The Community and the People of Lumwana West

Gerry bestrides the headwaters of the great Zambezi

Gerry bestrides the headwaters of the great Zambezi


Lumwana West, a rural village of five thousand people in the NW Province of Zambia, is located in a geographical, political and climatic environment that helps us to understand its particular needs and potentials. Geographically, it is far enough east from Angola and far enough south of the Congo to be isolated from their influences; at the same time, Lumwana West is far enough (sixty miles or more) away from urban centers or copper mining complexes to be relatively independent of those forces.


As one travels north and then west toward Lumwana, the elevation of the bush country gradually increases to two or three thousand feet in altitude. The vegetation in this area is lush due to the relatively high rainfall during the long rainy season and the diversity of soil types. During the driest time in August, before the winter rains have begun, the local rivers are still full, with small streams draining the local valleys. Traces of the previous winter’s heavy rains remain in the hardened tracks left by vehicles in the mud, and in the patterns of washed out trails and gullies.


The Mwinilunga district, which includes Lumwana West, has a relatively moderate climate determined by the humid Congo Air Mass and the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone that bring rain from October to April. Winter, the cool and dry season, lasts from June to August. Summer, the wet and hot season, lasts from November to March. There’s a pre-rainy season during September and October, waiting for the rains to increase, and a post-rainy season of April and May waiting for the rains finally to stop. When Linda and Gerry visit the village, they try to arrive in August, when the weather is still dry and cool and the malaria-bearing mosquitoes are fewer in number.

Environmental items of special interest to the visitor are the pervasive bush-burnings and the ever-present termite mounds. Beginning in June, after the lush growth of the Zambian summer, the local farmers and village residents work in groups to burn all of the brush surrounding their homes, illuminating the sky at night.

Bush-burning at night in the NW Province

Bush-burning at night in the NW Province

Latrines on termite mounds in Lumwana West

Latrines on termite mounds in Lumwana West

As smoke fills the night sky, making it impossible to see the Southern Cross, the moon, which appears much larger in Zambia than in Oregon, turns blood red. Among other things, this enriches the soil, controls the encroaching brush, and protects natives from poisonous snakes–of which there are many.

It also enables the burning of trash piles and scattered litter (tan plastic shopping bags, especially) that usually surround places where people shop or otherwise gather.

The Mwinilunga area is strewn with tall spired termite mounds of the termite macrotermes falciger. These mounds can vary in size from one or two feet high to fifteen or twenty feet high, with some much larger than that, defining the contours of the landscape. In fact, the Lumwana West School has two (boys & girls) latrines located on top of a compound, very large, ancient termite mound!

The larger termite mounds are permanent structures which long outlive the life of the colony which establishes them. They are built up over a long period of time by a succession of colonies, and often sport a diverse display of vegetation.


A day’s journey north of Lumwana lies what Zambia officially considers the headwaters of the massive Zambezi River. A trickle at its origin near the juncture of three borders (Angola, Zambia, Congo), this river grows into the great Zambezi which,after flowing hundreds of miles south, will pour its flood over the Great Rift Valley escarpment into the depths of Victoria Falls–higher than Niagara, greater in volume.

Mosi-Oa-Tunya, “the smoke that thunders” (Victoria Falls in August)

Mosi-Oa-Tunya, “the smoke that thunders” (Victoria Falls in August)

Two other rivers, the Kabompo and the Lunga, are important to the Mwinilunga/ Lumwana area as undeveloped potential for hydro-electricity. They also provide a limited fishery for local residents.

Government Concern

The beneficial aspirations expressed by the Zambian government for its people, including the Lunda-speaking people of Lumwana West and their community, are clear. Although the national economy may be inadequate to address even the most pressing needs of the population, the government’s commitment to raising the standard of living for most Zambians is apparent. This policy of nurturing is reflected in the political structure, which seeks to harmonize with the native cultures and local customs.

Tribal Role

The Northwest Province (Mwinilunga/Lumwana area), like other provinces in Zambia, is dually and cooperatively governed by hereditary tribal chieftains and by a government-appointed District Commissioner. Overall population in the district is 131,500 people, while population in Lumwana West village itself is a little over 5,000. In this district there are nine chiefdoms and twenty-two wards, four wards in the west and five in the east. Of the nine chiefs, two are recognized as “senior chiefs,” one of whom is Chief Sailung’a who presides over four wards: Sailung’a, Chisasa, Samteba, and part of Lumwana West. Chief Kakoma, presides over the other part of Lumwana West.

