The area is densely populated. Accurate estimates of the population are difficult because of frequent migration.
Since the 1970s, the average annual growth rate of the population in Nchelenge District has exceeded that in other parts of the Province, partly because of immigration of Zaireans to the area, partly because of the attraction of the flourishing Mweu-Luapula fishery. The total population of Nchelenge District is 111,736 of which 57,287 are female and 54,449 male, according to the 1990 census. The overall population density per square kilometre of Nchelenge District was 13.9 in 1990 compared to 10.0 in 1980 (1990 census). This figure is the highest in the Province, but it does not give a good indication of the population density along the river and the lake because it includes the vast forest areas in the eastern part of the district which is sparsely populated.
In Kasembe, 200 household heads are registered in the village, of whom approximately 30% are female. In Kafulwe 329 household heads are registered of whom approximately 20% are female. Note that many of the temporary residents and visitors having constant links with the research areas are not included. In Kasembe the group of migrating fishermen, the majority of whom are not based in Kasembe, was estimated by respondents as “more than a hundred” to a “thousand” fishermen.
The people in the area have settled in villages and fishing camps with a large variety of settlement patterns and sizes, mainly along the Nchelenge - Chiengi road as well as along the lake shore.
The establishment and growth of the settlements along Lake Mweru are very recent. In the research areas, the first settlers came before 1920 and were mainly subsistence fishermen and farmers. Commercial fishing in the lower Luapula valley began in the 1920s, when the opening of the mines in Katanga -- and some years later in the Copperbelt -- created an increasing demand for foodstuffs. Large quantities of dried fish, packed in bundles, were taken by carriers to the mining towns (Ntoto, 200). Greek traders played an important role in establishing fish marketing in the area, as they built an ice factory in Kasenga, on the Luapula river, which was at that time the centre of commercial fishing activities (Poewe, 6). In the 1930s an average of 4,000 tons of fish was being sold annually to the Greek traders.
Up to the 1960s, the settlements along the lake shore remained small while fishermen based further south in the Luapula river valley migrated northwards to seasonal fishing camps along the southern shores of Lake Mweru. It was only during the 1960s that the centre of the fishing trade moved up, followed by permanent migration of groups of fishermen. The reason for this move northwards of the centre of the fishing trade are:
the closure of the ice plant in Kasenga and the opening of the ice plant in Kashikishi;
the tendency of fishermen northwards to look for more profitable catches;
the introduction of plank boats which are safer on the windy waters of the lake than the dug-out canoes.
Thus, a substantial influx of migrants along the lake shore has begun only quite recently.
Population expanded in both Kafulwe and Kasembe during the 1960s. The newcomers were searching for better fishing grounds for the gillnet fishery. These first groups of commercially oriented fishermen came in for fish and concentrated on fishing. Their arrival coincided with the advent of new methods of fishing and fishing equipment: larger boats, the setting of stationary nets at a distance from the shore, etc. They also generated an increase in commercial activity. Since these fishermen concentrated mainly on fish, a demand was created for agricultural products and other services. In the main, the local population met this demand, while many of them also expanded from subsistence fishing to commercial fishing. Men and women benefited differently from this process starting from their different resource base: men could concentrate on fish and benefit from the services provided in exchange for fish or money; women could provide the services based on agriculture.
* The settlers
The majority of migrants to the research sites during this period originated from areas other than fishing areas. Immigrants to Kafulwe came from the Luapula river valley area and Zaire; immigrants to Kasembe came from Zaire and Mweru and Wantipa. They sought better fishing grounds, and after some movement decided to settle. They settled closer to the lake and the beach than the original settlers (aba-kaya), in separate sections. Especially in Kafulwe, the sections are very clear: aba-kaya stay near the road and the newcomers (abeni) near the lake; within the abeni settlement, the group that originated from Zaire stayed in the northern part and the group that originated from the valley in the southern part (map 3).
After having decided to settle in the area, this group of fishermen and their families became more involved in agriculture, built permanent houses, etc. Although they are still referred to as “abeni” they are part of the “permanent community” and do not have plans to move out of the area.
