1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Barotse and Barotseland

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Barotse, Barotseland, a people and country of South Central Africa. The greater part of the country is a British protectorate, forming part of Rhodesia. The Barotse are the paramount tribe in the region of the Upper Zambezi basin, but by popular usage the name is also applied to contiguous subject tribes, Barotseland being the country over which the Barotse paramount chief exercises authority. The present article treats (1) of the people, (2) of the country, (3) of the establishment of the British protectorate and of subsequent developments.

1. The Barotse. — These people, originally known as Aälui, have have occupied the extensive plain through which the Zambezi passes from 14° 35′ S. to 16° 25′ S. throughout the reigns of twenty-two successive paramount chiefs and therefore approximately since the commencement of the 17th century. Previously, for an indefinite period, they dwelt on the Kabompo river, 200 m. to the N.E. of their present country, and here the descendants of a section of the tribe which did not migrate still remain, under the name Balokwakwa (men of the ambuscade), formerly known as Aälukolui. That the Barotse at a still more remote period emigrated from the far north-east is indicated by vague tradition as well as by a certain similarity in type and language to some tribes living in that direction, though the fact that natives from Mashonaland can understand those at Lialui (the Barotse capital) has led to the assumption by some writers that the Barotse are an offshoot of the Mashona. The variety in type among the Mashona and the homogeneity of the Barotse would rather point to an opposite conclusion.

Early in the 19th century a section of the Basuto tribe known as Makololo trekked from the south of what is now the Orange River Colony and fought their way through Bechuanaland and the Kalahari to the land of the Barotse, whom they ultimately subdued. Their chief, Sebituane, who as an administrator and general was far in advance of his compeers, established the rule of his house for some forty years, until about 1865 an organized rebellion of the Barotse led to the almost complete extinction of this Makololo oligarchy and the reinstatement of the original dynasty. It was the Makololo who gave the Barotse their present name (Rotse, plain — Burotse, country of the plain — Murotse, man of the plain — Marotse, people of the plain, the latter being inaccurately rendered Barotse, Ba being the equivalent of Ma in certain other languages).

The Barotse proper are comparatively few in number, but as is inferred from the fact that for many generations they have held in sway a country two and a half times the size of Great Britain, they are the intellectual and physical superiors of the vast majority of the negro races of Africa. Very black, tall in stature, deep in chest and comparatively speaking refined in feature, a Barotse is readily distinguishable amidst a mixed group of natives. Being numerically small they form an oligarchy in which, with few exceptions, each man holds rank in a chieftainship of which there are three grades. Next to the chiefs rank their descendants who have not themselves acquired chief's rank and hold an intermediate position as freeborn; all others, whether members of the subject-tribes or prisoners of war, being, up to 1906, mere slaves. This class was also graded. Slaves might own slaves who in their turn might own slaves, the highest grade always being directly responsible to some Barotse chief. As a reward of gallantry or ability the paramount chief occasionally conferred chief's rank on individuals not of Barotse birth, and these ipso facto assumed the name and privileges of the Barotse. It was a counterpart of the feudal system of Europe in which every grade from king to serf found a place. In 1906 the paramount chief, by proclamation, abolished the state of slavery, an act which, however, left untouched the predominant position of the Barotse and their rights to chieftainship. The paramount chief shares with a queen (Mokwai) his authority and prerogatives. The Mokwai is not the wife but the eldest sister of the ruling chief. With his death her privileges lapse. Theoretically, these co-rulers are equal, neither may promulgate a national decree without the assent of the other, but each has a capital town, councillors and absolute authority in a province, the two having joint authority over all other provinces. In their code of laws the Barotse show an advance on the standard of probably any other African negro state. By right, an accused chief is tried by his peers, each of whom in rotation from junior to senior gives his verdict, after which the president reports the finding of the court to the paramount chief, who passes sentence. As to their religious beliefs the Barotse imagine the sun to be the embodiment of a great god whose sole care is for the amelioration of man. Him they worship, though more pains are taken to appease evil spirits, in whose existence they also believe, to whom every evil to which man is heir is attributed. The spirits of ancestors — especially of deceased chiefs — are also objects of worship. Christianity, of a Protestant evangelical type, was first introduced into the country in 1884 by François Coillard and has made some progress among the people, among the converts being Letia, eldest son and heir of Lewanika, the paramount chief.

