Subiya people

The Subiya call themselves Veekuhane and their language is called Chiikuhane (Shamukuni, 1972; Masule, 1995; Ramsay, 2002; Denkler, 2008; Ndana, 2011). Chiikuhane or Subiya language is classified under Zone K.40 of Bantu languages; a language of northern Botswana, Caprivi Strip, Namibia and Western Zambia up to Victoria Falls (Guthrie, 1967-1971).Baumbach (1997:337) classified it as a "Zone k42 Bantu language". Torrend (1931), Shamukuni (1972), and Colson (1996) classified Chiikuhane language under the Bantu Botatwe group; indicating that the language is related to Western Tonga in Zambia and one of the earliest languages of the Zambezi believed to have arrived around Iron Age era. Bantu Botatwe share the distinctive root – tatwe for three (Bostoen, 2009). They include Subiya, Tonga, Toka, Leya, Fwe, Twa, Shanjo, Totela, Ila and Lenje (Bostoen, 2009). In the Caprivi, Subiya has been classified together with Fwe, Totela and Mbalangwe as one group of languages (Elderkin, 1998). Subiya language has a complete grammar book and a textbook containing folklore, superstitions and songs written in French and Subiya in 1896 and 1899 respectively, by the French Missionary Edouard Jacottet. Subiya language also has a complete grammatical sketch written in English and Subiya in the 1960s by Daniel Matengu Shamukuni.


Subiya is the dominant language of south-west Zambezia, along a portion of the Zambezi river south of Barotseland, and in the lands lying between the Chobe-Linyanti river which is also known as the Ikuhane river (Bantu Language Classification. Part 3; Arnot, 1882). The Canada Council Special Grant for Linguistics (1968) refers to Subiya as the people found west of Victoria Falls. Subiya is one of the most ancient of Bantu languages, more so than Tonga (Bantu Language Classification. Part3).

The name Veekuhane has two meanings; one being the followers of Chief Ikuhane, son of Iteenge and second known chief of the Subiya (Masule, 1982; Ramsay, Morton & Mgadla, 1996; Ramsay, 2002; Ndana 2011). The other meaning of Veekuhane is that it refers to the people who live along the Ikuhane (Chobe) river (Shamukuni, 1972; Matengu, 1982). From Mbalakalungu (Parakarungu) to Ngoma Gate, the river is known as Iteenge (Roodt,2004).

Pretorius (1975) claims that the Subiya were originally called Batwa -a collection of small clans who lived under autonomous headmen on the islands of the Kafue flood plains. It is likely that it was while at Kafue flood plains in the early or around 15th century that they started to identify themselves as a tribe, probably under the first chief Muniteenge Iteenge (Masule, 1995). Kruger (1984), as cited by Likando (n.d.) and Ndana (2011), claim that the Subiya reached the Upper Zambezi plains around 1440, whereas Masule (1995) suggests that they reached the Zambezi Valley in 1575 and settled at Ilulire near Senanga now in the Western Province of Zambia. Tlou& Campbell (1983) and McIntyre (2007) posit that the Subiya had established a powerful state of Iteenge by 1600 at Luchiindo on the Chobe River, westwards towards the Okavango Delta. Around this period the Bayei lived in the Okavango Delta where they were later joined by the Hambukushu who were fleeing the Lozi in Katima Mulilo and settled the upper reaches of the Okavango Delta.

According to Pretorius, the Batwa were a collection of groups such as Fwe, Leya and Toka. However, this school of thought that Basubiya were called Batwa or are an offspring of the Batwa is doubtful. The Batwa are largely accepted as a San group or some ethnicities related to the Pigmies of the Congo forest.

There are three theories that attempt to explain the origin of the name Subiya. According to Pretorius (1975), the name Subiya was given to Veekuhane in 1700 by the invading Aluyi (Lozi proper) under Chief Mwanambinyi. Subiya is said to be derived from the Aluyi word ‘subalala’ which means to ‘push a kingdom’ because the Veekuhane were active in governing and running the Aluyi (Lozi) kingdom. It was derived from the Aluyi (Lozi) phrase ‘subiyanokusubalalaumulonga’ meaning ‘the Subiya are trying to push the kingdom’ (Pretorius, 1975). Shamukuni (1972) claims that the name Subiya was derived from ‘Subira’ which referred to their brownish complexion. The name was given to them by neighbouring tribes as a nickname. According to Samunzala (2003) the Tonga particularly addressed the Subiya as "uwe u musubila" meaning you light skinned one. This version is supported by Flint (2003), who revealed that Lozi men particularly valued Subiya women for their lighter skins and general good looks. Masule (1995) agrees with this version, but claims that the Subiya appeared light in complexion (subira) because they smeared their skins with red-brownish ochre.

