The first permanent settlers in the region o f Africa that today constitutes the modem state o f Zambia were probably the ancestors o f the group now known as the Tonga. They arrived from further north and displaced the San, the non-sedentary pastoralists who peopled the sub-continent prior to their arrival in about 600 AD (Haantobolo and N g’andi, 1992). By 1500 the Lunda and Luba kingdoms o f the Congo basin began to expand southwards. Various chieftaincies were established east o f the Luapula River as extensions o f the domain o f King Mwatayamvwo, but in time they asserted their independence and competed amongst themselves for territory. The Babemba ultimately became dominant in the region and subjected the Bisa, Tabwa, Lunda, Ushi, Lala and Lamba to their rule. The earliest Bemba leaders, according to oral tradition, were Chiti and Nkole (Tweedie, 1966), from whom are descended the royal line o f Chitimukulu. The rule o f Kazembe, during the nineteenth century was characterised by trade with the Arab and Portuguese colonists who had settled along the east coast o f Africa. Other offshoots o f the Luba kingdom, the Tumbuka and Chewa, became domiciled further east, towards Lake Malawi and beyond the domination o f the Bemba. It was only after the arrival o f the Ngoni in the 1850s that the hegemony o f the Bemba was challenged. Having fled from Zululand during the Mfecane, the Ngoni moved northwards and eventually chose to settle in Bemba territory. Subsequent to a short period o f friction, two powerful Ngoni chiefs, Mbelwa and Mpezeni, established their domains at the northern end o f Lake Malawi and in the Chipata region respectively, in about 1865 (Lukhero, 1992). In spite o f the military dominance and organisational superiority o f its speakers, the Ngoni language was usurped by Tumbuka in the north and
Chinyanja in the south. This was a consequence o f the high degree of assimilation and intermarriage between the Ngoni and the predominant surrounding groups such as the Chewa, Nsenga and Tumbuka.