The population in fishing communities is still increasing: every year new settlers join. Initially they come to work in fisheries or related activities: as fishermen, workers or traders. The choice of a specific settlement is guided either by very good fish catches or trading possibilities or because certain links with that settlement were already established (e.g. through visits as worker/trader, through friends who have settled there, through relatives, etc.)
They stay in temporary fishing camps on or close to the beach or in some cases with relatives or in houses rented from residents. After some time some of them decide to settle. Only then do they move away from their temporary houses and build a permanent house and often apply for land for cultivation.
This group is of a much more diverse origin: both from other fishing areas as well as other parts of the Province and the Copperbelt. They still refer to these areas as their “home area” and often still have interests there (e.g. a farm, relatives he/she is responsible for, etc.). Not all “abeni” plan to go back to these areas but they have the option to do so if need arises.
* Pressure on land and firewood
A serious constraint caused by the growing population is that land and trees in the proximity of settlements are almost exhausted. Kasembe can now only expand northwards, away from the lake and the village. The headman was already “begging” for land from the neighbouring chieftains in order to be able to allocate land to his people - both new settlers or old settlers who need to shift because their land is exhausted.
In Kafulwe new settlers also meet with settlers from neighbouring villages and with farmers from eastern forest areas who have moved westwards to gain access to the road. In order to gain access to land, villagers, especially women, move temporarily from Kafulwe to the forest area for agricultural activities and for collecting firewood/charcoal. Others settle permanently in the forest area because of problems of access to land.
Map 3: Kafulwe -- Infrastructure Locations
The temporary fishing camps are characterised by grass houses and lack of infrastructure and sanitary facilities. Their inhabitants stay there only a part of the year; this makes their commitment to invest in improvement small. Although some are in the area nearly the whole year they can refer to other areas as their “home area”. In the northern part of the lake most people staying here are involved in the small sardine or Chisense fishery. During the early 1980s the Chisense fishery became popular and widely used in the area. Chisense fishermen migrate. From April/May to August, the cold, the winds and the currents make fishing less attractive along the northern coast. Many go to the southern lake shores to return in August/September (map 4). A group of traders, both men and women, follow the fishermen and come to buy bags of dried chisense for sale in Zaire or the Copperbelt. During the peak season the northern coastline is one continuous line of settlements.
The fishing camp Kansungwa is located at the mouth of the Kalungwishi river. The beach borders a swampy area which used to flood every year and therefore constituted a breeding area for fish. Because of this, the area was closed for fishing activity and for residence but was very difficult to control: fishermen were still operating from there. In recent years the area did not flood, and illegal fishermen are now present throughout the year. This group has become big, and the chief was forced to appoint a headman to the area. Thus, Kansungwa is now a permanent residential area with both gillnet and Chisense fishermen. The Chisense fishery leads to a big increase in fishermen from May to August.
* The settlers
Members of all groups (aba-kaya/abeni) joined in the Chisense fishery and trade, but the majority are “abeni”. Some join the chisense business for a few years and go “back home” afterwards. Others have their house, plots and family in Kasembe for example and migrate to Kansungwa from April to August where they have a grass house. This was the case especially in Kasembe while in Kansungwa more “abeni” from the Copperbelt or other areas were found. In some cases the fisherman has two wives in these two “home areas”, or even in the same area: a respondent in Kasembe had one wife in Kasembe who concentrated on farming and another in Kasembe Munono, assisting him with processing and trading of fish.
Then there is a group of people that are based elsewhere, and are in the area only to make money through fishery or trade. They are often based in the Copperbelt or the Luapulan bomas. Some of them have been in government service and invested their retirement benefits in fishing. They hire workers to do the actual fishing for them and stay in fishing camps as supervisors. The workers are young men, usually from fishing areas (Kashikishi, Kazembe), working to become gear owners themselves. People with completely unexpected backgrounds were interviewed: a university teacher and his wife who came to make some extra money during holidays; women who got into trading after divorce, etc.
Thus the population is growing. The area is notable for a variety of people with a variety of interests and activities. Some frequently go up and down either to fish or to trade. The attraction of the area lies in its economic opportunities. It can be expected to draw more and more people: this means more pressure on land and on the trees surrounding the village clusters.
