Photo above: Four Cokwe performers wearing the female mwana (m)phwo masks during a dance exhibition visit (a recent development) to a Pende village in “territoire” Feshi (Photo Biebuyck, 1953).

General note on the Cokwe

Cookwe (or Cicookwe) is the name for the language; the ethnic name, spelled in many different ways in the available literature, is best written as Cokwe. The people call themselves Tucookwe. The matrilineal Cokwe people (also spelled Tshokwe), a Bantu-speaking group, are widespread among many different ethnic groups in southern Congo and northeastern Angola.

Linguists distinguish between northern Cokwe, spoken in southwestern Congo (zones of Kahemba and Feshi, among western Lunda, Yaka, Suku, Pende) and in the Kasai province (e.g. Luiza zone) and Central Cokwe in Angola and Eastern Cokwe in southeastern Congo (Sandoa and Dilolo zones). However, small, dispersed groups may be found in more other areas, including among the Luba. They have had a profound influence on the arts of many populations in Congo, Angola and Zambia.

There are numerous Cokwe-related populations living in the same regions or intermingled with them, such as Luchazi, Luvale, Lwena, Lwimbi, Ndembu, Mbwela, Wiko and the Lunda themselves.

  • Note: The Lwena who are located in Congo, Angola and Zambia are known as Luvale (Balovale) in Northwest Zambia. They are closely related to the Cokwe. There are excellent anthropological studies on the Lwena-Luvale by White and Max Gluckman (one of the most prominent anthropologists of the British school).
  • Note: The Lwimbi are located along the Qanta river and are often mentioned as fishermen. They are related to the Luchazi and Songo and in fluenced by the Cokwe. (Scott 1955).

A note on Cokwe origins: (a tradition very similar to what I wrote down in the large chiefs’ assembly meeting in Musuumb). About 1600, the Lunda chieftainess Lueji (Rweej) succeeded her old father Konde, chosen by him, as head of the Lunda people above her brothers Tshinguli and Tshiniama (who lacked respect).

She came in contact with (was visited by) the Luba hunter Tshibinda Ilunga Katele, the junior son of the Luba chief Kalala. She married him and surrendered soon thereafter the power insignia to him (this is mainly the large rukaan bracelet which you see in my photos worn by the Mwaantayaav).

This event led to the voluntary departure of the two brothers who refused foreign authority. Tshinguli moved westward; he founded the (I)Mbangala people beyond the Kwango river. Tshiniama moved south and established himself in the Upper Zambesi area where he founded the Lwena. Some of his followers continued westward on the plateau of the sources of Lunge-Bungo, Kasai and Kwango rivers to form the Cokwe. According to Lunda and Cokwe traditions Lusenge Naweji, a son of Tshibinda Ilunga, succeeded.