2. Barotseland. — This term includes, in the sense of the country in which the authority of the paramount Barotse chief is acknowledged, not only the lands of the Barotse proper, but the territory of fifteen contiguous and subject tribes. This vast territory extends approximately from the Kwito river in the west to the Kafue river in the east, and from the Congo-Zambezi watershed in the north to the Linyante or Kwando river and Zambezi in the south, and may be divided into three groups: — 

(a) Central provinces directly administered by the paramount chief from the capital Lialui (a town on the Zambezi), by the Mokwai from Nalolo, and by two chiefs of the blood from Sesheke;

(b) Outlying provinces over which, in the absence of a central local system of government, Barotse chiefs administer districts under the direction of the paramount chief; and

(c) Tribes over which the local chiefs are permitted to retain their position subject to the payment of annual tribute and to their doing homage in person at Lialui when called upon to do so.

With the publication of the king of Italy's award in 1905 in the Anglo-Portuguese Barotse Boundary dispute (see below), the term Barotseland may be said to have acquired a second meaning. By this award the western and part of the northern section of Barotseland as described above were declared to be outside the dominion of the paramount chief and therefore not in the British sphere of influence, while tribal boundaries were complicated by the introduction of a longitudinal and latitudinal frontier. Though this award altered the political boundaries, ethnologically Barotseland remains much as above described. The area of the country under British protection is about 182,000 sq. m.

Excluding the ridge of high ground running east and west which, culminating at a height of 5000 ft., forms the Congo-Zambezi water-parting, the extreme east (Batoka) and the district in the immediate vicinity of the Victoria Falls (q.v.) throughout which, with local variations, a red laterite clay predominates, the main physical features of Barotseland may be described as a series of heavy white sand undulations covered with subtropical forest vegetation. These are intersected by alluvium-charged valleys through which streams and rivers flow inwards towards the central basin of the Upper Zambezi. There is evidence that this has at one time been the site of a large lake. These valleys, which towards the close of the wet season become inundated, afford rich cattle pasture, the succulence of which prevents cattle losing condition towards the end of the dry season, as is the case in many parts of Africa. There seems to be little or no indication of mineral wealth in the white sand area, but in the north and east there is not only every prospect of a great agricultural and pastoral future but also of considerable mining development. Though basalt predominates in the neighbourhood of the Victoria Falls and large fields of granite crop up on the Batoka plateau and elsewhere, there is every indication of the existence of useful minerals in these districts. Gold, copper, tin, lead, zinc and iron have been discovered.

Much of the area of Barotseland is within the healthy zone, the healthiest districts being the Batoka and Mashikolumbwe plateaus in the east with extreme altitudes of 4400 and 4150 ft. respectively, and the line of the Congo-Zambezi watershed which rises to 5000 ft. in many places. The Zambezi valley from the Victoria Falls (3000 ft.) to the Kabompo confluence (3500 ft.), though involving little or no risk to health to the traveller, cannot be considered suitable for white settlement. Taking into consideration the relative value of altitude to latitude, the plateauland of Barotseland compares very favourably with existing conditions elsewhere, being several degrees more temperate than would be expected. Approximately the mean maximum and minimum temperatures stand at 80° and 55° F. respectively, with an extreme range of 100° to 35° and a mean annual temperature of 68° to 70°. The rainfall varies according to district from 22 to 32 in. a year and has shown extraordinary stability. Since 1884, the first year in which a record was taken by François Coillard, Barotseland has known no droughts, though South Africa has suffered periodically in this respect.

