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The Lumpa rising (Part III)

Wim van Binsbergen

index page Lumpa | Part I | Part II | Part IV

Lumpa and its development in rural north-east Zambia

We have now reached a stage where we can assess the position of the Lumpa Church as a case of religious innovation, against the general background of superstructural reconstruction in Central Africa, and where we can begin to analyse the conflicts this church gave rise to.

                        The story of Lenshina’s first appearance as a prophet and of the founding years of her church has been told often enough.[1] we can confine ourselves here to a broad outline. Lenshina was born around 1920, as the daughter of a Bemba villager who had fought against the Germans near the Tanzanian border, and who had later been a boma messenger. Though growing up near Lubwa mission, Lenshina was not a baptised Christian when she received her first visions in 1953. Her husband had been a carpenter at Lubwa mission but by that time was no longer employed there. Lenshina referred to the mission with an account of her spiritual experiences. The white missionary-in-charge took her seriously, saw her through Bible lessons and baptism (when she received the name of Alice), and encouraged her to give testimony of her experiences at church gatherings. When this missionary went on leave abroad, and Alice began to develop ritual initiatives on her own, even receiving money for them, the African minister-in-charge felt that she could no longer be contained within the mission church .

                        From 1955 onwards Lenshina propagated her message on her own behalf, thus founding an independent church. She collected a phenomenal following around her, which by 1958 was estimated at about 65,000.[2] Many of these were former converts of Lubwa mission and of the neighbouring Roman Catholic missions. In Chinsali district and adjacent areas the great majority of the population turned to Lenshina’s church, which was soon known as Lumpa (‘excelling all others’). An organisational framework was set up in which Lenshina’s husband Petros Chitankwa and other male senior deacons held the topmost positions. Thousands of pilgrims flocked to Lenshina’s village, Kasomo, which was renamed Sioni (Zion); many settled there permanently. In 1958 the Lumpa cathedral was completed to be one of the largest church buildings of Central Africa. Scores of Lumpa branches were created throughout Zambia’s Northern Province. In addition, some appeared along the line of rail, and even in Zimbabwe. The rural membership of the Church began to drop in the late 1950s from about 70 per cent to about 10 per cent of the local population.[3] After various clashes with the chiefs, local missions, the colonial state and the anti-colonial nationalist movement armed resistance against the state precipitated the 1964 final conflict which meant the end of the overt existence of Lumpa in Zambia.

                        Against the background of previous religious innovations in Central Africa, Lumpa offered a not very original combination of recurrent symbolic themes. Lumpa laid strong emphasis on the eradication of sorcery, mainly through baptism and the surrender of sorcery apparatus. It displayed the linear time perspective implicit in the notion of salvation, while eschatological overtones became very dominant only in the few months preceding the final conflict. Lenshina assumed ritual ecological functions such as distributing blessed seeds and calling rain, but on the other hand imposed taboos on common foods such as beer. The Church’s idiom highlighted God and Jesus, while denouncing ancestors, deceased chiefs and affliction-causing spirits as objects of veneration. The Church aimed also at the creation of a new, predominantly rural society - but this time not only by the ritual means of witch-cleansing but also by experiments with new patterns of social relations and even with new relations of production and control which at least went some way towards infrastructural change. In this last aspect lies the uniqueness of Lumpa - as well as its undoing.

                        But before we discuss this aspect, let us try to identify the position of Lumpa within either the ‘urban’ on the ‘rural’ stream of superstructural reconstruction. The class position of the Lumpa foundress and of the great majority of Lenshina’s adherents was that of the peasantry. Yet Lenshina’s background (particularly the labour history of her father and of her husband), and Lumpa’s period of ‘incubation’ at Lubwa mission (1953-4), suggest the importance of elements deriving from the intensive contact situation. Negative views concerning the missionaries, the whites and colonialism were initially quite strong in Lumpa. Lenshina’s first visions occurred around the time that the Central African Federation was created, a controversial step that had greatly enhanced the political awareness of the African population, representing the first major defeat of Zambian nationalism. There is, moreover, specific evidence of the nationalist element in Lumpa in the early years (mid-1950s). Many of the early senior leaders of Lumpa were nationalists who for that reason had left the Lubwa mission establishment. Lumpa gatherings were used for nationalist propaganda In 1954 even the then leader of Zambian nationalism, Harry Nkumbula, had a meeting with Alice to enlist her support for the nationalist cause.[4] Lumpa seemed to develop into a textbook demonstration of Balandier’s well-known view that independent churches are ‘at the origin of nationalisms which are still unsophisticated but unequivocal in their expression’.[5]

                        Lumpa’s closeness to the nationalist movement was emphasised by the authors of the most authoritative early studies of Lumpa.[6] on the basis of their field-work, which took place in the late 1950s, these researchers were entirely unable to predict Lumpa’s clash with UNIP in the early 1960s.

