Bemba Religion

Doctrines The Bemba of Zambia believe that life is a constant journey, signified in their case by the importance of the west and the east. Lesa, who is the high god of the Bemba, symbolizes the future, towards whom (the east) a Bemba moves in his lifetime. Imilungu (sing. Mulungu) symbolizes the divinities of the past, the ancestors (Ifikolwe), associated with the west, the Bemba place of origin, the places and traditions left behind. However, God is a divine being that includes the masculine and the feminine, 'my mother and my father' (mayo na tata), and his main attribute is that of parenthood as God is called a parent par excellence (mufyashi wine wine).

History The origins of the Bemba are linked to the foundation of the chieftainship Chitimukulu. In the course of the 17th Century a number of groups entered north-eastern Zambia from the country west of the Luapala river and established chieftainships. One of those groups came from western Luba country, perhaps from the state of Kalunde. Some of them were members of the crocodile clan, they settled down at the Kalungu river, and established a new chieftainship called Chitimukulu. They adopted the name Bemba, given to those who acknowledged the authority Chitimukulu. Through successive generations, the Bemba extended their territories, but the idea of a chiefdom as a basic unit of administration remained. It was within a chiefdom that a chief dispensed justice and collected tributes and gathered men form the army. Byn 1880, most of Bemba country was ruled by close matrilineal relatives of the subsequent Chitimukulu and their sons.
The first written references about the Bemba occur in the accounts of the Portuguese expedition of Lacerda, from Mozambique to the Lunda kingdom of Kazembe, in 1798. While other Portuguese exhibitions met Bemba chiefs on their way, senior Bemba chiefs were visited by the Swahili trader Tippu Tip, who dictated his autobiography back in Zanzibar. In 1867-8 David Livingstone passed through Bembaland, and he travelled around the northern and western borders in 1972. By the late 1880s missionaries began to settle in the country north and east of the Bemba. In July 1891, the White Fathers (Missionaries of Africa, Roman Catholic) founded a station near the Stevenson Road in the eastern part of Mambwe country, and by the end of the century some Bemba catechumens prepared themselves for baptism, a group that included a son and a niece of a Bemba chief.

Symbols The earth is considered an important and powerful symbol, that resembles a womb where every person returns at the time of death, a womb that waits patiently for the divine rains so as to become fertile. The sun is a symbol of the divine as well, as the early morning rays symbolize the maleness of God, while the heat of noon is associated with the authority of the male chief.
The three annual seasons symbolize male and female, so that the dry season symbolizes a woman, while the hot season symbolizes a man. The rainy season unites the two other season and symbolizes perfection and unity, when the cold and the dry meet. It symbolizes the union of man and woman, that brings life and continuity to the Bemba, and also symbolizes the divine gift of parenthood.

Adherents No official figures available.

Main Centre
 Woodlands of northeastern Zambia.