The Subiya lived between the confluence of the Chobe and the Zambezi rivers, along the northern banks of the Zambezi as far north as Nakabuunze (Katima-Mulilo) and called this land Iteenge (Shamukuni, 1972; Pretorius, 1975; Masule, 1995; Tlou and Campbell, 1983; Ramsay, 2002). The Subiya were politically and militarily strong, with a recognized line of chiefs dating back two and a half centuries and is one of the tribes of the Zambezi to have been mentioned by the early explorers and missionaries during the 18th century (Shamukuni, 1972; Pretorius, 1975; Ramsden, 1977; Matengu, 1995; Flint, 2003). Since the advent of colonialism and attainment of independence, the Subiya tribe has been split into three regions; the Subiya of Chikuzu region (Mwandi/Sesheke of Western Province, Zambia); Iteenge-Mukulu (Caprivi Strip, Namibia) and Iteenge-Muniini (Chobe District, Botswana) (Arnot, 1882; Shamukuni, 1972; Matengu, 1995, Ramsay, 2002).

Definition of Terms

  • Chobe is a Subiya word that appears in Subiya folklore written in 1896 which implies incest or bad omen (malweeza) because of an incest incident that occurred along a bushy section of the river.
  • Munitenge is the Subiya word for King/Chief/Kgosi
  • Moolyi is the Subiya word for Queen
  • Mukwaye is the Subiya name for a princess
  • Iteenge is the Subiya name for land around the Zambezi-Chobe basin; which includes Chobe District in Botswana,

Caprivi Strip in Namibia and Sesheke District of Zambia.

  • Ikuhane is the Subiya name for the Chobe River.
  • Lyaambayi is the Subiya name for the Zambezi River.
  • Simwiine is a subiya name for any chief

Political Structure

According to Ndana (2011: 3) like other African groups, Veekuhane have clear political, social and economic structures/organisation. A hierarchical political structure is discernible even today, albeit in a more diluted form due to the influence of modern political organisation.

Matengu Masule, an oral historian claims that the Veekuhane ruling "cabinet" (Kaziva ka Itenge) had the Muniteenge (king) or simwine (chief) as its political figurehead and supported by three main branches: the Ngambela (the prime minister/advisor) responsible for administration of justice; the Inkazaana (female royalists) responsible for security and the Insuzuzu (the army commander) responsible for defence. Under each of these major branches there fell other key players. Below the army commander was the Namaya (female spy), Shamunziriri (the magician or medicine men) and the Mukuunkula-we-Nkoondo (the army). The advisor was assisted by the Manduna (councillors) and the Ichiimbizo/kapaswa/kapaso (the chief's messengers). The female royalists were assisted by the Muauumbe (security ladies) and the Mabukweenda (male strangers).

Social Organization

The social and economic organisations of the Veekuhane are closely associated with the riverine environment to which they have adapted through centuries of their evolution as a people. The riverine environment is a source of food, building material, religious beliefs/practices, spirituality, and identity. It is difficult to imagine the Veekuhane outside the riverine environment. They would remark rhetorically in the face of possible relocations in times of increased water volumes, "hozwisa inswi mu meenzi, mpohona chi ihala?" (If you take fish out of water, can it survive?).

Like in other human societies, among the Veekuhane, the family is the smallest social organisation and the foundation for the larger community. At the head of the family is generally the eldest male (usually the grandfather) with the youngest child occupying the very lowest rank in the family. A group of related families living closer to one another forms a ward. Relation could be a result of birth, marriage, adoption or immigration. Marriage is central among Veekuhane as a means of cementing and extending family relations. A married woman is expected to relocate to join her in-laws, although as Shamukuni observes, a groom could under certain circumstances live with his in-laws permanently (1972:170). A married couple is expected to have their irapa, a Chiikuhane word that has both literal and metaphorical meanings for home, enclosure and family respectively. How the couple manages its irapa, ensures a particular status in society. Albeit waning in modern times, polygamy is prevalent among Veekuhane.