Chiefs are the traditional rulers and sole custodians of the culture, customs, and social norms. They act as arbitrators of disputes as well as judges when crimes against tradition or custom are committed. They are cardinal in the success of developmental initiatives–like those of World Vision or EBZEF–as they already have existing physical and social infrastructure to mobilize and implement a program at the community level. Indeed, Chief Sailung’a’s visit to the library, and his representatives’ presence at the library work site, were crucial to the successful building and completion of the Lumwana West Community Library/Learning Center.

Makeshi figure from male rite of passage

Makeshi figure from male rite of passage

Presentation art from female rite of passage

Presentation art from female rite of passage

The majority of the people in the district are Lunda who migrated from the Congo in the sixteenth-century. The Lunda people are culturally notable for their Kwalamisha and Kutembwisha ceremonies, which are rites for initiating boys into manhood and girls into womanhood.

Traditionally, the people respect their chiefs to such an extent that the chiefs have major influence when it comes to matters of development and politics. Chiefs delegate some of their powers to village headmen/women who preside over village conflicts. The headmen, in turn, carry great influence within the village. Issues that arose among the workers during the construction of the Library would probably not have been resolved without Chief Sailung’a’s or his representatives’ interventions.

National and Local Government

The Zambian Government makes its will known though the District Commissioner, who, with the assistance of a District Administrative Officer, co-ordinates all development interventions in the district. The government thereby seeks to cooperate in a harmonious and nurturing way with the district chiefs and, through them, with the headmen and other people in the village. The District Commissioner heads up the office, which was established to facilitate the coordination of central government functions and all developmental activities, as well as to harmonize these functions with those of the Local Authority to ensure effective implementation of such programs in the district.

The various ministries of the District Administration Office have studied the needs of the Mwinilunga/Lumwana West area and confirmed the serious need for assistance in the areas of health (nutrition, AIDS), education and farming practices. In education, the District Administration is working to improve the infrastructure of classes and teacher houses, to encourage adult literary, and to encourage the “girl child” to go to and stay in school. Financial resources are extremely limited, even non-existent. Outside organizations like EBZEF (and larger NGO’s) play a crucial role in providing funds.


With the exception of the Elizabeth Bowers Memorial Library, there is little electricity in the village, and the cell phone network is spotty and unreliable. Transportation is by walking, by occasional bicycle, and by limited transportation. Bus travel can be dangerous as many accidents have occurred on the limited roadways. Lumwana West has a few traditional wells and several shallow wells. Ground water is unsafe as it is contaminated with metals and bacteria. Engineers Without Borders is working with the village on their water supply. The most common diseases in the area are malaria (34% incidence with only 42% immunization), non-pneumonia respiratory infections, and diarrhea. Malnutrition is also high in the4 area. The HIV/AIDS incidence is 4%-5%. Church missions in the area include Christian Missions in Many Lands, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist,and Jehovah’s Witness.


The Zambian Ministry of Education provides a sobering analysis of the educational needs of Zambian children. Most of the rural schools have no science laboratories and no libraries. Many do not have basic teaching and learning aids–like books to study, or maps, or writing materials. There are insufficient numbers of teachers and inadequate housing for those teachers who are even willing to live in a rural area like Lumwana West.

The Ministry of Education aspires to improve exam results (necessary for advancing to higher grades), to support retention and housing of teachers, to increase evaluative visits to the schools in the district, to encourage sports among the students, and to improve teaching/learning materials.

In addition, there is a huge problem with the girl child. Most girls drop out of school to be married off to both young and old men. Others get pregnant and drop out. Achieving an education seems to run counter to traditional village culture, in that high value is attached to getting pregnant at a relatively early age (12-13) and having multiple children.


Beth’s host mother at 22 (same age as Beth) with her four children

Early pregnancies in the Lumwana West area are attributed to boarding houses, which children who come from far off places rent so they can go to school. These girls are vulnerable to the men and boys in the area. Also, shifting cultivation causes parents to move to other areas during the farming season, leaving the girls on their own to go to school.

EBZEF encourages girls to take Life Skills courses. Skills courses offered inn the village teach girls more about their bodies and how to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS. EBZEF also encourages girls who become pregnant to go back to school as soon as possible.

When EBZEF began working with Lumwana West, there were only four girls in school beyond grade 7. After more than ten years of EBZEF sholarships for women, there appears to be increasing value placed on educating girls. As more competent and capable wives, educated women increase their value to the family and appear to earn more respect from their husbands by contributing to the household income.