Barotseland Barotse, a people and country of South Central Africa. The greater part of the country is a British protectorate, forming part of Rhodesia. The Barotse are the paramount tribe in the region of the Upper Zambezi basin, but by popular usage the name is also applied to contiguous subject tribes, Barotseland being the country over which the Barotse paramount chief exercises authority. The present article treats (1) of the people, (2) of the country, (3) of the establishment of the British protectorate and of subsequent developments.
1. The Barotse. - These people, originally known as Aälui, have occupied the extensive plain through which the Zambezi passes from 14° 35′ S. to 16° 25′ S. throughout the reigns of twenty-two successive paramount chiefs and therefore approximately since the commencement of the 17th century. Previously, for an indefinite period, they dwelt on the Kabompo river, 200 m. to the N.E. of their present country, and here the descendants of a section of the tribe which did not migrate still remain, under the name Balokwakwa (men of the ambuscade), formerly known as Aälukolui. That the Barotse at a still more remote period emigrated from the far north-east is indicated by vague tradition as well as by a certain similarity in type and language to some tribes living in that direction, though the fact that natives from Mashonaland can understand those at Lialui (the Barotse capital) has led to the assumption by some writers that the Barotse are an offshoot of the Mashona. The variety in type among the Mashona and the homogeneity of the Barotse would rather point to an opposite conclusion.
Early in the 19th century a section of the Basuto tribe known as Makololo trekked from the south of what is now the Orange River Colony and fought their way through Bechuanaland and the Kalahari to the land of the Barotse, whom they ultimately subdued. Their chief, Sebituane, who as an administrator and general was far in advance of his compeers, established the rule of his house for some forty years, until about 1865 an organized rebellion of the Barotse led to the almost complete extinction of this Makololo oligarchy and the reinstatement of the original dynasty. It was the Makololo who gave the Barotse their present name (Rotse, plain - Burotse, country of the plain - Murotse, man of the plain - Marotse, people of the plain, the latter being inaccurately rendered Barotse, Ba being the equivalent of Ma in certain other languages).
The Barotse proper are comparatively few in number, but as is inferred from the fact that for many generations they have held in sway a country two and a half times the size of Great Britain, they are the intellectual and physical superiors of the vast majority of the negro races of Africa. Very black, tall in stature, deep in chest and comparatively speaking refined in feature, a Barotse is readily distinguishable amidst a mixed group of natives. Being numerically small they form an oligarchy in which, with few exceptions, each man holds rank in a chieftainship of which there are three grades. Next to the chiefs rank their descendants who have not themselves acquired chief's rank and hold an intermediate position as freeborn; all others, whether members of the subject-tribes or prisoners of war, being, up to 1906, mere slaves. This class was also graded. Slaves might own slaves who in their turn might own slaves, the highest grade always being directly responsible to some Barotse chief. As a reward of gallantry or ability the paramount chief occasionally conferred chief's rank on individuals not of Barotse birth, and these ipso facto assumed the name and privileges of the Barotse. It was a counterpart of the feudal system of Europe in which every grade from king to serf found a place.
In 1906 the paramount chief, by proclamation, abolished the state of slavery, an act which, however, left untouched the predominant position of the Barotse and their rights to chieftainship. The paramount chief shares with a queen (Mokwai) his authority and prerogatives. The Mokwai is not the wife but the eldest sister of the ruling chief. With his death her privileges lapse. Theoretically, these co-rulers are equal, neither may promulgate a national decree without the assent of the other, but each has a capital town, councillors and absolute authority in a province, the two having joint authority over all other provinces. In their code of laws the Barotse show an advance on the standard of probably any other African negro state. By right, an accused chief is tried by his peers, each of whom in rotation from junior to senior gives his verdict, after which the president reports the finding of the court to the paramount chief, who passes sentence. As to their religious beliefs the Barotse imagine the sun to be the embodiment of a great god whose sole care is for the amelioration of man. Him they worship, though more pains are taken to appease evil spirits, in whose existence they also believe, to whom every evil to which man is heir is attributed.
The spirits of ancestors - especially of deceased chiefs - are also objects of worship. Christianity, of a Protestant evangelical type, was first introduced into the country in 1884 by François Coillard and has made some progress among the people, among the converts being Letia, eldest son and heir of Lewanika, the paramount chief.
2. Barotseland. - This term includes, in the sense of the country in which the authority of the paramount Barotse chief is acknowledged, not only the lands of the Barotse proper, but the territory of fifteen contiguous and subject tribes. This vast territory extends approximately from the Kwito river in the west to the Kafue river in the east, and from the Congo-Zambezi watershed in the north to the Linyante or Kwando river and Zambezi in the south, and may be divided into three groups: -
(a) Central provinces directly administered by the paramount chief from the capital Lialui (a town on the Zambezi), by the Mokwai from Nalolo, and by two chiefs of the blood from Sesheke;