Religious Beliefs

While it is difficult to establish the institutional religion of Veekuhane, it is possible to note that they have always believed in the existence of a supreme being (Ireeza) whose transcendence could only be bridged by routing their requests through intermediaries known as vazimu (ancestors/gods). Several praise epithets from a common Subiya prayer are used to denote the Supreme Being: Shandandulu(All knowing); Muvuumbi (Creator); Sha-Mukuungayokunganyairoongo (the moulder who puts together clay);Shamanganga (The Healer / The Great Doctor) to mention only these. To Veekuhane, belief and veneration of Ireeza did not contradict the use of traditional medicine. Rather, they saw the constructive utilization of flora for medicinal purposes as sanctioned by the Creator.

Although research needs to be carried out on Veekuhane sacred sites, there is nevertheless the famous Chidino cha Luchiindo (the Shrine of Luchiindo) where the Muniteenges were sent to be invested in ruler-ship matters and could go to consult their ancestors and seek guidance on chieftain matters. It is in such shrines where rain-making ceremonies are conducted. Stories about that voices of people singing and talking could be heard when at Luchiindo. Due to its sacred nature, entry to this only surviving shrine is restricted, with possibilities of no return. Although still un-researched, water is in my opinion a major symbol of Ikuhane spirituality. Given the people's adaptation to and comfort with water and the flood plains, and the regular intervals with which floods occur, it is my belief that water as a source of life and as life itself, lies at the very core of Subiya spirituality.


According to Shamukuni, Veekuhane have a diverse economy that includes: pottery, blacksmith, basketry, hunting, carving and agriculture. As agriculturalists, they continue to till the land, rear animals predominantly cattle and chicken, and few sheep, goats, donkeys and horses. Cattle are a source of draught power, protein in the form of milk and meat, and symbol of social status as the more cattle one has the more power s/he commanded in society. Further, cattle and so are other edible domestic animals play significant religious functions as in the case of healing and cleansing ceremonies. Oral traditions hold that prior to the advent of coffins, cattle skins were used to wrap the deceased prior to interment.

Veekuhane are also a fishing people of repute who have perfected their fishing skills over the many centuries of their evolution. Before the adoption of the modern fishing nets, they employed traditionally crafted nets known as lukuku which when cast in specific fishing areas would allow fish to get in but deny them exit. The danger with this technology was that it trapped unintended victims such as pythons which when caught, were nevertheless put to good use for human consumption and as sources of necessary healing oil to cure mild deafness as well as being ointment which when applied on one's body scarred away snakes. Other than traps, fish was also killed using spears. Fish remains to date an important part of Ikuhane diet not only as a source of protein but also as a source of intelligence. There is a belief among the people that one who eats fish and its head in particular, performs well in school.

Arts and culture

Like all other languages, Chikuhane has its own linguistic and philosophical intricacies evident in the different verbal arts the speakers produce. In an exploratory survey Ndana (1999) has demonstrated that Chikuhane has a corpus of oral literature which he feels deserves preservation in order to safe-guard the verbal artistry it contains. Such verbal compositions include and not limited to fables, poetry, songs, and witticisms. There is, however, a great decline in the knowledge of both the arts and culture among young people. This is probably attributed to urban life, where young Subiyas are influenced by the external cultures and exposed to various forms of art that do not originate from Subiyas.

Subiya Anthem

Ireeza uhaza inkaanda yeetu!
  Vusimwiine vweetu katuvuzivalyi.
Mukungane muvoonse,
  Invula isoke!
Munu munkaanda yeetu,
  Yo vwi-Kuhane.
Chi-kota cha Kavimba!
Chi-kota chipalyite!
  Keeti niva chiwoolye munu mwa Chobe,
Mbwiita Maiba uzu chinaatusiya.

English Version

God bless our land,
  Together with our leadership.
Thy be united,
  That there would be rain....
In Ikuhane land.
  The throne in Kavimba!
  That throne is solid.
None in Chobe will dislodge it,
  Till Maiba departs.

Subiya Royal Lineage

1.Iteenge (1440s/1570s) He was the first known chief of the tribe. He is believed to have led the migration from the North and settled at Kafue floodplains. The Zambezi –Chobe basin is known as Iteenge in Subiya after him.

2.Ikuhane (1575 - 1600) He was the son of Iteenge and the second chief of the tribe. He migrated from the Kafue floodplains and settled along the Zambezi valley in the present day Zambia. He later moved southwards and settled along the Chobe River which is called Ikuhane in Subiya.

3.Lilundu - Lituu (1640 – 1665) He succeeded his father Chief Ikuhane. He migrated from the Chobe River southwards and settled at Mababe (Mavava) south of Savuti (Savuta) in present-day Botswana.

