Reference Entry

Chokwe Ethnic group of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, and Zambia; one of the richest trading groups in the Congo basin prior to Belgian colonialism.

Elizabeth Heath

in Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, Second Edition

Published in print January 2005 | ISBN: 9780195170559
Chokwe Ethnic group of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, and Zambia; one of the richest trading groups in the Congo basin prior to Belgian colonialism.

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Originally seminomadic hunters in the savanna of northeast Angola, the Chokwe migrated to the Congo basin in the early nineteenth century. There, the Chokwe settled in villages and began participating in regional commerce with the neighboring Lunda. Dealing in ivory and wax, the Chokwe initially exercised little power in the Congo basin, where slave trading brought far higher returns. Nevertheless, the Chokwe traded enough to build up a small armory of flintlock muskets, which would later prove highly valuable.When the slave trade went into decline in the 1840s, the Chokwe’s control over the wax and ivory trades made them one of the richest trading groups in the region. Over the next ten years the demand for wax, which they produced themselves by collecting beeswax from hives in the forest, increased 30 percent in the trading centers of Benguela and Luanda. Faced with an equally strong international demand for ivory, the Chokwe used their muskets to hunt elephants, eventually helping to decimate the local population. When ivory supplies grew scarce, the Chokwe turned to rubber–tapping.During the second half of the nineteenth century the Chokwe population increased rapidly, and many migrated north in search of farmland and forests for rubber tapping. As they expanded, they took control of new trade routes and absorbed many smaller ethnic groups in the area between the Kwango River and the Kubango and Kunene rivers. In 1890, however, the military forces of the Congo Free State, founded by King Leopold II, took control of the region and put an abrupt halt to Chokwe expansion. Today many Chokwe still live in what is now known as the Katanga (or Shaba) region, farming and working in the mining industries, although they are politically overshadowed by the Lunda ethnic group. More than 1.1 million people consider themselves Chokwe.See also Congo, Democratic Republic of the; Ivory trade; Zambia.

Reference Entry.  345 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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