History of South Luangwa
Background informationNote on pre-history
Some of the earliest evidence for humans in south central Africa is currently emerging from excavations in and around the South Luangwa National Park. Stone tools dating to at least two million years ago have been found, and all other periods of the Stone Age are represented in the park. There is also evidence emerging of early farmers in the valley, appearing by AD400. As yet there are no sites accessible to the public, but plans are afoot to build a museum in Mfuwe to showcase the valley's rich prehistory.
HistoryWith thanks to John Hudson OBE for his help in preparing this text.
With the Zambezi established as a trade route by the 8th century, it seems reasonable to assume that small settlements were also appearing on the neighbouring Luangwa River, though it is harder to navigate and was, at that time, probably used mainly to reach the abundant game of the valley, rather than for any trading purposes. Records tell us that Zumbo, on the eastern banks of the Luangwa, was founded in 1546 by the Portuguese – their first settlement in what is now Zambia – and one can only surmise that Luangwa township itself, situated at the strategically important confluence of the Luangwa and Zambezi rivers, must have been founded at around that time too. Both these settlements were subsequently abandoned and resettled, until about 1763 when Zumbo was recorded as having 200 Portuguese families living within its boundaries.
In the 19th century the area was crossed by many European explorers who came to hunt, trade, or bring the gospel; or simply to satisfy their curiosity. Around 1810 to 1820, a trading post was opened at Malambo, some 100km north of Mfuwe. This was on the main trade route from Tete to Lake Mweru, which had first been established by Lacerda as early as 1798.
In his last book, Kakuli
, Norman Carr quotes a Portuguese captain, Antonio Gamitto, as writing of the Luangwa in around 1832:
Game of all kinds is very abundant at this season of drought; great numbers of wild animals collect here, leaving dry areas in search of water… we can only say that this district appears to be the richest in animal life of any we have seen.
Later, in December 1866, when Livingstone crossed the Luangwa at Perekani (a place north of Tafika and south of Chibembe), he was just one of many Europeans exploring the continent. He commented:
I will make this land better known to men that it may become one of their haunts. It is impossible to describe its luxuriance.
In 1904 a Luangwa Game Park was declared on the eastern bank of the river. However, this was not maintained, hunting licences were given out to control allegedly marauding elephants, and the park came to mean little. Then on 27 May 1938 three parks were defined in the valley: the North Luangwa Game Reserve, the Lukusuzi Game Reserve, and the South Luangwa Game Reserve – which corresponded roughly to the present park, though without the Chifungwe Plain or the Nsefu Sector.
In the following year, Norman Carr and Bert Schultz were appointed as game rangers and villages within the reserves were moved outside its boundaries. Initially Norman Carr recommended that hunting safaris be started, but over the coming decade he realised that visitors would also come for what are now called 'photographic safaris'.
In 1949 the Senior Chief Nsefu, prompted by Norman Carr, established a private game reserve on the Luangwa's eastern bank, between the Mwasauke and Kauluzi Rivers. A safari camp was started here which sent some of its income directly back to the local community. (Norman Carr was ahead of his time!) This soon moved to the site of the present-day Nsefu Camp. The chief's reserve became the Nsefu Sector, which was absorbed into the boundaries of the present park – along with the Chifungwe Plain, north of the Mupamadzi River – when new legislation turned all game reserves into national parks on February 15 1972.
In the later years of his life, Norman Carr lived at Kapani Safari Lodge, having played a pivotal role in the history of the valley by pioneering commercial walking safaris, upon which South Luangwa has founded its reputation. He remained an important and highly outspoken figure to the end, and devoted much energy in his latter years to development projects designed to help the surrounding local communities to benefit from the park. He was especially involved with projects involving local schools: encouraging the next generation of Zambians to value their wildlife heritage.
His excellent example is increasingly being followed by many of the more forward-thinking safari operators. Increasing numbers of operators are taking their role in the community seriously, often by sponsoring schools and clinics in the surrounding countryside. Kawaza Village is a highly visible tourism venture run by and for one of the local communities.