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The Bemba

"To condemn this place is to walk in it."

Meaning: Don't blame things you have not experienced.

The Bemba, commonly referred to as "forest people" are the most dominant people group in northeastern Zambia.  Known for their common language which is spoken throughout most of Zambia as well as the 1" scarification made right above the eyes, the Bemba are truly a powerful influence in Zambian society.  The soil in the area is not very good, so most Bemba live on farming at a sustenance level and shift their crops as the soils nutrients wear thin.  Millet, potatoes, beans, and small amounts of other vegetables are the main crops.  Usually people have very few possessions or saved wealth, and struggle with disease that is prevalent in the area.  

Traditionally Bemba dress in a bark clothing, hence the name "forest people" and they live in small villages of 30-50 mud huts.  The Bemba have their own unique political system with one common chief of all the Bemba, called the Citimukulu.  An interesting element of Bemba culture is their marriage ceremonies and structure.  When a man and women are married the man goes to live with the wife's family and so generations are traced in a matrilineal fashion, as opposed to the more common patrilineal lineages.    

Traditionally they have worshipped the high god Lenza who lives in the sky but recently as a result of Christian missionaries many are nominal Christians, believing in a mixture of traditional folk religion with Christian elements.  

Bemba art is very unique because the methods they use are very different than in surrounding areas.  Weaving is unknown to the Bemba people and pottery and basketry is very simple, however, the wood carvings and cloth they make from bark is extremely complex. 

More African Groups

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