Zambia Traditional Ceremonies
73 tribes co-exist in Zambia and celebrate their heritage by hosting traditional festivals throughout the year. Here are just a few of them.
‘Back in the day ceremonies were banned by the administrators as heathen and promoting witchcraft. To avoid getting into trouble tribal groups started having centuries old ceremonies under cover of the dark. My generation grew up associating these masquerades to witchcraft. (I was a 60's child so I remember very well) In the first decade of independence, traditional displays were put on to attract tourists. Annual traditional ceremonies were openly revived in the early 80's. Today annual ceremonies are big and colourful and chiefs are highly respected and earn a state stipend. I'm fasinated by these ceremonies and masquerades’ –author Verona Mwansa
Kuomboka - meaning to “get out of the water” and the traditional festival of the Lozi people of Western Zambia involves the King who is called the ‘Litunga’ and his wife moving from their summer home in Lealui to Limulunga. They travel in two separate barges with the King’s being the larger of the two. His barge, which is called ‘Nalikwanda’ features a model elephant on the top and is rowed by specially chosen members of the tribe. His subjects and visitors line the shores of the Zambezi river clad in their Siziba and Musinsi (Lozi traditional attire) to welcome their leader after his six hour journey. This normally takes place in April subject to water levels.
Likumbi Lya Mize ceremony is celebrated by the Luvale people of North Western Province. Historically, the festival marked the re-entrance of boys who had been in seclusion for ‘Mukanda’ (male circumcision) back into society. The four day ceremony features dances from the ‘Makishi’, masked men who are believed to be spirits representing ancestors.
N’cwala ceremony is celebrated by the Ngoni of Eastern Zambia at Mtenguleni village in Chipata. The first crops of the season are blessed by the Paramount Chief Mpezeni. A bull is then sacrified and some of its blood is drained and offered to the chief. Dancing follows and mock fights between the impis (warriors) recreate the various battles the Ngoni fought and won during their migration from South Africa to Zambia. The N’cwala ceremony takes place in February.
Ukusefya Pa Ngwena is the traditional festival of the Bemba people of Mungwi district in Northern Province. It renacts the migration of the Bemba tribe from Kola (modern day Angola) to their current village. The chief whose title is ‘Chitimukulu’ is escorted from his palace on a throne which is a couch with a paper mache crocodile on the front. The crocodile is an important totem to the Bemba tribe, as legend states that when they migrated into Zambia, they reached a site with a dead crocodile which they took as a good omen and so settled there. Like other traditional festivals, Ukusefya Pa Ngwenga features dancing, drumming, singing and consumption of traditional food and beer. The ceremony takes place in August.
Kulamba Kubwalo - The Lenje people of Chibombo district in Central Province celebrate the Kulamba Kubwalo traditional festival. The pre-ceremony lasts a week and features dancing and displays of traditional foods. On the day of the Kulamba Kubwalo, the Chief whose title is Senior Chief Mukuni Ng’ombe is escorted from his palace to eight different sites that represent the stops that were made by the Lenje tribe during their migration from present day Democratic Republic of Congo to Zambia. The Kulamba Kubwalo ceremony is held in October.
Shimunenga, the name of the traditional festival celebrated by the Ila people of Namwala, Southern Province pays homage to the warrior Shimunenga who led the tribe and their cattle to the Kafue flats after a dispute with his brother. The three day festival includes a day reserved for the women to sing and perform traditional dances such as ‘kukonkobela’. On the second day, the women throw sticks at the men to symbolize spears thrown at Shimunenga’s brother. The third day is a cattle drive day with cows competing to cross a section of the Kafue River. Shimunenga is held in August.