Zambia People

Zambia People

Zambia People

The people of Zambia are commonly referred to as Zambians. Zambians are diverse in terms of ethnicity, culture, and language. The estimated population of Zambia as of 2023 is over 19.6 million people.

Zambian society is generally characterized by warmth, hospitality, and a strong sense of community. Family and community ties are important, and social interactions often revolve around extended family networks and communal activities. Traditional ceremonies, music, dance, and storytelling play a significant role in Zambian culture.

Generally Zambians are friendly people, religious, peaceful and one of the best English-speaking Countries in Africa. In my opinion, I think Zambians are more conservative than liberal. Much as the Zambian people are trying (and succeeding to a larger extent), to move at the same pace as the rest of the world and the western countries in particular, they still conform to the underlying norms, values, way of life and practices of the founding fathers.


The majority ethnic group in Zambia is the Bemba, followed by the Tonga, Nyanja, Lozi, and other smaller ethnic groups. These ethnic groups have distinct cultural traditions, languages, and customs. The official language is English, inherited from its colonial history, but there are also multiple indigenous languages spoken throughout the country, including Bemba, Nyanja, Tonga, Lozi, Lunda, and others.

Like most African countries, Zambia has a diverse cultures among it’s people. With the country having 10 provinces(states), each province has its own distinctive culture, traditions and prevalent language. I say prevalent language because this country has about 72 tribes/languages spoken by it’s people across the 10 provinces.

With such diversity, you can only imagine that it is not uncommon for one Zambian to occasionally fail to communicate with another due to language barrier. But to beat this inconvenient language barrier, people from different provinces almost always find a common language in which to converse. Two such languages are Bemba and Nyanja both of which are locally popular and widely spoken by about 35% and 27% of the population respectively.

Despite the vast cultures, the people subscribe to the same values and principles.
 The unity, oneness and patriotism is embodied in the National Motto: “One Zambia, One Nation” and from certain phrases in the National Anthem such as “let us all her people join as one, brothers under the sun, all one, strong and free” or “One land and one nation is our cry


The majority of the people practice Christianity, with various denominations represented across the country. However, there is also a significant population that adheres to indigenous beliefs and customs, particularly in rural areas.

Zambia is protestant by about 75%, catholic by 20% and other religions take up the remainder among which is African tradition also. It is declared a christian nation and the declaration is enshrined in the constitution of the land. It is perhaps the only African nation to do so. And so, its only natural and not surprising that around 75% of the population are christian. 

This does not however mean that other religions are forbidden, that would of course infringe on the right of every human being to practice religion of their choosing.

A small part of the population still practice African religion under which the following falls;-

  • Ancestral worship
  • Sorcery
  • Witchcraft and witchdoctoring 
  • Occultic practices
  • Ancestral communication and consultation

Examples of African Religion Practices

1, As a phasing out norm, shrines would be set up where the living were believed to stay in contact with their ancestral spirits. In times of drought for example, the people would pray to ancestral spirits for rain and in times of a plentiful harvest, they would offer foods as tribute and a sign of thanksgiving.

2, In the Lozi people of western Zambia’s culture, when a king (Litunga) dies, his burial site becomes a village and a caretaker is assigned to it. He resides there and acts as a mediator between the Litunga and the people. It is believed that long after a Litunga is dead, he can be consulted on various issues regarding the affairs of the kingdom. It is in this regard that the caretaker acts as the mediator.  He consults the dead Litunga and relays the message to the current reigning Litunga and the people.  Aside from being a mediator, the caretaker also tends to the needs of the dead Litunga.

3, In Lunda tradition north of the country, the Mwata Kazembe (paramount chief) of the Lunda people utters incantations and pours foodstuffs and drink into a river (Lualaba). the Lualaba river is where two royal brothers (Chinyanta and Kasombola) drowned. The chanting of incantations blesses them in the after life and the food and drinks are for their convenience.

