Sunday, 13 December 2015

Zambia and its Place Names

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time to cast my net a little wider. This time Zambia and a look at some of its largest settlements and most interesting names.

Lusaka was named after the village, itself named after its headsman, which is traditionally held to have stood at the foot of Manda Hill. The hill name comes from the Nyanja tongue and means 'graveyard'.

Kabwe had previously been known as Broken Hill, a name transferred here by European and Australian miners who saw similarities between this site and one at Broken Hill in New South Wales. The present name of Kabwe is an abbreviation of kabwe-ka mukuba referring to either the 'ore' or perhaps 'smelting' operation.

Mufulira is named as 'the place of abundance' and refers to the copper mine employing at least 10,000 workers and 300,000 tonnes of copper.

Livingstone is clearly an English name, this recalling the famous British explorer and missionary David Livingstone, the first European to explore this part of Africa.

Chipata takes its name from the Ngoni word chimpata meaning literally 'large space', that the shallow valley between the hills in which Chipata lies.

Chililabombwe is a town in the Copperbelt Province and one delightfully named as 'the place of the croaking frog'.

Kanyembo takes its name from the traditional ruler, Chief Kanyembo.

Kazembe is the name found on every map and official record (albeit sometimes as Kasembe), and follows the tradition of naming the village or settlement after its chief or headsman. Yet the correct name for the place is Mwansabombwe or 'where Mwansa works', this being the name used by the Luba and Chibemba people who live here.

Makeni has never been explained which is probably why the idea it comes from the surname McKenny has been suggested.

Mansa is another taking its name from the chief, although during the days of the British Empire this was known as Fort Rosebery.

Mazubuka is from the Tonga word twazabuka. and means 'to cross the river'. With no record of either a permanent or contemporary crossing here, it is thought to refer to the migration ofs the Tonga people across the Magoye river.

Monze is named after Chief Monze, the spiritual leader of the Tonga people.

Shiwa Ngandu bases its name of the nearby Lake Ishiba Ng'andu which, in the Memba language, means 'lake of the royal crocodile'.

Zambezi is a village named, not unsurprisingly, from the fourth-longest river in Africa. Vasco de Gama was the first known European to observe the river, doing so in 1648 when he recorded this as the Rio dos Bons Sinais or 'river of good omens' and which today is the name given to a small river feeding into the northern part of the delta. By the 16th century the name is found as Cuama and is still recorded as such locally, especially when speaking of the delta when it is labelled as 'the rivers of the Cuama'. The first recording of the modern name comes from 1552, when another Portuguese explorer notes the local Monomatapa name as Zembere and in 1597 this is seen as Zambeze and both were said to have been named after a people inhabiting the shores of the river somewhere upstream. Now, on a river extending a hairsbreadth under 1,600 miles, to know the location of these people is unlikely but there is a little evidence, in the name of the M'biza people, to suggest they were a Bantu people found around what is now central-eastern Zambia. In the mid-19th century the idea of the name coming from the Bantu term mbeze pointed to this referring to 'the river of fish'. A not unexpected simplistic meaning supported by David Livingstone's notes telling of how he had heard a number of Lozi people names for the river - Luambeji, Luambesi, Ambezi, Ojimbesi, Zambesii and Leeambye - all said to refer to 'the large river' or even 'the river par exellence'.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.

1 comment:

  1. Good start Anthony. Great initiative.
    Lusaka is a chief of the Soli people; chief and headman are different titles.
    Bemba, rather than Memba is the name of the ethnic group.
    We could share more. I am a names enthusiast, researcher.