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The Mukuni People

The History of the Mukuni People, Mukuni Chief and Chieftess

Mukuni Village, 9.6 km (6.0 mi) to the south-east of present day Livingstone, was the largest village in the area before Livingstone was founded. Its Baleya inhabitants, originally from the Rozwi culture in Zimbabwe, were conquered by Chief Mukuni who came from the Congo in the 18th century.


Towards the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth centuries other Bantu peoples migrated south from their original homelands in the southern Congo Basin. According to native tradition the earliest of these tribes in our area was the Leya who are under Chief Mukuni. It is believed that they are a group which broke away from the Lenje tribe in the area of Kabwe in what is now the Central Province of Zambia. The word ‘Leya’ is said to mean ‘to keep out of troubles’ and the explanation is given that Sichichele Mukuni led off a number of his followers and settled the country on both banks of the river above and below the Victoria Falls.

mukuni village chief palace home

While there are a few stories of how the first chieftain died and why the chiefs never go to any funerals, the story told by one of the tour guides is as follows:
When a chief is no longer able to see to the his duties, he is brought into one of the 3 huts outside his palace. They give him a special food or drink that will end his life. Sichichele Mukuni was side to be blind, old and unable to care for his duties, but he was also smart. Sichichele Mukuni ate something that helped prevent what the elders had planned for him. They took him again to the hut, and he still lived. Later, they told him that one of his slaves had died, and they asked him to come to his funeral. Once he was there, feeling the depth of the grave with a stick that he used for assistance to walk, they pushed him into an empty grave and buried him alive. It is said that Sichichele Mukuni could be heard for a week before he died. To this day, no chief comes to any funeral.

The chiefdom is still passed down through the family, and no ordained son is allowed to turn down being chief. It is said that the first Mukuni Chief brought with him a stone - Kechejo - from Kabwe, and known as the 'living stone'. This stone is passed from chief to chief and kept at the site of the Mukuni village. The story of Kechejo is that it will disappear under the ground in times of severe drought; it will also raise itself higher out of the ground in times of good harvest. Thus, the Mukini chief and David Livingstone shared the same name. When the chief has passed, it is announced that the "Living Stone has shattered"

Mukuni Village's Chieftess in Livingstone, Zambia
There is also a Mukuni Chieftess who rules jointly with the chief. The Chieftess is responsible for cultural issues and the chief is responsible for day to day issues. The chieftess is highly involved with the people and also meets with the Mukuni people. The Chieftess is often the sister of the Chief and maintains her own palace.

Dr. David Livingstone

David Livingstone

Dr. David Livingstone and Mukuni Village, Livingstone, Zambia

Dr. David Livingstone was a Scottish, Christian medical missionary and explorer who was the first European to encounter the Mukuni people.

The qualities and approaches which gave Livingstone an advantage as an explorer were that he usually travelled lightly, and he had an ability to reassure chiefs that he was not a threat. Other expeditions had dozens of soldiers armed with rifles and scores of hired porters carrying supplies, and were seen as military incursions or were mistaken for slave-raiding parties. Livingstone on the other hand travelled on most of his journeys with a few servants and porters, bartering for supplies along the way, with a couple of guns for protection.

He preached a Christian message but did not force it on unwilling ears. Livingstone was a proponent of trade and Christian missions to be established in central Africa. His motto, inscribed in the base of the statue dedicated to him at Victoria Falls, was "Christianity, Commerce and Civilization". The reason he emphasised these three was that they would form an alternative to the slave trade, which was still rampant in Africa at that time, which would give the Africans some dignity vis a vis the Europeans. It was the abolition of the African slave trade that became his primary motivation.

During his time of exploration, he lost his way to what he would later come to call Victoria Falls in honor of Queen Victoria. It was during this time that he came upon the Mukuni Village. Chief Mukuni would not come and meet with him, but sent people to meet with him under a large mango tree. The Mukuni people assisted David Livingstone and his team to Victoria Falls, and likewise, David Livingstone assisted them. To this day, the Mukuni people still meet under this enormous mango tree by Chief Mukuni's home. This mango tree is known as the Meeting Place.

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