                        From the very beginning, however, the symbolic idiom in which Lenshina expressed her message belonged not to the stream of proletarisation, but to that of peasantisation. This is clear from Lenshina’s emphasis on ecological ritual (which in the 1950s must be considered almost an anachronism within the development of Central African religious innovation), sorcery-eradication, and the construction of a new, exclusively local, rural society. As the movement spread over north-eastern Zambia, these peasant elements became more and more dominant. Lumpa became primarily a means to overcome the predicament of peasantisation. In its emphasis on the creation of a new, local society, Lumpa was not interested in modifying and improving the incorporation of that society in the wider structures of capitalism and the colonial state (the frame of reference of the proletarisation response, including nationalism); instead, the entire reality of this incorporation came to be denied within Lumpa. Whereas it could be maintained that Lumpa initially straddled both the urban and the rural streams of superstructural reconstruction, it gradually went through a process of accommodation to the peasant outlook. This was rather analogous to the rural transformation of Watchtower a quarter of a century earlier. The constitution of the Lumpa Church, drawn up in 1957, fore-shadows the outcome of this process: the Church is there presented as non-racial, not a political party and not opposed to the laws of the country, thus opting out of the nationalist position.[7]

                        By becoming more and more specifically a peasant movement, Lumpa could no longer accommodate those of its members whose experiences at rural missions, bomas, and in town were more deeply rooted in the proletarisation process. This partly explains the decline of Lumpa in north-eastern Zambia since the late 1950s. By that time many of the Lumpa adherents had returned to their mission churches. Others heeded the call of the rapidly expanding rural branches of UNIP. Entrenched in its exclusively rural and local outlook, Lumpa was working out a form of peasant class struggle quite incompatible with the nationalist emphasis on wider incorporation and on the state. By the same token, the urban branches of Lumpa became increasingly divorced from the developments in the Church in Chinsali district. While their relation to nationalism remains a subject for further study, it is clear that the urban branches did dissociate themselves from rural Lumpa in the latter’s final conflict with the state.[8]

                        If Lumpa gradually defined itself as a peasant movement aiming at a radical reversion of the process of peasantisation, let us now consider the non-ritual ways in which Lumpa attempted to achieve this.

                        On the level of sorcery relations, the belief in the eradication of sorcery created a new social climate where the very strict moral rulings of the Lumpa Church were observed to an amazing extent. This was, for instance, noticeable in the field of sexual and marital relations.[9] In many respects, moreover, Lumpa tried to revive the old superstructure, in which concern for the land and fertility, protection against sorcery, general morality, and political and economic power had all combined so as to form one holistic conception of the rural society. However, the new society was to be a theocratic one, in which all authority had to derive from God and his prophetess, Lenshina. The boma, chiefs and Local Courts, as they had no access to this authority, were denounced and ignored. In the judicial sphere, cases would be taken to Lenshina and her senior church leaders, who tried them to the satisfaction of the Lumpa adherents involved. For some years Chinsali district was in fact predominantly Lumpa. Very frequent communication was maintained between the various branches and headquarters, e.g., by means of pilgrimage and the continuous circulation of church choirs around the countryside. Under these conditions the creation of an alternative, church-administered authority structure was no illusion, but a workable reality. Two comprehensive studies of Lumpa[10] emphasise this aspect of the effective reconstruction of the rural society.

                        These indications are already highly significant, as they demonstrate Lumpa’s temporary success in functioning as a focus of control independent from the state. The nationalist leaders were not so far off the mark when they denounced Lumpa for attempting to form ‘a state within the state’. For while Lumpa implicitly denied the legitimacy of the colonial state and its post-colonial successor, it attempted to create a structure of control comparable to the state, if at a much smaller scale geographically.

                        The superstructural achievements would have been meaningless, even impossible, without some infrastructural basis. Did Lumpa actually experiment with new relations of production which counteracted incorporation of the local community into capitalism and the state? As no primary data on Lumpa have been collected with this specific question in mind, the evidence is scanty, but does contain some interesting points. The very substantial donations from Lumpa church branches, individual members, and pilgrims, accumulated at Sioni. They were used not only for Lenshina’s household and retinue, but also towards the creation of a chain of rural stores. Trucks were purchased both to stock the stores and to transport church choirs between the branches and headquarters. Without further information it is difficult to say whether this represents merely the attempt of Lumpa leaders to launch themselves as entrepreneurs, or rather a move to create a self-sufficient distribution system as independent as possible from outside control.

                        Further examples bear out Lumpa’s experiments with economic relations that were widely at variance with capitalism and that remind much more of the economic ideals of the old village society. The huge Lumpa cathedral was built in 1956-8 by the various church branches in a form of tribute labour, with no outside assistance. The continuous circulation of pilgrims and choir-members through the countryside of north-eastern Zambia represented another interesting economic feature. These Lumpa adherents had to be fed gratis by the local villagers, to whom they were often strangers. They were not always welcome and were likened to locusts. Yet this institution suggests the potential of the economic network created by Lumpa.

