Chokwe ethnic group

The Chokwe are an ethnic group from Central Africa currently living in Angola , the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Zambia . They speak Chokwe, their traditional language, but also other languages, depending on their place of residence. Around the year 2000, its population was estimated at 1.16 million people.


In the 16th century the lunda subjugated them and introduced the institution of headship and the sacredness of power. At this time, when they were still small farmers and ranchers, the Lunda taught them the art of hunting, in which they had been instructed by the Luba chief Tshibinda Ilunga, husband of the queen of the Lunda. Mixed marriages established the assimilation between the two ethnic groups and the Chokwe chiefs settled in the court of the Lunda.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries lunda domination continued, but the nineteenth century was marked by numerous revolts. Although their culture was Bantu, these two ethnic groups differed in terms of kinship system, language, and political organization. The Chokwe lacked centralized power and were organized into large chiefdoms led by an aristocracy. Towards 1850 there was an extraordinary expansion of the Chokwe who, in 1887, managed to seize the capital from the Lunda, seriously weakened by internal dissensions. In this way they contributed to the dismantling of the kingdom. They perfectly mastered the art of hunting, and were the only ones among the Kasai ethnic groups who hunted elephants, first for their meat, then, from 1858 on, for ivory. The land was not very fertile, so that hunting and gathering rubber were their main activities along with the honey and wax that they sold to the coastal ethnic groups. They participated in the slave trade, selling their own criminals and enemies, in addition to the prisoners they made during raids to attack their neighbors.

The arrival of the Europeans forced them to submit to the Belgians and the Portuguese, moving more and more to the east with each defeat, into Congo-Kinshasa and northwestern Zambia. By then they became semi-nomadic, gradually abandoning the great headquarters and certain architectural traditions such as barns on stilts.

Social organization

It is based on matrilineal lineages; There are also many female statues, identifiable as the queen mother or the chief’s wife. The most sacred of all masks is the cikungu. The face and hairstyle are made of basketwork lined with beaten bark and painted with resin, then repainted or adorned with fabric appliqués in bright colors. The sovereign wears it during his enthronement as a symbol of the ancestors of the chief of land and is only used during the sacrifices that were offered to them. The cikunza, also in basketwork, is a tall garnish in the shape of a pointed tower. He conducts the initiation ceremonies of the mukanda.

In the category of dance masks was the pwo, incarnation of the female ancestor. In other times it was modeled in resin, today it is made of hard wood, and is worn by a man dressed in a net skirt. It grants the spectators fertility by dancing on some occasions with a statuette representing a mother with her child on her back. The cihondo, a male mask, symbolizes power and wealth. All these masks attest to some rigor and plastic expressiveness and the same sensitivity as the small figurines of the chiefdom courts. Each decorative motif has its own name and had a symbolic meaning. Badges of dignity include pendants, swords, small axes, spears, and a stool.


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