The Zambezi

A History

June 2022 9781787387003 424pp, 16pp colour illus
Available as an eBook
EU Customers


The Zambezi is the fourth-longest river in Africa, and one of the continent’s principal arteries of movement, migration, conquest and commerce. In this book, historian Malyn Newitt quotes rarely used Portuguese sources that throw vivid light on the culture of the river peoples and their relations with the Portuguese creole society of the prazos.

Hitherto unused manuscript material illustrates Portuguese and British colonial rule over the people of the long-lived Lunda kingdoms, and the Lozi of the Barotse Floodplain. The Zambezi became a war zone during the ‘Scramble for Africa’, the struggle for independence and the civil wars that followed the departure of colonial powers. Recent history has also seen the river’s wild nature tamed by the introduction of steamers and the building of bridges and dams. These developments have changed the character of the waterway, and impacted–often drastically–the ecological systems of the valley and those settled along its course.

The Zambezi traces the history of the communities that have lived along this great river; their relationship with the states formed on the high veldt; and the ways they have adapted to the vagaries of the Zambezi itself, with its annual floods, turbulent rapids and dramatic gorges.



‘Scholarly and readable… a fascinating tale of a creole society created by a fusion of European and African elements, shaped by the geography of the great river.’ — Times Literary Supplement

‘Few histories of natural landmarks capture the ebbs and flows of the economic, political and social life they engender like this history of the Zambezi. A remarkable tale of a river whose story may come to an end in the face of increased human pressure and global warming.’ — Benedito Machava, Assistant Professor of History, Yale University

‘A meticulously researched and nuanced longue-durée history of the Zambezi River, which, as Newitt points, has directly or indirectly shaped the destiny of Central Africa. This is an engaging elegy for grandeur of the river’s diverse natural environment and the peoples who lived along its shores in rhythms of history.’ — Liazzat Bonate, Lecturer in African History, University of the West Indies

‘Newitt skilfully weaves travel and observation documents into a rich historical narrative, working his usual talent with Portuguese-language primary sources. As Newitt highlights, thousands of people of many different societies lived along the Zambezi. He tells a multitude of histories.’ — Jeanne Penvenne, Professor Emerita of History, Tufts University

‘Newitt masterfully connects the past and present through the history of Zambezi valley region, by exploring the influence of rivers on settlement strategies, state formation, environmental change, livelihood strategies, cultural interchange, political conflicts and technological developments.’ — Joel das Neves Tembe, Professor of African and Mozambican History, Eduardo Mondlane University, and former Director of Mozambique Historical Archives

‘This book demonstrates exactly what a regional historical account can achieve: Newitt relies on exemplary primary sources and colourfully woven quotes, gains insight from the leading historiography–and produces an impressive study of the Zambezi River region. This synthesis will be essential reading for students, scholars and anyone interested in learning about Africa’s history from a Zambezi perspective.’ — Alexander Keese, Professor of African and Global History, University of Geneva


Malyn Newitt was deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Exeter, and the first holder of the Charles Boxer Chair, King's College London. He has authored more than twenty books on Portugal and Portuguese colonial history, including A Short History of Mozambique and Emigration and the Sea, both published by Hurst.

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