                        The most significant move towards a new infrastructure revolved on land and land rights, as befits a peasant movement. In this context it is important to note that for the population of north-eastern Zambia the process of peasantisation started not with the imposition of colonial rule, but with the formation of the Bemba state, in the eighteenth century.[11] Chiefs occupying various positions in the Bemba chiefly hierarchy had assumed rights over the allocation of land. The colonial state had largely reinforced these rights, while claiming for itself the power to acknowledge or demote the chiefs. Lumpa’s attempt to create a new rural society and (to some extent) new relations of production, inevitably called for a territorial basis on which a contiguous, exclusively Lumpa population could pursue their new social, economic and religious life. Lumpa adherents began to resettle, primarily around Sioni, where apparently hundreds of them concentrated. Accepting only theocratic authority, they did not ask permission from the chiefs. In this way they challenged the fundamental property rights on which their rural production system had been based for two centuries or more.

                        That the issue was indeed vital not only in terms of my theory but also for the Lumpa adherents, the chiefs and the colonial state, is clear from the fact that this conflict of ‘unauthorised’ settlement led to the first violent clashes between Lumpa and the police in 1959.[12] In the years that followed, land as a key issue in rural relations of production continued to play the role one would expect it to play in a peasant movement struggling to create a new infrastructure. Soon, Lenshina tried to purchase land, which was greatly opposed and resented by the chiefs and by the increasingly non-Lumpa population. As UNIP/Lumpa tensions mounted (see below), Lumpa adherents withdrew into a number of exclusively Lumpa villages, which were again ‘unauthorised’ from the point of view of the chiefs and the state. In July 1964 Kaunda’s ultimatum to abandon these villages expired. Police officers on patrol visited one such village; the inhabitants allegedly understood that they came to demolish the village, and killed them. This started the final conflict, whose outcome was, inter aria, the demolition of all Lumpa villages and of the Lumpa cathedral.

                        The conflict with the chiefs over land shows how Lumpa, in its creation of a new rural society, clashed with individuals and groups who opted out of the Lumpa order and who, at the same time, were in a position to mobilise the forces of the colonial state against Lumpa. Mere ordinary villagers who were opposed to Lumpa were not in such a position. If they did not want to join Lumpa, strong social pressure was brought to bear on them: foremost the allegation that they were sorcerers and for that reason shunned a church concentrating on sorcery eradication; also, occasionally, they were exposed to downright violence from the Lumpa side.[13] Among many joiners, the obligations (in terms of time, money and commitment) imposed by the Church were increasingly felt as a burden; but while Lumpa was still strong these dissenters risked serious conflicts and ostracism if they defected to the mission churches or the nationalist party.

                        A group which, besides the chiefs, successfully mobilised the colonial state against Lumpa was the Roman Catholic Church. This Church had been the first to establish missions in the area, and was by far the greatest Christian denomination in north-eastern Zambia on the eve of Lenshina’s appearance as a prophet. Lenshina initially operated in a Protestant environment, whose strong anti-Catholic feelings had not yet given way to the ecumenism of later decades. Moreover, Lumpa was opposed to sorcery and to all ritual objects that could be considered sorcery apparatus; therefore it found much more fault with the very elaborate Roman Catholic devotional paraphernalia than with the austere, mainly verbal Protestant worship.[14] These two factors made Lumpa particularly inimical to local Catholic missions and their senior personnel. The rapid spread of Lumpa virtually exterminated a major Catholic stronghold in Central Africa, and so caused bitter animosity among the Catholic leaders. Catholic mission-workers on tour were increasingly harassed. In 1956 an African Catholic priest, when visiting a village, was called a sorcerer. He set in motion the judicial machinery (accusation of sorcery is a criminal offence under the Witchcraft Ordinance). The offending party was detained at the district headquarters. A crowd of Lumpa adherents headed by Lenshina’s husband protested against this, and a confrontation with the administration ensued which eventually led to Petros Chitankwa, Lenshina’s husband. being sentenced to two years with hard labour.[15]

                        The last and most important conflict between Lumpa and a local group was with UNIP. After Lenshina had been away for over a year, visiting the urban Lumpa Churches, she returned to find her Church declining and UNIP increasingly controlling the countryside. She reacted very strongly to this state of affairs. In 1962 she forbade Lumpa adherents to join UNIP, publicly burned party cards, and instead issued Lumpa membership tickets which may well have been regarded as the counterpart of party cards. She was even reported to say that the nationalist activists killed during ‘Chachacha’ would not go to heaven. From the time of preparation for the 1962 general election, bitter feuding between UNIP and Lumpa took place, resulting in the sad official statistics contained in Table 8.1.[16]

                        The resettling in exclusively Lumpa villages was no longer, positively, the creation of a viable territorial basis for the new society. Instead, it had become a retreat from an increasingly hostile environment. There are indications that in the year preceding the final conflict eschatological expectations gained momentum among the Lumpa adherents. They prepared to defend whatever was left to their short-lived new world. They surrounded their villages by stockades, manufactured simple weapons, and prepared magical substances intended to make themselves invulnerable. There were repeated attempts by the UNIP top leadership to bring about a reconciliation between their local rank and file, and Lumpa. These attempts proved unsuccessful. When fighting between UNIP and a Lumpa village broke out, as a result of a quarrel over school attendance (in 1964 Lenshina had forbidden her followers to send their children to school), government decided that Lumpa villages could no longer be tolerated, and issued the ultimatum leading to the final conflict.


