Ket, Mbala and Lwalwa (Pruitt 1973). Together with other such decentralized groups as Lwalwa, Kongo-Dinga and Mbabane, they are globally called Akawaand (people living downstream).



Like most ethnic groups in DRC, the Salampasu are a Bantu people, a term deriving from linguistic classification terms.  The Bantu peoples began migrating east, west and south out of Central Africa sometime around the time of Christ, or a little before.  No information was found about the specific history of the Salampasu people.



The Salampasu people are one of the many Bantu groups in Central Africa.  Their name means "Hunter of Locusts."  They are better known to their neighbours as fierce warriors.

The Salampasu have strong commercial relations with the peoples across the border, the Chokwe and Lunda, to whom they were subject at one time.  


The term "Salampasu"

The term Salampasu is perhaps derived from specific frontal tattoos, called grasshopper wings, an explanation questioned by Bogaerts (1950), even though mpasu means grasshopper. In 1925, the administrator Jobart refers to mpasu as meaning “ailes de sauterelles,” a term that was extended to other groups by the colonial administrations. The name was originally reserved for the population in Luiza showing the characteristic tattoos and was applied south and westward to include groups known as Akawaand (a name of Ruund/Lunda origin). Ceyssens (Akawaand… 1979) notes that, before independence, groups such as Ndombi, Mwanda-Kayiisu were usually known as Salampasu of the Lueta river, but they referred to themselves as Mbala; inhabitants (known asd Kalaala-Diboko) of the area between Luiza-Luluwa (rivers) assumed the name Ket(e); those of the area between Lueta and Luluwa claimed the name of Salampasu. The administrator Guillot (ms 1955) divides the region in Luisa (situated between the Kabelekese and Lulua rivers) into three parts: in the North are the Asalampasu of the secteur Basala-Mpasu of the Luisa river; in the south and east are the Ejikulu a Kapia and the Ejikulu na Meya (there is no boundary between them; cf. also Bogaerts who makes the same distinction).



In each community, authority is vested in a “Kalamba Kambanji,” a wealthy man who became prominent because of personal entrepreneurship (e.g., success in hunting and gathering booty in battle). These men cannot inherit their wealth nor pass it on to their children.

The Salampasu have warrior societies (mungongo), which maintain their independence. These warrior societies are based on a regional level and always incorporate members of all six matriclans within the region; accordingly, they are divided into six sections (Pruitt 1973 p.) To see or to wear masks (or to become maskers?), one must be initiated. Initiations start with tshikiti for children from 8-10 years old. On this occasion, before they are circumcised, in a secluded place, the mask Samandamulama appears and reveals himself to the children as “a dead person emerging from the earth.” As they grow up, they undergo numerous initiations, such as idangani and ibuku. Bogaerts (1950, p. 394) mentions several mask names without describing the type of mask, but sometimes indicating the context in which it occurs, such as Sandondo wa Kateleli in the Kabulukutu dance of women, or Muninka, Idangani, Ibuku in the Matambu and Utshumbu dances and at funerals of famous head-hunters. In fact, Matambu dances are only held for head-hunters.

Women are involved in some farming, but the Salampasu depend mostly on the hunting done by the men.  The only art they produce are masks, which are important in their rites and sacred concepts.



The Ethnologue classifies the Salampasu language as a Bantu language.  The language is closely related to Lunda in Zambia.  Some sources spell the name of the language Chisalampasu, the name of the language in the language itself, where the common Bantu grammatical prefix chi indicates "language of."

Resources and public services are lacking in the areas where the Salampasu people live.  Most villages have no schools, clinics or churches.  



CPPI reports the Salampasu as Roman Catholic with no evangelical believers.  Few details could be found from sources on the status of religion or Christian faith related to the Salampasu people.

The discussion about the masks, referred to above, gives some insights into the sacred ceremonies:
The costume, composed of animal skins, feathers, and fibers, is as important as the mask itself. It has been sacralized, and the spirit dwells within it. Masks are still being danced as part of male circumcision ceremonies.


Salampasu Masks

Masks intervene in various life crisis ceremonies (from birth to death), they entertain and are active in the solution of crises.

Following his puberty initiation (at about the age of eight), a young man earns junior status by joining a local warrior association (mungongo), and then takes residence with an established Kabamba Kambanji, who, depending on his prestige, can attract many such young men. Later, he joins other organizations and gains the right to wear the mask(s) associated with each of the mask-using institutions.

Masks symbolize rank and title within the society and the aim is to acquire as many masks as possible to wear them on diverse occasions (Pruitt, ibid.)

It would seem that most mask societies are not ranked, they can be joined in any order; but in each instance to join the society, payment of heavy fees is necessary.

Salampasu People

Salampasu masks were integral part of the warriors’ society whose primary task was to protect this small enclave against invasions by outside kingdoms. Boys were initiated into the warriors’ society through a circumcision camp, and then rose through its ranks by gaining access to a hierarchy of masks. Earning the right to wear a mask involved performing specific deeds and large payments of livestock, drink and other material goods. Once a man ‘owned’ the mask, other ‘owners’ taught this new member particular esoteric knowledge associated with it. The Salampasu use masks made from wood, crocheted raffia, and wood covered with sheets of copper. Famous Salampasu masks made for initiation purposes are characterized by a bulging forehead, slanted eyes, a triangular nose and a rectangular mouth displaying intimidating set of teeth. The heads are often covered with bamboo or raffia or rattan-like decorations. Presented in a progressive order to future initiates, they symbolize the three levels of the society: hunters, warriors, and the chief. Certain masks provoke such terror that women and children flee the village when they hear the mask's name pronounced for fear they will die on the spot. Wooden masks covered or not covered with copper sheets are worn by members of the ibuku warrior association who have killed in battle. The masks made of plaited raffia fiber are used by the idangani association. Throughout the southern savannah region copper was a prerogative of leadership, used to legitimize a person’s or a group’s control of the majority of the people. Possessing many masks indicated not only wealth but also knowledge. Filing teeth making part of many wooden masks was part of the initiation process for both boys and girls designed to demonstrate the novices’ strength and discipline. Salampasu masquerades were held in wooden enclosures decorated with anthropomorphic figures carved in relief. The costume, composed of animal skins, feathers, and fibers, is as important as the mask itself. It has been sacralized, and the spirit dwells within it. Masks are still being danced as part of male circumcision ceremonies.