The Tonga people have dwelt in the Kafue river basin in Zambia for at least a thousand years. This paper made a detailed investigation of their utilisation of, and control of access to, forest resources, and their responses to ecological changes following the building of a major dam upstream. Sanctions over tree cutting were clear, respected and adaptive, for instance in reply to increased demand from foreign traders. Restrictions on use of natural resources formed part of a territorial cult, a widespread African belief system which links order in nature with order in society. Local people consequently had a holistic approach to environmental management and had so far drawn on their considerable pool of indigenous knowledge to cope with outside influences.