Table 8.1 Official figures concerning UNIP/Lumpa feuding in north-eastern Zambia prior to the final conflict


  UNIP attacks on

Lumpa adherents

Lumpa attacks

on UNIP members

Murders 14 7
Houses destroyed by arson 121 2
Churches destroyed by arson 28 no information
Grain bins destroyed by arson 28 2
Assaults 66 10
    of which serious 22 no information
Intimidation cases 22 no information
Cattle kraals destroyed by arson 1 no information
Goats burned 18 no information

Why did Lumpa at first accommodate nationalism, to reject it later on, engaging in bitter feuding with local nationalists, which eventually lead to Lumpa’s virtual extermination? The answer Roberts gives,[17] and which Ranger cites approvingly,[18] is that

Both Church and Party were competing for total allegiance. As I have argued, it was their similarities as much as their differences which brought them into conflict.

In the light of the tentative theoretical position I have developed here, a detailed assessment of the validity of this answer has become possible.

                        In defining itself more and more as an exclusive peasant movement, Lumpa had gradually to shed such traits as it had initially shared with the nationalist movement and with the proletarian response in general. These traits were without solid roots in the peasant experience. Lumpa had subsequently struggled to regain local, rural control and to create new relations of production not dominated by the rural community’s wider incorporation in capitalism and the state. Once Lumpa had taken this road, the (secular) state, and nationalism (as a set of political ideas on the nature and the personnel of the state), could no longer find a place in the Lumpa world view. Alternatively, nationalism, as a response to the proletarian situation, had found a final outcome in UNIP in 1959 UNIP accepted the basic infrastructural conditions of modern Central African society, including the incorporation of rural areas by the state and by capitalism. Less radical than Lumpa, therefore, UNIP’s blueprint of the future society was almost diametrically opposed to Lumpa’s. But if the incompatibility between UNIP and Lumpa derived from a difference in class situation and from a difference in degree of radicalism in the context of class struggle, we still have to explain why these two different movements confronted each other with deadly hostility among the same rural population of north-eastern Zambia.

                        I have argued that the proletarian response is not confined to places of migrant work, but may also be found in specific rural settings: missions, betas or military campaigns. Could the UNIP/Lumpa opposition reflect a class difference within the rural population of Chinsali district, in such a way that the persistent Lumpa adherents were more truly peasants, whereas those who tilled the ranks of the rural UNIP branches were more involved in the process of proletarisation? Again the evidence is scanty, but this time it seems not to support the hypothesis. Lumpa and UNIP villages were often adjacent. The UNIP/ Lumpa division often ran across close kinship ties, as in the school conflict referred to above.[19] We must conclude that in the early 1960s Lumpa and UNIP represented rival options for social reconstruction amongst members of the same peasant class in Chinsali district.

                        Perhaps we come closer to an answer when we try to understand the position of UNIP as a proletarian response among a peasant population. Let us recall the process of accommodation to the peasant class situation, such as happened with Watchtower and, to a lesser extent, with Lumpa itself. Did not UNIP, too, undergo a transformation before it could make an impact among the peasants? Superficially, there are indications in that direction. At the village level UNIP was much more than a strictly political movement aiming at territorial independence. It became a way of life. It created, apparently, a state of millennarian effervescence similar to that of more specifically peasant responses such as sorcery-eradication and Lumpa. Already years before the new nationalist order was realised at a national scale (with the attainment of territorial independence), UNIP produced what Roberts called a ‘cultural revival’ in the villages.[20] Thus, like Watchtower and Lumpa, UNIP seems to have yielded to the model, so persistent among Central African peasants, of superstructural reconstruction at the local scale of the rural community. If this were a correct assessment, the peasants siding with Lumpa would have had very much in common with those siding with UNIP; they would have have  [ check ]  acted on the basis of the same inspiration of rural reconstruction, and  [ check: ‘then’? ]  Roberts’s explanation would be basically correct. In this line of argument, the explanation of UNIP/Lumpa feuding would lie in the alleged fact that both were rival attempts at rural superstructural reconstruction. The ultimate drive behind both movements, at the village level, would then have been against peasant alienation and towards the primarily local restoration of meaning and competence. The solution that each of the feuding groups was propounding would only have the power to convince its adherents as long as it remained, in the tatters’ eyes, absolute and without alternatives. People on neither side could afford to yield - as they would be asserting, and defending, the very meaning they were giving to their lives.[21]

                        This approach to UNIP-Lumpa feuding has three implications which make us seriously doubt its validity. First, the different class references of Lumpa and of UNIP, as peasant or proletarian responses, would have to be immaterial: both would have to be transformed to serve a strictly local peasant response. Second, UNIP in Chinsali district in the early 1960s would not have functioned primarily as a nationalist movement aiming at territorial independence; rather, it would have adopted the nationalist symbolism and idiom merely to serve some peasant movement of local scope. Third, equally immaterial would have to be the fact that UNIP’s solution to the peasants’ predicament was no solution at all, as its insistence on the state and its acceptance of capitalism could only lead to a further incorporation and dependence of the rural community.

