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Silozi Language

Libala kwa Sefula

Silozi Language

Basali ba tea-tea!

The earliest known language spoken by the Luyi peoples who came to the the Upper Zambezi Valley in a stepped migration from the Katanga region sometime in the sixteenth/seventeenth century is known as Siluyana. This langauge was spoken by all the peoples who were absorbed into the Luyi family up to the time of the invasion of the Makololo in the late 1820s/1830s. The Makololo were a fairly mixed group of people by the time they moved into Barotseland but were led by a stong Sotho speaking clan headed by their charismatic and highly respected leader, Sibituane.

By the time of the overthrow of this Sotho clan by a Luyi force led by Njekwa in 1864, the name of the Luyi had become Lozi, a name given to the Luyi by the Makololo, and the lingua franca of the country had become Sikololo, based on Sesotho but with considerable input from the old Siluyana language of the Luyi.

This developed over time into today's Silozi, spoken by around 700,000 people as their first language. Most of these people live or originate in what is now western Zambia and the Caprivi region of north-eastern Namibia (the former kingdom of Barotseland).

Much discussion takes place today about how the language of the Makololo came to be the basis of the language spoken by the Lozi peoples considering that Makololo rule was so short. Some suggest that this was because at the time of the overthrow, when all the Makololo men were supposed to have been killed killed while the women were saved and that these latter were responsible for passing on the language through the children they had with Lozi men. However, this is an improbable explanation because there would have been far more non-Sotho women than Sotho in Barotseland at this time. It is far more likely that the very mixed people who were known as the Makololo and who came to live in Barotseland and Caprivi had become so intermingled with the Luyi by the mid-1860s that at the time of the overthrow, it was just the remaining rump of the original Sotho clan who were killed, while the rest of the population had become quite mixed and already used to speaking a hybrid form of Sesotho (the aforementioned Sikololo), infused with Siluyana.

When the missionaries of the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society under the Frenchman, Francois Coillard decided to try and enter Barotseland, first in 1878 and later in 1885 to set up missionary stations and activities, it was partly because they had been told of African peoples not yet exposed to Christian missionaries that spoke a version of Sesotho, a language that Coillard and his Scottish wife had learnt during their missionary life in Basutoland. Coillard took with him to Barotseland a group of Sotho evangelists and, over a period of some twenty years, reinforced the use of Sesotho in preaching and, particularly, in the production of the first bibles which were written in Sikololo with an emphasis on Sesotho to the detriment of Siluyana, which the missionaries did not understand and made little attempt to learn. As the first literate people in Barotseland, the missioanaries were also responsible for informing the outside world about language and liguistics in the region. Meanwhile, Sikololo became known as Silozi and the dictionaries and language books that are used today are nearly all based on those written down by the Paris missionaries, particularly Adolph Jalla, who was himself an Italian.

Very few people today are able to speak or write much of the original Siluyana language and part of the 'Living History of the Lozis Project' being conducted by is concerned with the preservation and recording of Siluyana. One place where you can be guaranteed of hearing some of the old language is at public appearances of the Litunga and Litunga la Mboela where praise sayers can be heard extolling the virtues of the royal personage during the course of their public appearances.

    Other sites of interest To follow


    Anonymous (1985) Lozi Orthography, Department of Bantu Education, Windhoek, pp. 46. 

    Bennett, P.R. (1970) ‘Sesotho-Lozi: a clue to the evolution of multi-level tonal systems,’ Journal of African Languages, 9, 153-64.  

    Buiswalelo, H. M. (1984) Lilimi la Silozi: Litopa ze Pahami, Gamsberg, Windhoek .

    Burger, J.P. (1960) An English-Lozi Vocabulary, Book Depot of Paris Missionary Society, Sefula, pp. 171.  

    Colyer, S. (1914) Sikololo: notes on the grammar with a vocabulary, pp. 53.

    Elderkin, E.D. (1998) ‘Silozi and Namibia ’ in K. Legère ed. Cross-Border Languages: Reports and Studies – Regional Workshops on Cross-Border Languages, Okahandja, 23-27 September 1996, Gamsberg Macmillan Windhoek, 205-225.  

    Fanshawe, D.B. and Mutimushi, J.M. (1971) ‘A Checklist of Plant Names in the Lozi Languages’, Ministry of Rural Development, Lusaka.  

    Fortune, G. (1977) An Outline of Silozi Grammar, Bookworld Publishers, Lusaka, pp. 106.  

    Gluckman, Max (1942) ‘Prefix concordance in Lozi, lingua franca of Barotseland,’ African Studies, 1, 105-114.  

    Gorman, W.A.R. (1950) Simple Silozi, Longmans, London , pp. 107.  