4.Queen Mwale Ikuhane(1665 – 1700) She was the first queen to rule the Subiya tribe. She succeeded her brother Lilundu - Lituu and settled at Goha Hills north of Savuti in present Botswana and the place came to be known as Ngulwa-Mwaale.

5.Cheete (1700s) He ruled over a section of the Subiya who fled Lozi attacks and lived in Tokaland near Livingstone, Zambia.

6.Sikute (1700s) Sikute led a section of the Subiya from the western tips of Iteenge today known as Linyanti swamps to the Chungwe-namutitima (Victoria Falls). There he joined the Leya and married one of their women. Sikute carried with him the Subiya royal drums known as the Makuwakuwa which had mystical powers. Sikute was also believed to have a pot of medicine which when opened released an epidemic in an area. Due to Sikute's migration the Subiya became one of the tribes of the Victoria Falls together with the Leya and the Toka. It is believed that when Chief Mukuni of the Leya defeated the Subiya of Sikute and captured them together with their royal drums, the magical drums escaped into the Zambezi and settled at the bottom where their sound continued to be heard for many years afterwards.

7.Saanjo(1700s) He was also called Singongi. He succeeded Queen Mwaale at Goha Hills (Ngulwa-Mwaale) in Chobe District, Botswana.Saanjo had three children with his wife Chaaze, two boys called Mafwira I and Nsundano I and their sister Mwaale.

8.Mafwira I (1700s) He was the eldest son of Chief Saanjo with his wife Chaaze. He led the Subiya migration from Goha Hills back to the Ikuhane (Chobe) River and settled at Kavimba in the present Chobe enclave, Botswana. His rule was unpopular and soon deposed and replaced by his younger brother, Nsundano I.

9.Nsundano I (1700s -1750) He was also called Lyiverenge. He migrated northwards from Kavimba and established his headquarters at Luchindo in the present Caprivi Strip, Namibia, opposite Ngoma border post. Today Luchindo is a shrine (Chidino) of all the Basubiya tribe.

10.Liswani I (1830-1845) He was the son of Princess Mwaale, the daughter of Chief Saanjo and sister to Mafwira I and Nsundano I. His father was Sikarumbu, who was also known as Raliswani. He succeeded Nsundano I; his maternal uncle. He was married to Malyangala with whom he had a son named Maiba I. He had his headquarters at Isuswa in the modern Caprivi Strip, Namibia. He rescued Sekgoma I, son of Kgari of Bamangwato and Letsholathebe, son of Moremi I of Batawana from Sebitwane at Kazungula.

11.Nkonkwena I (1845-1876) He was known by his nickname ‘Mutolalizuki’. He was the son of Princess Nsazwe, the elder sister of Chief Liswani I. His father was Kabende. Chief Nkonkwena had three sisters namely, Ntolwa, Mpambo and Chire. Chief Nkonkwena I was a polygamist. His wives were Nkungano and Ikume. Ikume begot Mafwira II, the chief of the Subiya of Gumare in north-west Botswana and his brother Nsundano. Ikume gave birth to one son called Sinvula. He established his headquarters at Impalila Island in the modern Caprivi Strip, Namibia. He fled from Barotse to seek refuge in Khamas’s land where he died at Rakops in 1878.

12.Queen Ntolwa (1876-1900) She was the younger sister of Nkonkwena I and the second queen to rule the Subiya. She was married toMbanga and had four sons named Chombo, Mwampole, Kasaila and Mwanamwali. She built her royal palace at Isuswa in the present day Caprivi Strip, Namibia. She succeeded her brother Chief Nkonkwena I, after the latter feared the Lozi and fled to Boteti.

13.Mwanamwale I (1876) He was the son of Queen Ntolwa with her husband Mbanga. He and a section of Subiya men were following his fleeing uncle Nkonkwena, who was heading for Boteti. They went as far as Sitengu Pan, about twenty-eight miles south of Kasane but failed to catch him up. They then returned to Impalila Island, crossed the Zambezi and established his leadership at Sesheke in Zambia.

14.Mwanamwale II He succeeded MwanamwaleI; his father at Sesheke, Zambia. His real name was Munikuunku but he was famously known by his nickname Inguu; meaning the shephard.

15.Kabuku (August 1886) He was installed Subiya chief at Sesheke now in the Western Province of Zambia. In Sesheke the Subiya chief's title is Mwanamwale as opposed to Muniteenge or Moraliswani used in Caprivi Strip and Chobe District. He probably succeeded Mwanamwale II.

