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Bantu Speakers of the Eastern Highlands

DR Congo Ethnic MapFrom the northern end of Lake Tanganyika to Lake Edward are a number of groups that share cultural and political features among themselves and with the interlacustrine Bantu-speaking peoples of Rwanda, Burundi, southwestern Uganda, and northwestern Tanzania. Most live at an altitude of 1,400 meters or more with a handful sited in the lowlands. Whereas all are cultivators, those in the highlands proper also raise cattle, primarily for milk and milk products; the few lowland groups that are unable to raise cattle have turned, like their forest neighbors, to hunting and fishing.

The highland Bantu speakers have known, possibly as early as the fourteenth century, the presence of centralized states ruled by members of specific descent groups thought to have come from the interlacustrine states to the northeast. Traditionally, only one of their number, the Furiiru, were organized into a single, relatively small state. More often there were several states, for example, among the Shi, that despite their small size carried the heavy apparatus of royal family, court officials, and hierarchy of chiefs.

A degree of ethnic consciousness overriding membership in specific states developed during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The clearest example of the situational character of this consciousness came in 1964 when Shi irregulars joined the national army in opposing a rebel group passing through their territory because the rebels were perceived as outsiders led by Kusu.

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Page last modified: 23-06-2015 20:53:15 ZULU