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Zambia - People

Zambia's population comprises more than 70 Bantu-speaking ethnic groups. Some ethnic groups are small, and only two have enough people to constitute at least 10% of the population. Most Zambians are subsistence farmers. The predominant religion is a blend of traditional beliefs and Christianity; Christianity is the official national religion. Expatriates, a majority of whom are British (about 15,000) and South African, live mainly in Lusaka and in the Copperbelt in northern Zambia, where they are employed in mines and related activities. Zambia also has a small but economically important Asian population, most of whom are Indians.

The people of Zannia are almost all within the Bantu-language family. Figures about the number of "tribes" and "languages" found in the country are almost meaningless uniess definitional ground rules are first explained in detail. It is generally said that Zambia has seventy-two tribes, but what is significant is the fact that the country comprises at least nine different language groups, and few people are fluent in more than two.

English, which is the language of governrnent, is widely understood mainly in the urban areas. There is no African common language such as Tanzania enjoys in Swahili. Instead, four main languages have become common languages for different part of the country: Bemba Nyanja (Cewa), Tonga and Lozi. Only the Tonga and the Bemba people constitute close to 10% of the population each, while there are about 9 groups in the 2.5 - 6% range. Bemba-speakers account for about a third of the population, Tonga- and Nyanja-speakers combine to account for another third.

Europeans form the largest non-indigenous group, followed by Asians. In 1969 three-quarters of the Europeans were English-speaking and about the same proportion of Asians spoke Gujarati.

Just as language is one major factor in perceptions of ethnic identity, so the ways in which individuals relate to one another in communities can serve to set some groups apart from others. All Zambians must interact with other people in multiple levels and forms of community. Even in the simplest rural area least affected by social and economic change, the individual is a member of a household, an extended family, a village, a neighborhoad, perhaps a clan, a formal political system of chieftainship, an informal political system of prestige and influence, and a set of state administrative structures. Each of these sorts of community makes its own demands on a person's behavior and offers him or her certain roles.

The word family for most Zambians refers not so much to the nuclear family of spouses and minor children, but to an extended family that includes several generations. In rural areas this group, encompassing all the heirs of a living elder, may be the corporate property-holding unit, the cooperative work group, or the sphere of shared cooking and eating.

It may also consist of several relatively autonomous households that accept responsibility for a member who wishes to change his or her residence from one unit to the other; for example, a child frequently lives with aunts, uncles or cousins in order to gain access to education. Urban living has made it more difficult for extended families to follow the pattern of contiguous households, but siblings, nieces or nephews, parents, or even friends often live within a household.

Polygamy is traditionally permissible, but it has not been statistically common. Polygamous households were generally those of important chiefs. Chiefs often needed additional women because of their obligations of hospitality, for women's work traditionally included food preparation, beer brewing, and most crop cultivation. Chiefs also used marriage as a way of building political alliances. In the 1960s it was estimated that less than 8% of the Zambian households were polygamous. Zambian marriage rules are quite diverse. A couple may marry under statutory law or under the numerous recognized varieties of customary law.

Beyond the level of the household or extended family, Zanlbian social structures frequently include two other modes of grouping persons: the lineage and the clan. A lineage is defined as all those links, through either men (a patrilineagel in some ethnic groups or women (a matrilineagel in others. Such lineage may consist of only a few generations (as among the Tonga) or as rnany as six or seven (as among the Luvalel). Genealogies of chiefly families are frequently deeper than those of commoners. Lineages may function as corporate groups overseeing inheritance, settling disputes among their members, and acting as political entities in coalition with other such units.

The form of lineage depends on the descent system of the ethnic group as weH as on the social role of the lineage structure itself. Zambia lies astride the "matrilineal belt", an area spanning Central Africa from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean where people trace their descent primarily through women. Matrilineal descent does not imply that women were dominant figures in social and political leadership; rather, the mother's oldest brother generally wielded family authority.

Among Zambians in the north, central and northwestern areas, the clan forms a grouping even larger than the lineage. Clan members accept their common descent, but their common ancester may be unknown or largely rnythical and beyond the depths of personal genealogies. Clans frequently extend beyond the limits of language groups or chieftainship. Clans have no recognized hierarchy of leadership, although they may be linked with significant offices and exert strong political influence. Clans frequently play a role in determining permissible marriages either within or outside the clani those inside the clan usually had to be outside the lineage.

About 39.2% of the population lives in the urban areas making Zambia one of the highly urbanized countries within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. The culture of Zambia is a blend of values and norms of more than 70 ethnically diverse people. During the colonial period, economic interests brought ethnically different people from all the regions of Zambia into the urban areas that were industrialized. Industrialization and urbanization generated a new culture in Zambia. Western standards prevailed in urban areas. However, the rural inhabitants retained their indigenous and traditional customs and values.

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