16.Maiba I (1900 – 1909) He was the only son of Liswani I. He fled to Boteti under the guidance of his cousin Nkonkwena I. He returned from Boteti in the 1900 and succeeded Queen Ntoolwa at Isuswa as the Subiya Chief in Caprivi Strip, Namibia. By now Subiya chieftainship was divided along colonial lines of Northern Rhodesia, South West Africa, Namibia and Bechuanaland Protectorate.

17. Chika II (1901-1927). He was also called Chika Chika.He was the son of a commoner Chika and Malyangala. Chika was a hunter from Zambia who came to live among Basubia. He died leaving his wife, Malyangala, pregnant. At the time Muniteenge Liswani I married Malyangala while she was still pregnant. Malyangala gave birth to a boy, and Liswani I gave him the name of Chika, his real father. Chika Chika was among the Basubiya who fled from Mpalila Islands to Rakops under the leadership of Nkonkwena I in 1876.He returned from Rakops in 1900 and settled briefly among a section of Basubiya at Mababe (Mavava).In 1901 he was installed regent of Basubiya at Munga west of Kavimba on behalf of the young Prince Sinvula Nkonkwena who was then living among the Basubiya of Livingstone in the former Northern Rhodesia (toady's Zambia)

18.Chika Matondo Tongo(1909 – 1927) and 1937 - 1945 He was a regent acting for the young Liswaninyana.Liswaninyana was the eldest son of Chief Maiba I and Chika-Matondo Tongo was appointed regent by virtue of marriage to Mulela; who was Liswaninyana's maternal aunt. He established his headquarters at Schuckmansburg (Luhonono) in Eastern Caprivi, Namibia.

19.Liswaninyana (1927-1937) He was the eldest son of Maiba I with his wife Kahundu. He established his royal headquarters at Kasika Village in the modern Caprivi Strip, Namibia opposite Chiduudu (Sedudu Island). He died shortly after assuming the throne and Chika Matondo continued to act on the throne till 1945.

20.Sinvula Nkonkwena (1928-1968) He was born in Khama's land; Tsienyane at Rokops. He was the son of Chief Nkonkwena I with his wife Ikume. He established his headquarters at Munga Village north-west of Kavimba, Chobe District, Botswana. His brothers were Mafwira II and Nsundano.

21.Sinvula Maiba (1945-1965) He was the son of Maiba I and also the younger brother of Liswaninyana. His home village was Mahundu in the present day Eastern Caprivi Strip, Namibia. He built his headquarters at Kabbe Village in the present Eastern Caprivi Strip, Namibia.

22.Mutwa Liswani II (1965-1996) He was the second eldest son of Sinvula Maiba above. His elder brother was Shakufweba. He established his royal headquarters at Vwikalo (Bukalo) in the present day Caprivi Strip, Namibia.

23.Maiba II Sinvula (1968-to date) He is the son of Sinvula Nkonkwena and also the grandson of Nkonkwena I. He succeeded his aged father and set his headquarters at Kavimba Village, Chobe District, Botswana.

24.Maiba Liswani III (1996 –to date). He is the youngest son of Sinvula Maiba. He succeeded his elder brother Mutwa Liswani II who died in 1996. He has also maintained the headquarters placed at Bukalo, Caprivi Strip, Namibia by his late brother.

Edited by Mubiana Katukula


The Basubiya kingdom of Iteenge collapsed in 1876 when Nkonkwena I feared the Barotse and fled to Khama's country in Boteti. Followers of Nkonkwena still reside at Rakops, Central District of Botswana even to date. The Basubiya dynasty in Sesheke, Mwandi District of Zambia under the Mwanamwales had since crumbled and has come under the rule of the Litunga (King) of Barotseland of Western Province of Zambia. The Subiya dynasties of Chobe District and Caprivi Strip are recognized chiefs on both sides of the Chobe River. It has been suggested from oral traditions that there was a Subiya chief by the name Majira but there is no evidence that suggests the era of his reign. Mafwira II; son of Nkonkwena broke away from his father in Rakops with his followers in 1878 and settled at Tlhale near Gumare in the North-Western Botswana also known as Ngamiland. His followers can still be found today at BoSubiya Ward of Gumare. In August, 1886, Mwanamwale Kabuku was installed as the Subiya chief at Sesheke now Western Province of Zambia. In 1901, Chika Chika who was also known as Chika II became the Regent of the Subiya of Bechuanaland at Munga in Chobe; acting for the young Prince Sinvula Nkonkwena.


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