Here are some key aspects of Zambian culture:

Zambian Norms Regarding Certain Aspects of Life


The Zambian spirit is further unified by a common food, maize or corn meal locally referred to as NSHIMA. This is the country stable food and a typical Zambian takes pride in it. Across the country, the food is served for lunch and supper with condiments (relish).

Some would even say they haven’t had a meal if they had other foods for lunch or supper other than nshima, because to them any other food served as a meal that does not include nshima is considered as just a snack.

Therefore a person visiting Zambia cannot simply miss the opportunity and pleasure of trying out nshima served with a variety of condiments.

A Plate of Nshima with Relish
A Plate of Nshima with Relish


In Zambia it is customary to be greeted by a total stranger. Its usual to occasionary get a greeting from a random person, its regarded as common courtesy.

Its also conventional for two or more total strangers to spark up a conversation ranging on a number of issues including personal affairs. For example, you expect anyone to ask you how your family at home is doing. Someone might ask, “ how is your wife and children at home”. It’s perfectly normal and you don’t have to take offence or ask yourself, “does this person know me or my family?”


In typical Zambian traditions, children are named after relatives or ancestors. This is often done to preserve the good name and legacy of an ancestral patriarch or matriarch. In other instances, children are named after those relatives that were kind-hearted, who had a good reputation inorder to perpetuate their reputation and to emulate them. Yet at other times children are named according to the prevailing circumstances at the time of their birth. For instance a child may be named ‘Mabvuto’ which means misery if they are born during a funeral or if upon their birth, their mother dies due to labor complications. On the other hand, a child may be named ‘Bupe’ meaning gift if a child has finally been born to a couple that had had a hard time having a child.

It is also common local custom to have one name as both the surname and first name. For example, Nyambe Nyambe or Mwenya Mwenya.


Pretty much like anywhere else, the western culture dress code is adopted and is the dominant one by the Zambia People in the whole country. And although people are much less concerned with how a male dresses, that is not the case with the female folk. The public is very much interested in the dress code of women and girls. They take it upon themselves to make sure that decency in dressing is adhered to. As a westerner though, you are pretty much exempted from this public scrutiny. You are free to dress however you want and no one will bother you.

A ‘Chitenge’ is one cloth owned by almost every young lady and woman across the country. It is a prevailing norm for a woman to put on a chitenge to maintain respect, dignity and worth. The chitenge is the supreme respectful attire a woman can put on. A chitenge is basically a sheet of fabric rapped around the waist covering the whole body from the waist down to the ankles.

Zambian Women Wearing Chitenges
Zambian Women Wearing Chitenges

 Any clothing that covers most of the body (those considered sensitive) is acceptable. Conversely, anything that tends to reveal sensitive body parts is not encouraged. Clothes like bum shots, bare backs, blouses/shirts that reveal too much cleavage and tight dresses are not encouraged.


Respect is a core value that we continue to cherish and uphold as a nation. Its second nature to every Zambian to be cognizant of respect regardless of their age, tribe or social status.

It is a common norm for;-

  • Every older person by say 3 or more years to be addressed by a title ‘Ba’ or ‘Bo’ before saying their name. For example, Ba Jack, Bo Mary. But it only applies when you are conversing in local language , never in English or foreign language, the ‘Ba’ or ‘Bo’ is cut out.
  • The parents ( father or mother) to be addressed by their firstborn’s name. Example Bana (mother) Joshua or Bashi (father) Joshua. This is part of the reason why having children is important because it commands extra respect from the community and esteem for parents.
  • Young people to kneel before elderly people or for a wife before her husband when summoned. In the old days, the wife was supposed to inform the husband when food was served or when hot bathing water was ready, she would inform him whilst kneeling. The practice is fading out though nowadays.
  • Kneeling and clapping hands in the presence of a king or chief.
  • Certain foods to be reserved specifically for elders or husbands; for example the gizzard in chicken is considered strictly to be served to the husband. Every well-informed wife knows this in Zambia. 


