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Kulamba: Festive mixture of dance, song

THE pulsating beat of Gule Wamukulu, commonly known as Nyau dance, echoed through the surrounding mountains leading a festive mixture of traditional dances as the Chewa people of Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique displayed their culture in Kulamba traditional ceremony at their headquarters, Mkaika in Katete district on August 29.
The scintillating sound of traditional drums, accompanied by chanting and singing from men, women, boys and girls captivated the spirit of hundreds of people in attendance at the ceremony held about five kilometres away from Katete town in Zambia.
As spectators in back rows craned their necks for vantage points to watch the performances, nyau dancers, also known as vilombo (beasts), exuded energy and spirit in multi-coloured costumes and masks – never missing a beat as their bare feet rhythmically twisted and pounded the dust on a raised stage.
When Kalonga Gawa Undi made a grand entry into the arena from his palace a few metres away, accompanied by his subordinates in two rows, the music and dance faded a little to allow the royal procession to the centre of the arena take pre-eminence.
Kalonga Gawa Undi was dressed in his white royal regalia complete with a hat and a red ribbon laced with gold embroidery across his chest.
His subordinate chiefs were dressed in red traditional chitenge wrappers that uniformly hang over one side of their shoulders leaving the right side bare.
The king’s procession started from the Gwalada to the Dzimbabwe, the main arena. Kalonga Gawa Undi then walked around the Dzimbabwe to greet the assembled people.
The chiefs from Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique paid homage to Kalonga Gawa Undi separately.
Before his entry, the royal family, led by Mama Nyangu, the Queen Mother, entered the main arena and sat in their royal shelter, rotunda.
Mbumba za Gawa, a group of singing women, had also already entered the arena to pay respect to the guest of honour and invited chiefs.
After Kalonga Gawa Undi had taken his royal seat in a thatched shelter adjacent to the raised stage in the centre of the arena, the dancing picked up the pace reaching a crescendo under the watchful eyes of scores of dignitaries, who included Vice- President Inonge Wina.
Groups of nyau dancers moved on stage in succession, some showing acrobatic moves in tandem with the drums sending spectators into wild cheers.
About 30 groups of nyau dances were performed in-between speeches from officials present. The dances included makanja, muganda and gologolo.
Other performances were chimtali for women involving the wriggling of the waist in tune with the drums and chinamwali – a performance by girls being initiated after becoming of age.
Spectators who have phobia for reptiles had no choice but to see snake charmers go through their paces entertaining the crowd.
Gule Wamukulu or nyau dance is the most cerebrated dance among the Chewa people.
People came in droves from Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique – and collectively they gave the event an aura of merriment.
Tourists from overseas were in attendance too – as the spectacular event provided them a therapeutic retreat and a sight they were not likely to forget.
Along the dusty road leading to the Chewa’s traditional ruler Kalonga Gawa Undi’s palace were rows of vehicles of all types that had brought spectators to the event to watch various traditional dances.
Motorists who joined the event a little late had difficulties in finding parking space close to the main arena, and the jostling for parking slots gave traffic police officers who were there a tough time in making sure everyone manoeuvred in the maze of automobiles and sea of humanity.
Scores of business men and women seized the opportunity to sell their merchandise in the precincts of the main arena. On display were shoes, clothes, blankets, radios and solar panels. Mbeba (mice) – a delicacy popular among people of Eastern Province of Zambia, was also readily available.
Addrian Banda, a trader selling solar panels and radios from City Market in Lusaka, said he travelled to Katete to be part of the ceremony and sell his mechandise.
“It is my first time to attend this ceremony. Although business has not be good since I came on Wednesday, I feel good to be part of the ceremony because this is my home town,” he said.
Another trader, Delia Moonga, from City Market in Lusaka said she came to sell blankets at the ceremony.
Other traders this writer talked to at the ceremony were Nelson Mwale from Petauke and Loveness Lungu and Robert Nkhuwa, both from Chipata.
The Chewa kingdom has 36 chiefs from Zambia, 40 chiefs from Mozambique and 138 chiefs in Malawi.
The Ngoni people were represented at the ceremony by Chief Mbelwa of Malawi.
Others present were representatives of Malawi and Mozambique governments, former President Rupiah Banda and opposition presidents Edith Nawakwi of Forum for Democracy and Democracy and Hakainde Hichilema of United Party for National Development.
Kulamba ceremony was revived in 1984 after being banned by the British colonial authorities in 1934. The ceremony is held every year at the end of August after harvest and it is a way of bringing together different chiefs in Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique to share with paramount Chief Kalonga Gawa Undi their challenges and successes.
Vice-President Inonge Wina said the ceremony was important to the advancement of peace and unity among the three countries.
“Traditional ceremonies are critical in the consolidation of our national fellowship across all regions and ethnic groups of any country,” she said.
In a speech read for him by former deputy Minister of Information in the Movement for Multiparty Democracy government David Phiri, Kalonga Gawa Undi urged government to find a mutual approach to chiefs’ affairs.
He said chiefs play an integral part in the governance of the country.
Kalonga Gawa Undi urged his chiefs to pay attention to the education of children, especially the girl-child.
He expressed concern over the high levels of HIV and AIDS cases, saying that chiefs should be at the forefront of ensuring behavioural change among their subjects.
He also urged his chiefs to discourage cultural practises that promote the spread of HIV and AIDS.
A representative of the Malawian government, Minister of Sport, Youth and Culture Grace Chiumya said ceremonies are important to achieve peace.
“I urge all people to take this ceremony as a platform for social inclusion. Cultural events are important to enable cultural exchange,” she said.
A representative of the Mozambican government who spoke through an interpreter said traditional ceremonies such as Kulamba demonstrate unity and peace among the three countries.
He said the ceremony was taking place at a time Mozambique was celebrating 40 years of independence and thanked Zambia for helping his country during its struggle for independence.
After spending five days at Mkaika, subordinate chiefs and their subjects bid farewell to Kalonga Gawa Undi on August 30.