                        Although class formation in modern Africa follows notoriously devious dialectics, these implications do appear too preposterous for us to maintain Roberts’s explanation wholesale. The crucial issue is the mobilisation process by which UNIP established itself among the peasant of Chinsali district. But as long as no new, detailed material is available on this point, let us try to modify Roberts’s analysis in a way that takes the above implications into account.

                        Let us grant that UNIP in Chinsali district initially contained an element of superstructural reconstruction at the purely local level thus somewhat accommodating to the typical peasant response. However, this element may soon have worn out, as it became clear that UNIP aimed at intensifying, rather than counteracting, wider incorporation, and that therefore UNIP was a powerful mechanism in the very process of peasantisation which the peasants were anxious to reverse Is it then not more realistic to explain UNIP/Lumpa feuding from the fact that Lumpa, as rather successfully realising a local, rural reconstruction of both superstructure and infrastructure, represented in north-eastern Zambia the main obstacle to UNIP’s striving towards wider incorporation? Those peasants siding with UNIP would then be the instruments to curb the class struggle of the Lumpa peasants. In that case not only the final Lumpa/state conflict, but also the preceding Lumpa/UNIP feuding at the local level, would revolve around wider incorporation, much more than around ‘total commitment’ (Roberts) at the village level.

                        There are indications that the local feuding, and the final clash between Lumpa and the state, were two stages of the same overall conflict. Not only was Lumpa in both cases confronted with UNIP, first in the form of rural branches, finally in the form of a UNIP-dominated transition government. There is also the suggestion that the rural feuding was accepted by the UNIP top leadership as rather compatible with UNIP’s basic orientation. With UNIP rural aggression heavily outweighing Lumpa’s (Table 8.1, based on a state-commissioned enquiry), is it not significant that no extensive records seem to exist of UNIP members in Chinsali district having been tried, after independence, for offences just as criminal as those so loudly decried when committed by Lumpa? Let me emphasise that there is not the slightest indication whatsoever that rural UNIP aggression was instigated by the national UNIP leaders; in fact, the latter tried repeatedly to stop the feuding - if only Lumpa were prepared to accept UNIP control. However, the necessity to exterminate Lumpa, and movements like it, is at the root of UNIP and similar reformist nationalist movements, irrespective of personal standards of integrity and non-violence of the leaders involved. Far from transforming UNIP into a peasant movement of purely local scope, UNIP adherents in Chinsali district attacked Lumpa on the basis of a consistent application of the logic of UNIP nationalism. However regrettable, and however deeply regretted by Kaunda and his colleagues, the feuding as well as the final conflict were fairly inevitable.


Religion and the state in modern Zambia: the problem of legitimation

Having attempted to explain the reasons of the conflict between Lumpa and various other groups in rural north-eastern Zambia, my argument already contains the elements on the basis of which the final conflict between Lumpa and the state can be understood. It is useful to discuss this issue in extenso, as such a discussion may also throw light upon the relations between the Zambian state and contemporary churches in general.

                        In my introduction to this chapter I pointed out that the Lumpa rising was a bitter disappointment for the Zambian nationalists, and a threat to their international public image. Meanwhile we have identified more profound reasons for the state’s stern reaction to Lumpa.

                        The primary reason was, of course, that Lumpa did represent a very real threat to the state itself. Although declining and greatly harassed by conflicts with other groups in north-eastern Zambia, Lumpa represented to the end a successful peasant movement, comprising many thousands of people and binding these people in an effective organization that radically rejected state control and that was beginning to define its own infrastructure. With the years rural Lumpa did not settle down as a tolerant denomination attuned to the institutions of the wider society. Here Lumpa differs from most rural Watchtower communities founded before the Second World War. Under the mounting  [ check ]  attacks by rural UNIP, Lumpa became increasingly intransigent vis-_-vis the outside world. Short of giving up the modern conception of the national state, or at least embarking upon a fundamental discussion of this  [ check ] conception, the logic of the state left no option but breaking the power of Lumpa once for all. And this is what happened.