The Zambian people like every other culture around the world place so much emphasis on family. Family is undoubtedly important as everybody knows already, no one can live without one, as a matter of fact we all need family. Unlike Western/European cultures though, families in Africa constitute beyond a nuclear family of father, mother and children but include members of the extended family and relatives.

It is my understanding that in most cases in the West or Europe, families are made up of the father, mother and children only. In Africa at large and Zambia in particular, that is not always the case. Other than the father, mother and children, family goes on to include members from the extended family; siblings, cousins, aunties, uncles, step sisters and brothers, children of your parents’ siblings etc. In Zambia there is no such thing as ‘half brother or half sister’. Its either you are a sister or you are not, either you are family or you are not, it doesn’t matter how distant a relative you are.

It is the norm and expected for a family to have all sorts of relatives at home as their dependents. You sought of have a duty to your extended family. You don’t accommodate relatives out of the kindness of your heart, you kind of have to, because it is expected of you.

Traditional Beliefs and Practices:

Traditional beliefs and practices are an integral part of their culture, especially in rural areas. Ancestor worship, spirits, and rituals are important aspects of traditional belief systems. Ceremonies and rites of passage play a significant role in community life, symbolizing transitions, harvests, and other important events.

Music and Dance:

Music and dance are vibrant expressions of their culture. Traditional music incorporates a variety of instruments such as drums, xylophones, horns, and rattles. Zambian rhythms and melodies vary among different ethnic groups. Traditional dances often accompany ceremonies and celebrations, featuring energetic movements, elaborate costumes, and storytelling elements.

Art and Crafts:

Zambian artisans create a wide range of handicrafts, including pottery, woodcarvings, basketry, beadwork, and traditional textiles. These crafts showcase intricate designs and patterns, often reflecting cultural symbolism and storytelling.

Traditional Attire:

Traditional attire in Zambia varies across ethnic groups. Women often wear chitenge, a colorful and patterned fabric, wrapped around the waist or worn as a headscarf. Men may wear a chitenge as a wraparound skirt or opt for Western-style clothing. The designs and patterns of the fabrics can represent cultural symbols and expressions.

Zambia People: Zambian Women Wearing Chitenges
Zambian Women Wearing Chitenges


Zambian cuisine is diverse and influenced by traditional practices, regional resources, and neighboring countries. The cuisine of Zambia reflects the country’s agricultural base and incorporates staple ingredients such as maize (corn), cassava, sweet potatoes, millet, and various vegetables.

Here are some popular dishes and food items in Zambian cuisine:

  • Nshima: Nshima is the staple food of Zambia. It is a thick porridge made from maize meal (cornmeal) or other grains like millet. Nshima is typically served with various relishes and accompanies almost every meal in Zambia.
  • Ifisashi: Ifisashi is a popular vegetable stew made from leafy greens such as pumpkin leaves, cowpea leaves, or kale. The greens are usually cooked with groundnuts (peanuts) or sometimes with dried fish or meat for added flavor.
  • Kapenta: Kapenta is a small, dried, and salted fish that is widely consumed in Zambia. It is often used in various dishes, including stews, relishes, and served with nshima.
  • Biltong: Biltong is a popular snack made from dried and spiced meat, similar to beef jerky. It is commonly made from beef or game meat and enjoyed as a savory treat.
  • Chikanda: Chikanda, also known as African polony or African sausage, is a traditional Zambian delicacy made from ground peanuts, dried and pounded orchids of a certain type and spices. It is usually steamed or boiled and served as a snack.
  • Vitumbuwa: Vitumbuwa are small, deep-fried doughnuts made from a batter of flour, sugar, yeast, and sometimes mashed bananas. They are a popular street food snack or dessert in Zambia.
  • Chibwabwa: Chibwabwa is a pumpkin-like vegetable commonly used in Zambian cuisine. It is often cooked and served as a side dish or incorporated into stews and relishes.
  • Munkoyo: Munkoyo is a traditional Zambian fermented drink made from maize or millet. It is a refreshing and slightly sour beverage enjoyed on hot days.
  • Mangoes and Bananas: Zambia is known for its abundant supply of mangoes and bananas, which are commonly consumed as fresh fruit or used in various dishes and desserts.

