I recently got my hands on an English-Silozi dictionary,the most exciting thing to happen to me so far this week:-). Even more exciting is that the dictionary starts with a little history lesson, I would be amiss in not sharing. The dictionary was first published in 1993 by the Zambia Educational Publishing house, it was adapted and re-published by Henry Buiswalelo with the help of Owen O'Sullivan in 1996, so this post reflects their ideas, paraphrased here and there.
The Lozi can be categorised into two major groups: The Lozi of the Western Province of Zambia and those of North-Eastern Namibia. I'm of the latter, so I will concetrate there(Nasilele if you're reading this... choose yourself mami,it's not my fault:-D).
The Lozi of the Caprivi can trace their origins back to what is now South Africa and Lesotho. Sibitwane, a military commander of the great Shaka Zulu, was defeated in battle by a woman. Fearing for his life, as death was often Shaka's punishment for defeat,Sibitwane set out with his followers to make a home for themselves out of Shaka's reach. Sibitwane and his followers were not a clearly defined ethnic group, they were a collection of defeated remnants bound together largely by fear of Shaka and th desire to find peace and security outside of the vast wasteland he had created. The dominant linguistic influence among them was Southern Sotho, although in later years, elements of other languages came to have bearing on their speech.
The group did not have a distinct name and only acquired one amidst their travels, they were initially called the Kololo,but this was later changed as well(my nkuye obviously didn't get the memo:-D, God rest her soul... she constantly teased me about being a Kololo). Starting off in about 1827, the Kololo moved through the Transvaal in northern South Africa, through Zimbabwe and Botswana, where their language was heavily influenced by that of the Tswana people(and now I can never again say the Tswana decapitate my language,so sad). Unable to settle in these territories because of the existence of other powerful groups, they crossed the Zambezi, around 1838, and finally settled in Linyanti. It did not take long for Sibitwane to establish his supremacy in the area from the north of Linyanti further up along the Zambezi river valley into the central Barotse plains. His people intermarried with the local inhabitants and came to be called the Barotse, which eventually evolved into "Lozi".
The Silozi language comes from two languages- Siluyana and Sikololo, both were languages belonging to the Aluyi of Zambia who rose in revolt against their overlords into the area of the Lozi people across the Zambian border. Silozi today is the mother tongue of about 150 000 people and the lingua franca(bridge language) of 350 000 more. It is one of the official languages in both Namibia and Zambia. Silozi belongs to the Bantu group of languages and it's grammatical structure is similar to that of most Zambian languages. It's vocabulary,however, is much closer to Setswana.
Non-bantu languages have also had an influence on the Lozi language, this can be seen in words borrowed from English, such as 'mota', 'sikolo' and 'sipatela. Afrikaans has also had a hand in words such as 'keleke', 'kunupo' and 'potoloto' Through the influence of Catholic missionaries, a few religious terms have been borrowed from Latin, such as 'misa' and 'sakramenti'. The portugese also had a little influence as Barotseland's western neighbour, Angola, was formerly a Portugese colony.
The viability of the Lozi language is under threat. The increasing use of English as an official language, as the international language, as the language of science and technology and as the almost sole language of television, have called into doubt the future of Silozi, and indeed other Bantu languages. My absolute favourite part: "Silozi needs to develop new terms for the new realities of the third millenium. If, in the name of preserving tradition, it closes itself to what is new and evolving, if it regards the Silozi of the past as the only authentic Silozi, then it will have condemned itself to extinction. A language lives by being spoken, and it will be spoken only where it adequately meets people's need to communicate. The challenge to the Lozi people, ESPECIALLY TO THE YOUNG GENERATION,is to create a new literature of prose,poetry and song in Silozi. Failure to do so will result in the death of Silozi in a couple of generations. Where language dies, culture dies with it, and people become a mere mass."
And I learnt a new idiom: Komu kutuswa yeitusa (self-help comes before any other kind of help:-)!!!