                        Additional reasons helped to shape the course of events. Taking the fundamental assumptions of the modern state for granted, the nationalists, once in power, proved as staunch supporters of state-enforced law and order as their colonial predecessors had ever been. A major justification for the sending of government troops was that the Lumpa adherents, in trying to create ‘a state within the state’, had become criminals.[22] Moreover, there were tenacious rumours as to Lumpa’s links with Welensky’s United Federal Party (the nationalists’ main opponent), and with Tshombe’s secessionist movement in Zaire. So far the evidence for this allegation has been slight.[23] It seems difficult to bring in line such political manoeuvring with the situation of the Lumpa church, which in 1963-4 increasingly entrenched itself in a retreatist and eschatological attitude. But whatever the facts, belief in these links with UNIP’s enemies appears to have influenced the UNIP-dominated government on the eve of independence.

                        A third complex of reasons revolves around the problem of legitimation of the modern state. The following extracts from a speech of Kaunda show that the UNIP government was not merely trying to enforce its monopoly of power, but also tried to underpin its own legitimacy in the eyes of the Zambian population by presenting itself as the supreme guardian of religion and morality. Speaking about Lumpa, Kaunda says:[24]

They have become anti-society. They have been known, husband and wife, to plan to kill their own parents because they were non-Lumpa Church members and this they have done.... Innocent villagers and children trying to escape from their burning homes have been captured by the followers of Lenshina and thrown back alive into the flames. Senior men in the country’s security services have reported that the Lumpa followers have no human feelings and their ferocious attacks on security forces bear out the fanatical nature of what I can only describe again as lunatics....

I have no intention whatsoever of again unleashing such evil forces. Let me end by reiterating that my Government has no desire whatsoever to interfere with any individual’s religious beliefs but ...such a noble principle can only be respected where those charged with the spiritual, and I believe moral side of life, are sufficiently responsible to realise that freedom of worship becomes a menace and not a value when their sect commits murder and arson in the name of religion.

No clean-living and thinking man can accept the Lenshina ‘Passports to Heaven’ as anything more than worthless pieces of paper a usurping by an imposter of the majesty of God Almighty. Such teaching cannot be allowed to continue to corrupt our people and cannot and would not be tolerated by any responsible government.

In the context of modern Zambian society there can be little misunderstanding that here Kaunda is describing the Lumpa adherents as sorcerers, and tries to mobilise all the abhorrence that the general population feels with regard to sorcerers. Kaunda even points out, in the same passage, the need for the Lumpa members to be cleansed (as in witch-cleansing movements so popular in twentieth century Central Africa) before they can return to human society:[25]

When they have surrendered and look back at their actions, some of these people realise the horror, damage and sadness they have brought to this young nation and say plainly that they require some treatment to bring them back to sanity. They just cannot understand why they acted as they did.

Kaunda presents and justifies state action in terms of religious and moral beliefs: the anti-social nature of sorcerers, and the ‘majesty of God Almighty’. These beliefs have a very strong appeal among the great majority of the modern Zambian population. By invoking them, Kaunda is in fact claiming implicitly a supreme moral and religious legitimation for his government. Yet his government has already, secularly, the fullest possible legitimacy in terms of the constitutional and democratic procedures from which its mandate derived. Why, then, this need to appeal to a religious basis for the legitimation of the Zambian state?

                        Here we have reached the point where Lumpa illustrates the precarious situation of the modern, post-colonial state in Zambia, due to the latter’s incomplete legitimation in the eyes of a significant portion of the Zambian population.

                        Whatever its access to means of physical coercion, the ultimate legitimation of a bureaucratic system like the state lies, in Weber’s terms, in[26]

a belief in the legality of patterns of normative rules and the right of those elevated to authority under such rules to issue commands (legal authority).

Now how does one establish and maintain such a legitimation if part of the state’s subjects are peasants for whom such an abstract, universalist ‘legal authority’, and the formal bureaucratic organizations based upon it, virtually have no meaning, in whose social experience at any rate they play no dominant part?

                        In Zambia this problem has been duly acknowledged, if in different terms. Under the heading of ‘nation-building’, a tremendous effort has been launched along such lines as political mobilisation; youth movement; women’s movement; specific school curricula incorporating training for citizenship; rural development, etc. Populism, here in the form of the ideology of Zambian humanism, emerged as an attempt to overcome, if not to ignore, the fundamental contradictions inherent in the situation. The careful management of relations with the chiefs is part of the same effort. At the district level chiefs have retained considerable authority and state stipends, and nationally they are represented in the House of Chiefs. These arrangements (which, incidentally, strikingly contrast with the position assigned to chiefs in the  [ check ]  Lumpa blueprint of society) constitute an attempt to incorporate rural, local foci of authority into the central government structure, so as to let the government benefit from the additional legitimation which this link with traditional authority may offer. Where this attempt fails, the state curtails the chiefs’ privileges,[27] but such moves do not necessarily reduce the chiefs’ actual authority among the rural population. Ethnic and regional allegiances, as threats to ‘nation-building’ and as challenges, either implicit or explicit, to the supremacy of the state, are likewise denounced by the ruling elite.