People Eating Nshima

These are just a few examples of the diverse and flavorful cuisine of Zambia. Zambian food showcases a blend of traditional African flavors, regional variations, and influences from neighboring countries. It’s worth noting that Zambian cuisine can vary between different ethnic groups and regions within the country, adding to its culinary richness.


Zambia is a linguistically diverse country, with over 70 local languages spoken. While English is the official language and commonly used in business and education, indigenous languages such as Bemba, Nyanja, Tonga, Lozi, and others are widely spoken in daily life and reflect the country’s cultural diversity.


In terms of livelihoods, agriculture is the backbone of the economy, with a large portion of the population engaged in subsistence farming. Mining, particularly copper mining, is another important sector of the economy, contributing to export earnings and employment opportunities.

Sports And Recreation

Soccer (football) is the most popular sport in Zambia, with a strong following and competitive national team. Other sports, including rugby, cricket, athletics, and traditional games like bao, are also enjoyed by Zambians.

Traditional Ceremonies

Zambia is known for its vibrant and diverse traditional ceremonies, which play a significant role in the country’s cultural heritage. These ceremonies are often community-centered events that celebrate various aspects of Zambian life, including harvests, rites of passage, and cultural values.

Here are some notable traditional ceremonies in Zambia:

Kuomboka Ceremony (Western Province):

The Kuomboka Ceremony of the Lozi people is one of the most famous ceremonies in Zambia. It takes place in Mongu, the capital of the Western Province, when the Zambezi River floods the surrounding plains. During the ceremony, the Litunga (the Lozi King) moves from his flooded palace to higher ground aboard a royal barge, symbolizing the migration of the Lozi people to higher land.

N’cwala Ceremony (Eastern Province):

The N’cwala Ceremony is celebrated by the Ngoni people, mainly in the Eastern Province. It is a harvest ceremony held in honor of the first fruits of the season. The ceremony involves traditional dances, songs, and the slaughtering of a sacred bull. The N’cwala Ceremony showcases Ngoni cultural traditions and reinforces unity among the Ngoni people.

Likumbi Lya Mize Ceremony (Northwestern Province):

The Likumbi Lya Mize Ceremony is celebrated by the Luvale people of the Northwestern Province. It is a male initiation ceremony held every two to three years. The ceremony includes various rituals, dances, and tests to mark the transition of boys into manhood. It is an important event for the Luvale community and emphasizes the passing down of cultural knowledge and values.

Shimunenga Ceremony (Southern Province):

The Shimunenga Ceremony is celebrated by the Ila people in the Southern Province. It is a thanksgiving ceremony held to honor ancestral spirits and seek blessings for the community. The ceremony involves traditional dances, songs, and rituals performed by men and women dressed in traditional attire.

Chisemwa cha Lunda Ceremony (Northwestern Province):

The Chisemwa cha Lunda Ceremony is celebrated by the Lunda people, primarily in the Northwestern Province. It is an annual rainmaking ceremony held to invoke rainfall for agricultural prosperity. The ceremony involves rituals, dances, and the pouring of sacred water by the paramount chief, signifying a plea for the heavens to bless the land with rain.

Mwata Kazembe of the Lunda People Dancing During the Umutomboko Ceremony

These are just a few examples of the numerous traditional ceremonies that take place throughout Zambia. Each ceremony is unique to its respective ethnic group and carries deep cultural and historical significance. They provide an opportunity for Zambians to connect with their heritage, strengthen community bonds, and preserve their traditional practices and values.


In general, the Zambian people are friendly, peaceful, welcoming, spiritual and resourceful people.

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