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Many of the historical events in these three regions happened simultaneously, and thus Zambia’s history, like many African nation’s, cannot be presented perfectly chronologically. The early history of the peoples of modern Zambia is deduced from oral records, archaeology, and written records, mostly from non-Africans.

Bantu origins[edit]

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Batonga fisherwomen in Southern Zambia

The Bantu people originally lived in West and Central Africa around what is today Cameroon and Nigeria. Around 4000 to 3000 years ago they began a millennia-long expansion into much of the continent. This event has been called the Bantu expansion; it was one of the largest human migrations in history. The Bantu are believed to have been the first to have brought iron working technology into large parts of Africa. The Bantu Expansion happened primarily through two routes: a western one via the Congo Basin and an eastern one via the African Great Lakes.

First Bantu settlement:

The first Bantu people to arrive in Zambia came through the eastern route via the African Great Lakes. They arrived around the first millennium C.E, and among them were the Tonga people (also called Ba-Tonga, “Ba-” meaning “men”) and the Ba-Ila and Namwanga and other related groups who settled around Southern Zambia near Zimbabwe. Ba-Tonga oral records indicate that they came from the east near the “big sea”.

They were later joined by the Ba-Tumbuka who settled around Eastern Zambia and Malawi.

These first Bantu people lived in large villages. They lacked an organized unit under a chief or headman and worked as a community and help each other in times of field preparation for their crops. Villages moved around frequently as the soil became exhausted as a result of the slash-and-burn technique of planting crops. The people also keep large herds of cattle, which formed an important part of their societies.

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Ruins of Great Zimbabwe
The first Bantu communities in Zambia were highly self-sufficient. Early European missionaries who settled in Southern Zambia noted the independence of these Bantu societies. One of these missionaries noted: “[If] weapons for war, hunting, and domestic purposes are needed, the [Tonga] man goes to the hills and digs until he finds the iron ore. He smelts it and with the iron thus obtained makes axes, hoes, and other useful implements. He burns wood and makes charcoal for his forge. His bellows are made from the skins of animals and the pipes are clay tile, and the anvil and hammers are also pieces of the iron he has obtained. He molds, welds, shapes, and performs all the work of the ordinary blacksmith.” These early Bantu settlers also participated in the trade at the site Ingombe Ilede (which translate sleeping cow in Chi-Tonga because the fallen baobab tree appears to resembles a cow) in Southern Zambia. At this trading site they met numerous Kalanga/Shona traders from Great Zimbabwe and Swahili traders from the East African Swahili coast. Ingombe Ilede was one of the most important trading posts for rulers of Great Zimbabwe, others being the Swahili port cities like Sofala.

The goods traded at Ingombe Ilede included fabrics, beads, gold, and bangles. Some of these items came from what is today southern Democratic Republic of Congo and Kilwa Kisiwani while others came from as far away as India, China and the Arab world. The African traders were later joined by the Portuguese in the 16th century.

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