The Zambezi, as would be expected, forms a definite boundary line in the distribution of many species of fauna and flora. In these respects, as well as from an ethnological standpoint, Barotseland essentially belongs not to South but to Central Africa. The great river has also served to prevent the spread from South Africa into Barotseland of such disastrous cattle diseases as tick fever and lung sickness.

3. The Establishment of British Suzerainty. — By the charter granted to the British South Africa Company in October 1889, the company was allowed to establish its rule in the regions north of the Middle Zambezi not included in the Portuguese dominions, and by a treaty of the 11th of June 1891 between Great Britain and Portugal it was declared that the Barotse kingdom was within the British sphere of influence. The dispute between the contracting powers as to what were the western limits of Barotseland was eventually referred to the arbitration of the king of Italy, who by his award of the 30th of May 1905, fixed the frontier at the Kwando river as far north as 22° E., then that meridian up to the 13° S., which parallel it follows as far east as 24° E., and then that meridian to the Belgian Congo frontier. In the meantime the British South Africa Company had entered into friendly relations with Lewanika (q.v.), the paramount chief of the Barotse, and an administrator was appointed on behalf of the company to reside in the country. A native police force under the command of a British officer was raised and magistrates and district commissioners appointed. In the internal affairs of the Barotse the company did not interfere, and the relations between the British and Barotse have been uniformly friendly. The pioneers of Western civilization were not, however, the agents of the Chartered Company, but missionaries. F. S. Arnot, an Englishman, spent two years in the country (1882–1884) and in 1884 a mission, fruitful of good results, was established by the Société des Missions Evangéliques de Paris. Its first agent was François Coillard (1834–1904), who had previously been engaged in mission work in Basutoland and who devoted the rest of his life to the Barotse. Though always an admirer of British institutions and anxious that the country should ultimately fall under British jurisdiction, Coillard in the interests of his mission was in the first instance anxious to delay the advent of white men into the country. It was contrary to his advice that Lewanika petitioned the “Great White Queen” to assume a protectorate over his dominions, but from the moment Great Britain assumed responsibility and the advance of European civilization became inevitable, all the influence acquired by Coillard's exceptional personal magnetism and singleness of purpose was used to prepare the way for the extension of British rule. Only those few pioneers who knew the Barotse under the old conditions can fully realise what civilization and England owe to the co-operation of this high-minded Frenchman.

Under the Chartered Company's rule considerable progress has been made in the development of the resources of the country, especially in opening up the mining districts in the north. The seat of the administration, Kalomo, is on the “Cape to Cairo” railway, about midway between the Zambezi and Kafue rivers. The railway reached the Broken Hill copper mines, 110 m. N. of the Kafue in 1906, and the Belgian Congo frontier in 1910. From Lobito Bay in Portuguese West Africa a railway was being built in 1909 which would connect with the main line near the Congo frontier. This would not only supply Barotseland with a route to the sea alternative to the Beira and Cape Town lines, but while reducing the land route by many hundred miles would also supply a seaport outlet 1700 m. nearer England than Cape Town and thus create a new and more rapid mail route to southern Rhodesia and the Transvaal. The Zambezi also, with Kebrabasa as its one bar to navigation between Barotseland and the sea, will supply a cheap line of communication. (See Rhodesia.)

See David Livingstone, Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa (London, 1857); Major Serpa Pinto, How I crossed Africa (London, 1881); F. Coillard, On the Threshold of Central Africa (London, 1897); Major A. St H. Gibbons, Exploration and Hunting in Central Africa (London, 1898), Africa South to North through Marotseland (London, 1904); “Journeys in Marotseland,” Geographical Journal, 1897; “Travels in the Upper Zambezi Basin,” Geographical Journal, 1901; A. Bertrand, Aux pays des Barotse, haut Zambèze (Paris, 1898); Col. Colin Harding, In Remotest Barotseland, (London, 1905); C. W. Mackintosh, Coillard of the Zambesi (London, 1907), with a bibliography; L. Decle, Three Years in Savage Africa (London, 1898). Consult also the annual reports of the British South Africa Company, published in London.

((A. St H. G.))