                        Lumpa, as the largest and most powerful peasant movement Zambia has yet seen, drove home the fact that large sections of the Zambian peasantry still opt out of the post-colonial national state. Lumpa antagonised precisely the grass-roots processes by which the post-colonial state expects to solve its problem of incomplete legitimation. For a national elite who find, to a great extent, in the state not only their livelihood but also the anchorage of their identity, this is a disconcerting fact, which hushing-up and ostentatious reconciliation may help to repress from consciousness. For the elite the situation is uncomfortable indeed, for the extermination of Lumpa has by no means solved the much wider problem of the incorporation of peasants into the Zambian state. New peasant movements are likely to emerge which, like Lumpa, may employ a religious idiom in an attempt to regain local control and to challenge wider incorporation.[28]

                        Meanwhile, given the general problem of legitimation, it is obvious that religion has a very significant role to play in Zambia and other Central African states. On the basis of a rather widespread and homogeneous cultural substratum, similar religious innovations (of the kinds I have discussed above) occurred throughout Central Africa. Sorcery beliefs and the prominence of the High God form the two main constants in the emerging supra-ethnic religious systems of modern Zambia. These two religious elements are subscribed to by virtually the entire African population of the country, no matter what various specific ritual forms and organizations the people adhere to. The process of secularisation, so marked in North Atlantic society, has not replicated itself in Central Africa - yet. Therefore, some form of appeal to this shared religious framework could provide extensive legitimation for contemporary authority structures,[29] albeit along lines rather different from those stipulated by Weber under the heading of legal authority. For the result would be neither legal nor traditional authority, but charismatic authority.

                        In the speech cited above, and in numerous other instances. Kaunda and other Zambian political leaders have employed a religious idiom to underpin the authority of themselves and of the state bureaucracy they represent. The situation is complicated by the existence, besides the party and the state, of specifically religious organizations, mainly in the form of Christian churches. These churches, having reached various stages in the process of the routinisation of charisma,[30] have a rather direct access to religious legitimation. They generate a considerable social power, through their large number of adherents, the tatters’ effective organisation, loyalty, and above-average standards of education and income. Of course, the churches use their legitimating potential in the first instance for their own benefit. Therefore their social power is, at least latently, rival to that of the state and the party.

                        Between the established Christian churches (Roman Catholic Church, United Church of Zambia, Reformed Church in Zambia, Anglican Church, etc.) and the Zambian state a not always easy, but on the whole productive, symbiosis has developed.[31] The churches lend both their expertise and their legitimating potential to the government, in exchange for very considerable autonomy in the religious field. The settings in which this interaction takes shape include: public ceremonies in which political and religious leaders partake side by side; the implementation of ‘development’; the participation of religious leaders in governmental and party committees; and informal consultations between top-ranking political and religious leaders. An important factor in this pattern seems to be the fact that the established Zambian churches derive from North Atlantic ones which, in their countries of origin, had already solved the problem of the relation between church and state prior to missionary expansion in Africa. Even so, there have been minor clashes, and more serious ones may follow in the future. For state-church symbiosis cannot really solve the problem of the state’s incomplete legitimation in terms of legal authority. A religious underpinning of the state’s authority automatically implies enhancing the authority of the religious Organisations, which may thus come to represent, through a feed-back, an even greater challenge to the state’s authority. Ultimately, a shift towards purely legal authority for the state may require a process of ‘disenchantment’ (already noticeable among the Zambian intellectuals). Such a process would undermine the churches’ authority and would be likely to bring the latter to concerted remonstrance in one form or another.

                        For the independent churches the situation tends to be more acutely difficult. Although it is still far too early to generalise, these independent churches seem to cater typically for Zambians in the early stages of proletarisation. The independent churches are most in evidence at the local level: the bomas and the urban compounds. The superstructural reconstruction they offer their adherents, and the extensive extra-religious impact they make on the latter’s lives (e.g., in the spheres of recreation, marriage, domestic conflict, illness, death and burial) not infrequently clash with the local party organization which often works along similar lines. Despite instances of felicitous co-operation between independent church and party at the local level,[32] conflict remotely reminiscent of the UNIP/Lumpa feuding seems more frequent.

                        Among the Zambian elite there is little knowledge of and less sympathy for the independent churches. Not only the party, but also the established churches tend to see them as a threat. It is therefore unlikely that the independent churches will ever be called upon, to any significant extent, to play the religiously-legitimating role which the established churches now regularly perform for the state. The Lumpa rising provides an extreme example of what form church/ state interaction can take in the context of independent churches. On the other hand, the organisational and interpretative experiments still going on in the Zambian independent churches may represent a major form of superstructural reconstruction in the decades to come with presumably profound repercussions for the state and the nationalist movement.



This chapter represents an attempt to explore the deeper structural implications of the Lumpa rising in the context of religious innovation, class formation and the state in Zambia. In presenting a tentative interpretation, my main ambition has been to highlight a number of problems, and to indicate a direction in which some answers may be found in the future.