It is difficult to describe the composition of a household in a dynamic setting such as in fishing villages. The composition of many households changes continuously, with members leaving for short periods or for large parts of the year to other areas, and with relatives staying on for several years. Women and children form the basis of the household, often joined by one or several relatives. As described earlier, approximately 30% of the households are headed by women. Men form in many cases an irregular part of the household, especially if they are involved in chisense fishery and part of the year on the other side of the lake. The woman is then in charge although in some cases her husband's brother or cousin has some authority and responsibility over family affairs.
The husband stays during that period in temporary settlements, often together with his partner or/and workers. These workers are sometimes related to him but this is not necessarily the case. Some fishermen even prefer “boys that just come here to make money and have nothing else to do than work”. Most of these young men come from other fishing villages along the river or lake and opt to be gear owners. In case the fisherman is accompanied by his wife she is responsible for catering for the crew, and assists in processing and trading of fish.
Traders from the Copperbelt/Zaire usually come alone or with a companion. Women traders are more often accompanied by a brother/sister as escort. Women traders based in the research areas going on trips leave their household members in the hands of relatives and take the youngest children. This is not always easy to arrange. Several women indicated that they could not make trips as often as they would like because of their responsibility for the family. The majority of the female traders are from female-headed households.
Most households in this area are involved in fishing or related activities but do not necessarily function as a “fishing economic unit”. In some cases several members of one household do function as a unit. For example the household where the young men are active fishermen. The older men are renting out their gear or have children/workers operating their gear while they themselves have shifted attention to processing the fish and agriculture. The women and children assist in processing and fetching wood in the case of smoked fish and are involved in fish trading.
This form of cooperation within the household cannot be assumed. In many cases the women concentrate on agriculture and related business while the men are selling the catch to other women. Women processors were found to buy fresh fish from other fishermen while their husbands sell their fish to other processors. Men and women seem to have their own separate economies.
The activities undertaken by individual household members can change seasonally or over the years. A “trader” can be a trader for a few trips after which he/she has different priorities and activities for all kinds of reasons. A woman in Kasembe manages to buy fish only after she gains enough money from the sale of her agricultural produce. She increases this profit by buying fish and selling it on the Copperbelt. With this profit she buys commodities and returns to agriculture. Other women are involved only when the family situation allows it: when there is someone to take care of the children, when she is not pregnant or breast-feeding a baby, etc. In undertaking these activities, individuals can liaise with others within or outside the household. These liaisons seem to have an ad hoc character.
The staple crop in the area is cassava. All households involved in farming grow cassava. Those households that concentrate on fishing only -- especially migrating fishermen -- usually buy or barter cassava. The most common and appreciated relish in the area is fish. During the closed season, some people unwillingly eat vegetables ranging from cassava, sweet potato to pumpkin and bean-leaves, and very little of tomatoes, rape, etc. Other respondents indicated that people still eat fish: either dried/smoked fish, by “breaking the rules” or by buying from others who break the rules. For example fish caught upstream the Kalungwishi river is being sold in Kafulwe in the closed season.
In some homes fish is not eaten daily: in households that are not involved in fishing and do not have access to fish donations (e.g. by the son/brother) or do not have the means to buy or barter fish. Examples: old women, poor farming households, women living alone. The older women mentioned a decrease in fish donations: fishermen were less generous with gifts of fish -- perhaps their catches were falling.
It has been observed from several nutrition surveys that the levels of nutrition in the area are generally low (Gobezie, Gould, Thuvesson, Allen and Chileya). In a survey undertaken in the neighbouring fishing village (Mukunta) under-nutrition in small children was found to be endemic. The child mortality rate was high too. Poor hygiene and health care, low production of food crops, a high preference for cash over food, poor food value of the staple cassava and cultural factors contributed to the under-nutrition and high mortality, but the major cause identified was the excessive work burden placed on women.
Our own observations confirm these findings. Women are totally responsible for food production, and seldom get assistance. They produce cassava and often generate a surplus for sale to other households. Men concentrate on fishing, or on farming in their own fields -- during closed seasons. According to the women, men did not help them with household food production even they were relatively free during closed seasons. Thus men and women have to a large extent separate interests and activities.