    Gowlett, D.F. (1964) ‘Morphology of the Substantive in Lozi,’ University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

    ______(1966) ‘Some Lozi riddles and tongue-twisters annotated and analysed,’ African Studies, 25, 3, 139-158.

    ______(1967) ‘Morphology of the Verb in Lozi,’ MA thesis, University of Witwatersrand , Johannesburg , pp. 308.

    ______(1989) ‘The parentage and development of Lozi’ Journal of African Languages, 11, 2, 127-49.  

    Jacottet, E. (1896)Etudes sur les Langues du Haut Zambèze, E. Leroux, Paris.

    Jalla, Adolphe (1917a) Sikololo-English Dictionary, pp. 205.

    ______(1917b) English-Sikololo dictionary, pp. 159.

    ______(1917c) Elementary Grammar of the Sikololo Language, pp.102.

    ______(1937a) Dictionary of the Lozi language, London.

    ______(1937b) Elementary Grammar of the Lozi Language, United Society for Christian Literature, pp. 108.  

    Kamitondo, E.N. (1958) Silozi Note Book, Longmans, Cape Town, pp. 46.

    Kashoki , M.E. (1990) The Factor of Language in Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda Foundation, Lusaka, pp. 164.  

    Lewanika, G.A.M. (1949) English-Lozi Phrase Book, Macmillan, London, pp. 53.

    Lisimba, M. (2000) Lozi Names in Language and Culture, International Centre for Bantu Civilizations, Libreville, pp. 320.  

    Livingstone, David (185-) [No title: vocabularies of eight Bantu languages], Grey Collection at the South African Libraries, Cape Town, pp. 35.  

    Mukuni, R.M. (1991) Silozi-English Phrase Book, Kenneth Kaunda Foundation, pp. 83.  

    Mwikise, Peter (1989) ‘Enhancing Mutual Intelligibility among Sesotho, Setswana and Silozi: Problems and Prospects,’ University of Botswana, Gaborone.

    Mwisiya, M. W. (1977) Introduction to Silozi Grammar, Kenneth Kaunda Foundation,  Lusaka, pp. 168.

    Ndopu, K.E. (1958) Silozi Note Book, Longmans, Cape Town, pp. 46.

    O'Sullivan, O. (1993) English-Silozi Dictionary, Zambia Educational Publishing House, Lusaka, pp. 362.

    Stirke, D. E. C. and Thomas, A.W. (1915) ‘Sikololo phrase book.’

    ______(1916) A Comparative Vocabulary of Sikololo-Silui-Simbunda, Bale & Danielsson, London, pp. 40.

    Stappers, L. () ‘De toonstructuur van het Lozi (Kololo), de taal van Barotseland,’ Vlaamse Filologencongres, 17, 1947-1948.

    Most of the above publications are out of print although a Jalla-derived dictionary is usually available in bookshops in Lusaka , Mongu and Livingstone. For children there is a 7-part collection of Silozi language trainers in the series 'Ihatisizwe Iwapili' published by the Kenneth Kaunda Foundation, Lusaka between 1990 and 1994 which is currently in use in schools that teach Silozi.

    Months of the year and their Silozi equivalent - there are thirteen months of the Lozi year, twelve of which correspond roughly to European months:

    Sopa = January
    Yowa = February
    Liatamanyi = March
    Lungu = April
    Kandao = May
    Mbuwana = June
    Sikulu = July
    Muyana = August
    Muimunene = September
    Yenda = October
    Njimwana = November
    Ng'ulule = December
    Sikwetikwti = 13th month

    Animals of Barotseland - past and present and their English names (or close approximation)
  • Tou (pl.: litou) - elephant - symbol/logo utilised by Litunga and BRE Lealui
  • Kubu (pl. Likubu) - hippopotamus - symbol/logo utilised by Mboanjikana and BRE Libonda
  • Folofolo (lifolofolo) game animal (mostly applied to hoofed animals)
  • Kaze (pl. likaze- cat
  • Komu (pl. likomu) - cow
  • Kwena (pl. likwena) - crocodile
  • Longolo (pl. maongolo) - chameleon
  • Mukolozwani (pl. mikolozwani) common lizard
  • Nja (pl. linja) - dog
  • Noha (pl. linoha - snake
  • Pofu (pl. lipofu) - Eland
  • Liuyi (pl. mauyi) spider
  • Tau (pl. litau) - lion
  • Tutwa (pl. litutwa) - giraffe

  • Ndopu - elephant
  • Mbo - Hippopotamus
  • Mbi - Zebra

    Birds of Barotseland and their English names (or close approximation)
  • Chikwe - spur winged goose
  • Imuyulu - knob-nose duck
  • Kachonkavole - tiptol or bulbul
  • Kamonge (pl. tumonge) blue duiker
  • Lingwalala - pied crow
  • Lisikita - eagle owl
  • Maiva - dove
  • Mankoli - yellow-billed kite (hawk)
  • Nalukapwa - purple heron
  • Nalulenge - black-winged stilt-bird
  • Nalumbe - African jacana, tilly trotter
  • Nasikambo - sacred ibis
  • Ngwanye - fish eagle
  • Nongolo - open billed stork
  • Sipato - duck
  • Tivakolo - barbet
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