                        Meanwhile, many important problems have not even been mentioned in the present argument. If Lumpa was essentially a peasant movement, pursuing an idiom of religious innovation that was far from unique in the Central African context, why was it unique in its scope and historical development, and why did it occur precisely among the Bemba of north-eastern Zambia? Another important problem, that can throw light both on Lumpa and on the relations between the state and the established churches, is the development of relations between the established churches and Lumpa during and after the rising. The churches organised a rehabilitation mission right into the areas of combat, and afterwards the United Church of Zambia (into which Lubwa’s Church of Scotland had merged) even tried to win Lenshina back into its fold. As more data become available, these issues may be tackled successfully.

                        At the moment, many essential data on the Lumpa episode are still lacking. The sociology of contemporary Zambian religion still largely remains to be written. And the whole Lumpa tragedy and its aftermath is still a cause of grief for thousands of Zambians from all walks of life. Under these circumstances, nothing but the most preliminary analysis is possible; but even such an analysis may be helpful in defining tasks, and not just academic ones, for the future.


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[1]                      See the literature cited in notes to previous parts of this paper.

[2]                        Rotberg(1961):63.

[3]                        Information Department (1964):941 ;however, as, e.g., the number of emigrant Lumpa-adherents in Zaire demonstrates, these are very conservative estimates.

[4]                      Rotberg (1961):75f; Macpherson (1974):238, cf. 180; Mulford (1967):40; Kaunda as quoted in Emanuel (I 964): 198; Northern News (Zambia), 19 June 1965, which contains Nkumbula’s statement.

[5]                        Balandier (1965):443.

[6]                      Rotberg ( I 961); Lehmann ( I 961).

[7]                        Rotberg(1961):71 ;Lehmann (1961):253;Gertzel (n.d.) 36; Warren, as quoted in Information Department ( I 964) :940; cf. below, note 99.

[8]                      Roberts (1972):43,47.

[9]                        Lehmann (1961) :266.

[10]                        Calmettes (1970); Roberts (1972).

[11]                   Roberts (1973).

[12]                   Rotberg (1961):76f; Roberts (1972):32.

[13]                        Clairmonte (1964).

[14]                   Chéry (1959);Calmettes (1970,1972).

[15]                   Rotberg (1961):76; Roberts (1972):22.

[16]                   Source: Report (1965) as quoted in Times of Zambia, 22 September 1965.

[17]                   Roberts (1972):55.

[18]                   Ranger (1968a):639; Ranger quoted from an earlier version of Roberts’s analysis than the 1972 one used for the present study.

[19]                   Roberts (1972):45.

[20]                   Roberts (1972):35.

[21]                   Such an explanation would come close to the views of those writers who have interpreted UNIP/Lumpa feuding as a clash between rival religions: Anonymous (1964); Franklin (1964). A similar suggestion in relation to the clashes between Zambian Watchtower and UNIP in Assimeng (1970): 112.

[22]                   E.g., M. Chona, the later Vice-President, as quoted in Information Department (1964): 940f. Charlton ( I 969: 140) quotes almost identical statements by Rev. Colin Morris. Morris has been one of Kaunda’s main advisers. In 1964, as president of the United Church of Zambia (UCZ), he organised the churches’ rehabilitation mission to the area where the final conflict was fought. In 1965 he campaigned to draw Lenshina into the UCZ fold - which failed.

[23]                   Roberts (1972):35f; Macpherson (1974):410.

[24]                   Legum (1966):109.

[25]                   Legum (1966):109.

[26]                   Weber (1969):328.

[27]                   E.g., Caplan (1970):191 f.

[28]                        Lanternari (1965-6) made an interesting attempt to interpret Lumpa, along with similar movements, in terms of urban-rural relations. In his view,


‘les villages ...représentent des "groupes de pression" contre la politique de déculturation et de dépersonalisation de certaines élites dirigeantes... Les mouvements religieux à tendance néo-traditionaliste de la période post coloniale renferment un avertissement à l’adresse des élites insuffisamment décolonisées. Ils sont la manifestation d’un besoin pressant d’intégration des valeurs que la civilisation occidentale a exportées en Afrique Noire, sans réussir à les intégrer dans l’arrière-plan culturel des sociétés indigenes’ (1966: 110).

While thus recognising that incorporation processes lie at the root of such conflicts as between Lumpa and the state, Lanternari only stresses superstructural elements and ignores the fundamental issues of class and the distribution of power.

[29]                   Cf. Kuper (1979).

[30]                   Weber (1969):363f.

[31]                   A recent example that shows that the established churches do occasionally antagonise, rather than legitimise, the Zambian state, is the protest by the Zambia Council of Churches against the banning of the Kimbanguist Church (Mirror (Zambia), 50, July 1976: 1).

[32]                   E.g., in the Gondwe Watchtower community (Cross, 1970), or in some Lusaka unauthorised settlements (Jules-Rosette, 1977).

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