Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema attended the Kuomboka Ceremony as the country celebrated this cherished tradition. Africans should embrace traditional ceremonies because they are a source of unity and pride.
Kuomboka is one of the glamorous and most popular annual ceremony in Zambia held either March or April. It marks the movement of people from the flooded plains to higher ground.
Kuomboka is a word in the Lozi language meaning ‘to get out of water’. It is a traditional ceremony that takes place at the end of the rain season, when the upper Zambezi River floods the plains of the Western Province.
The festival celebrates the move of the Litunga (meaning Paramount king), of the Lozi people, from his compound at Lealui in the Barotse Floodplain of the Zambezi River to Limulunga on higher ground. The return trip is usually held in August with a less publicized journey called the Kufuluhela.
There are some stories claiming that before the time of the first known male Lozi chief Mboo, there came a great flood called Meyi-a-Lungwangwa meaning “the waters that swallowed everything.” The vast plain was covered in the deluge, all animals died and every farm was swept away.
People were afraid to escape the flood in their little dugout canoes. So it was that the high god, Nyambe, ordered a man called Nakambela to build the first great canoe, Nalikwanda, which means “for the people,” to escape the flood. Thus the start of what is known today as the Kuomboka (to get out of water) ceremony. The ceremony is characterized by heavy drumming of the royal Maoma drums, which echoes around the royal capital the day before Kuomboka, announcing the event.
The Litunga (king) begins the day in traditional dress, but during the journey changes into the full uniform of a British admiral that was presented to the Litunga in 1902 by King Edward VII, in recognition of treaties signed between the Lozi people and Queen Victoria.
The ceremony begins with two white scout canoes that are sent to check the depth of the water and for the presence of any enemies. Once the scouts signal the “all clear”, the journey to the highland begins. The Litunga’s royal boat is followed by another boat for his wife and another for the Prime Minister. The journey to Limulunga normally takes about 6–8 hours. Drums beat throughout to coordinate and energise those paddling the barge. The most important are the three royal war drums – kanaona, munanga, and mundili – each more than one metre wide and said to be at least 170 years old.
The Litunga is accompanied on the journey by his Prime Minister and other local area chiefs known as the Indunas.
The King’s state barge is called Nalikwanda and is painted black and white, like Zambia’s coat of arms. On the barge is a replica of a huge black elephant, the ears of which can be moved from inside the barge. There is also a fire on board, the smoke from which tells the people that the king is alive and well. The Nalikwanda is large enough to carry his possessions, his attendants, his musicians, his 100 paddlers. It is considered a great honour to be one of the hundred or so paddlers on the nalikwanda and each paddler wears a headdress of a scarlet beret with a piece of a lion’s mane and a knee-length skirt of animal skins.
For his wife there is a second barge. This one has a huge cattle egret (Nalwange) on top. The wings move like the ears of the elephant, up and down.
Zambia has more than thirty annual traditional ceremonies celebrating customs, social life, rituals, oral history and spiritual culture. The ethnic groups of Zambia have a rich cultural heritage. It is important to honor those traditions that reflect the multifaceted people of Zambia.
Part of President Hakainde Hichilema’s Note;
Yesterday, we joined thousands of people who travelled from all over the country and from abroad to converge here in Mongu Western Zambia, to celebrate the Kuomboka traditional ceremony of the Lozi people.
This great occasion brought all of us together in one accord in recognizing our cherished heritage and traditions of our country. It reminded us of the importance of holding culture and our endearing history as a collective value which we should jealously guard. It is in view of the above that we have heightened our engagements with all Traditional leaders in the country. Our government will however not interfere in matters related to succession of Traditional leaders of any particular chiefdom.
Other than that, as government, we have started escalating plans to ensure that these Traditional ceremonies don’t just be ceremonial shows but a source of revenue through tourism. Zambia is rich in minerals, its people and culture and therefore let’s all unite as one people and drive our country into the developmental path.
Once more. Thank you to all those who joined us at this year’s Kuomboka Traditional ceremony including foreign dignitaries.