Zambia Traditional Ceremonies
Updated: Dec 6, 2022
73 tribes co-exist peacefully in Zambia and celebrate their heritage by hosting traditional festivals throughout the year. Here are just a few of them.
‘Back in the day Zambian traditional 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 includes dances, drumming, songs, crafts and artefacts that have been passed down through generations. They are a place where knowledge is transmitted from old to younger generations, through rites and other lessons. Chiefs are highly respected and earn a state stipend. An interesting development is that Chiefs and community leaders started to use the ceremonies to advocate for girls and women wellbeing, like for example the abolishment of child marriages or initiation periods outside of school holidays. The traditional ceremonies are one of the best experiences to get into Zambian culture. I'm fascinated by these ceremonies and masquerades’ –author Verona Mwansa
Kuomboka - meaning to “get out of the water” is maybe the best known and biggest traditional festival of Zambia. It's the festival of the Lozi people of Western Zambia and involves the King who is called the ‘Litunga’ and his wife moving from their summer home in Lealui in the Barotse floodplain, one of Zambia's great wetlands to Limulunga, about 10 km away.
After a drum opening ceremony on the Maoma traditional Lozi drums. See video.
They travel over water in two separate barges that have traditionally dressed paddlers. The King’s black and white painted barge is the larger of the two and called ‘Nalikwanda’. It 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, at the moment that the rivers are full or flooded. The tradition is that only after the king moved to higher grounds, the rest of the Lozi people will follow. In June / July when the river retreats the Lozi people move back to the lower plains. Interesting fact is that the Lozi king who is king of Barotseland is the only king in Zambia. Other leaders are chiefs or paramount chiefs.
Good to combine with a guided self drive to the source of the Zambezi.
Likumbi Lya Mize ceremony is celebrated by the Luvale people of North Western Province. Historically. The festival is to celebrate the return of boys between eight and twelve who had been in seclusion for the duration of a six-month initiation ceremony into manhood, which includes learning survival skills, hunting, understanding women, becoming a good spouse and father, and culminating with circumcision. The four day ceremony features dances from the ‘Makishi’, masked men who are believed to be spirits representing ancestors. Over 100 Makishi "resurrect" from the graveyard and then go to a dancing arena to perform dances. The boys are also kept at the graveyard where they leave their symbolic death as children when they are later collected. Likumbi Lya Mize is named a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
You can visit the Likumbi Lya Mize festival with Ntanda Ventures in August / September 2023
Good to combine with Kafue national park and the amazing Busanga Plain or the Guided Self Drive Safari that follows the Zambezi river through Zambia.
Contact Ntanda Ventures for all possibilities to visit traditional ceremonies in Zambia
N’cwala ceremony is a harvest festival celebrated by the Ngoni people of the Eastern Province in Zambia at Mtenguleni village in Chipata. The first crops of the season are blessed by the Paramount Chief Mpezeni. A black bull is then sacrificed by Ngoni warriors, some of its blood is drained and offered to the chief as a signal for the people to start enjoying the harvests of their fields. 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. You will be able to see participants with leopard skins, wielding spears, clubs, shields and eagle feathers. The N’cwala ceremony takes place in February. Ngoni people and their chiefs from Mozambique and Malawi will also join the ceremony. The ceremony was banned during the colonial period and restored in 1980.
The N’cwala ceremony in Chipata is good to combine with a visit to South Luangwa National Park.
Chewa Kulamba - Another traditional ceremony in the eastern province of Zambia is Chewa Kulamba in Mkaika, Katete district. It's a celebration of the Chewa people from Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia who will pay homage to their main Chief and celebrate Chewa culture through rites and traditional dances. There are 137 Chewa chiefdoms in Malawi, 33 in Mozambique and 42 in Zambia. The ceremony is held on every last Saturday of the month august.
To get an impression of Chewa Kulamba you can check a 3 hour live stream of the 2022 Kulamba
The Chewa Kulamba ceremony in Mkaika is good to combine with a Best Value Safari Tour.
Ukusefya Pa Ngwena is the traditional festival of the Bemba people of Mungwi district in Northern Province. The Bemba also known as "forest people" and who have a matriarchal culture are the most dominant people group in northeastern Zambia. The Ukusefya Pa Ngwena ceremony 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.
The Ukusefya Pa Ngwena is great to combine with a self guided drive to the north of Zambia.
Mutomboko Ceremony - Held in the last week of July by the Lunda people in the Mwata Kazembe kingdom in the Luapula province in Northern Zambia. People of the region gather in the Mwansabombwe village to celebrate their Lunda traditions. Originally the ceremony was a dancing and beer drinking performance after a battle with the enemy. In time these battles became obsolete. In 1971 the ceremony became an official annual ceremony to celebrate the history of the Lunda. Millet beer is served and youths organize sports and cultural events. Highlight is the Mutomboko war dance performed by the king Chief Mwata Kazembe in his traditional outfit at the end of a two days of rituals of dancing and chanting that are paying homage to the ancestors. The dancing symbolises the migration of the Luba-Lunda and the conquest of the Luapula Valley by the first chiefs.
Highlights of The Mutomboko ceremony:
- Special dances by members of the Royal family
- Showing reverance to the ancestral spirits
- Drinking of locally brewed beer
- The different drum beats that create the music
- Joining the parktaking of escorting the Chief to and from events
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.
The Chibombo district is easily accessible from Lusaka and can be added to any itinerary in Zambia that flies in or out of Lusaka.
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.
Shimunenga is close and good to combine with a safari to Kafue National Park,
Want to join one these traditional ceremonies in Zambia ? Contact Ntanda Ventures : +260 966904376 (Kerry)