Largest Ethnic Groups In Zambia

Zambia is an extremely ethnically diverse country, with the Bemba being the largest of its many ethnic groups.

Zambia is a country in Southern Africa, east of Angola and south of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is a landlocked country and borders eight other countries including Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. Zambezi River forms a natural border with Zimbabwe, while Lake Kariba on Zimbabwe-Zambia boundary is the world’s largest reservoir by volume holding 180 cubic kilometer (43 Cubic miles) of water. The country has approximately 15 million people comprising about 72 ethnic groups. There are around 100,000 Asians and a couple of Europeans who settled in Zambia after being chased from their farms in neighboring Zimbabwe.

Largest Ethnic Groups In Zambia


Bemba ethnic group constitute 21% of the total population and they are also referred to as the Babemba meaning the people of Bemba. They trace their origin to the upper Congo basin and are said to have entered Zambia through a mythical land called Kola. Three of the Zambian presidents have been from the Bemba ethnic group. Their language Chibemba is spoken by 33% of the population. They are a matrilineal group who were initially hunters and gatherers but turned to copper mining after the influence of the British who colonized the country and their staple food is millet. Babemba is divided into 30 clans which are all named after animals and natural organisms, for example, Bena Bowa, the mushroom clan. Their government was headed by a paramount chief, Chitimukula. Under the paramount chief were territorial chiefs who headed the various districts, then headmen who headed the villages. They believed in divinities and buried the dead under groves. The earth symbolized the womb. The sun showed the maleness of God. The dry season was seen as a woman and the cold as a man. The rainy season symbolized perfection and the unity of man and woman which resulted in a continuity of life.


Tonga ethnic community constitutes 14% of the Zambian population and they are also known as Batonga and live in the Zambezi Valley. The term Tonga means independent which explains their lack of a centralized government. However, there were entitled men among the Batonga known as the sikatongo who were the priest and the ulanyika who were the land owners. The priest was believed to communicate with the spirits and could ask for rain and blessings. The Ulanyika was usually the first settler in the area. They believed they originated from a certain chief Monze who came from heaven and invited Batonga into his chiefdom. Their main economic activity is trade owing to their location which was a major trade center with routes leading all the way to China, India, and the Arabian Peninsula. Chores are divided according to sex and maize is their staple food along with millet and sorghum. Traditions, values, and beliefs are passed down to younger generations by the elders through folk stories at night around a fire place.


The Chewa ethnic community makes up 7% of the Zambia’s population and they were subsistence farmers. Bachewa is said to have originated from DRC with the Bemba and their language is called Chichewa, and they occupy the southern region of Zambia. Bachewa is divided into two clans namely Phiri and Banda. The Phiri are known to be aristocrats and kings while the Banda are associated with healing and mystics. They differentiate themselves with special tattoos and their religion which are based on Nyau, their secret society. Women are considered special, and the community is matrilineal. The hierarchy comprises of a village headman or woman, Mfumu who answers to a regional chief, Mwini Dziko who in turn answers to the paramount chief. Subjects pay tribute to the paramount chief and are expected to go to war without question as a mark of loyalty.


The Lozi ethnic group forms 6% of the Zambia’s population and they live in the western region of Zambia where they believed they have always lived from the beginning.Balozi were subjects of a Khoisan army from South Africa before colonization. Despite having been major exporters of gold, copper, and food crops, they are the least developed. Their culture is influenced by the flood cycle of the Zambezi River. They celebrate the Kuomboka festival around February or March, during which they migrate from their plain land to higher grounds as a result of the floods.

Other Ethnic Groups In Zambia

Other ethnic groups in the country include the Nsenga, Tumbuka, Ngoni, Lala, Kaonde, Namwanga, Lunda, Mambwe, Luvale, Lamba, Ushi, Lenje, Bisa, Mbunda among other unspecified groups. The different ethnic communitie in Zambia have lived together in harmony despite having so many ethnic groups unlike many other African countries. This might be because of their belief of having a common origin.

Largest Ethnic Groups In Zambia

Rank Ethnic Group Share of Population in Zambia
1 Bemba 21%
2 Tonga 14%
3 Chewa 7%
4 Lozi 6%
5 Nsenga 5%
6 Tumbuka 4%
7 Ngoni 4%
8 Lala 3%
9 Kaonde 3%
Other Groups 33%

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