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Kulamba: Symbol of unity in 3 countries

SENIOR Chief Mukuni greeting Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services Joseph Katema during this year’s Kulamba traditional ceremony in Katete. To Dr Katema’s right are Minister of Transport, Works, Supply and Communications Yamfwa Mukanga and Deputy Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry Miles Sampa.

IT is said traditional ceremonies are an effective way of safeguarding the country’s cultural heritage and teaching good values and morals to young people.
At the centre of these ceremonies are traditional leaders, chiefs or kings, who are powerful partners in enhancing national development and uniting the country.
The Kulamba traditional ceremony of the Chewa people has gained significance after Zambia’s independence and is now synonymous with Chewa identity and unity.
It is held on the last weekend of August at Mkaika in Katete district in Eastern Province. The functions of the Kulamba reflect the three principal political roles held by the Chewa King:
Kalonga-one who identifies and installs others into office;
Gawa-one who allocates land, shares wealth or tribute with or among others;
Undi-one who protects citizens (ku undatira) under his wings as a bird protects its young ones.
This year’s Kulamba ceremony attracted people from all walks of life including chiefs from Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique, senior government officials and subjects from the three countries.
Others included religious leaders, politicians, foreign and local tourists, who made an effort to witness the payment of tribute and homage to Kalonga Gawa Undi by his subjects.
But all these people did not just visit the palace. When visiting the Kalonga, there are certain protocol requirements one needs to observe.
The Kalonga Gawa Undi does not shake hands with people unless he offers the hand himself. It is not allowed to touch him or pat him in any way. When presenting a gift, people should place the gift in front of him either on the ground or on the table in his full view.
If you want to speak to the Chewa supreme ruler, you attract his attention by clapping your hands and loudly uttering the words ‘Yoo Gawa’ three times.
When in audience with him, one has to sit on the floor unless the Kalonga offers a chair. If you are a Chewa person and the Kalonga offers a chair, you are expected to insist to sit on the floor. It is not allowed to cross one’s legs when in audience with the Kalonga.
Under its leadership structure, the supreme Chewa traditional authority is the Kalonga Gawa Undi. He installs all other Chewa chiefs, delegates his authority to protect his subjects and settle disputes among them.
The name Kalonga Gawa Undi, thus, implies far more than that of ‘paramount chief’ given to him by the colonial administration because he superintends over the Chewa nation and is their supreme leader.
During the ceremony, the chiefs brief Kalonga Gawa Undi on the situation in their respective chiefdoms highlighting major issues and developments. They also present gifts during the ceremony which started in the 15th century.
The Chewa people migrated from Democratic Republic of Congo. However, the original stock of people from which the Chewa later branched out and migrated into the Congo basin area, came from Abyssinia Highlands, now Ethiopia.
The Chewa migrated eastwards from the Congo in search of a more peaceful environment because they are, by nature, a peace-loving people. They were led out of the Congo by their King Kalonga Mazizi.
Essentially, Kalonga is derived from the Chewa word ‘kulonga’ which means to install or to enthrone. Kalonga distributed land in his empire to various chiefs whom he installed.
Such chiefs became custodians of those pieces of land and every year, each chief or chieftainess was required to go to the Kalonga to pay tribute to him and also give an account of what was happening to the land and the people under their care.
The ceremony was known as Kulamba and during such events, the chiefs brought gifts normally in form of ivory, artefacts and food. The Kalonga used to redistribute the excess food to areas within his kingdom which had poor harvests.
So the Kulamba, ceremony is a major uniting factor among the Chewa as it strengthens social, economic and cultural significance.
But in the 1930s, British colonial authorities, under pressure from some missionaries, banned the Kulamba ceremony which they missionaries viewed as a pagan ritual which promoted immorality and as a barrier to their mission of converting the Chewa people to Christianity.
However, in 1984, Kalonga Gawa Undi Chibvunga IV revived the ceremony.
While in the past individual chiefs held the event at their own time, the Kulamba became an annual event which now takes place on the last Saturday of August at which Chewa chiefs and their people from Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia pay homage to their King, Kalonga Gawa Undi.
The climax of the ceremony starts after the guest of honour has paid a courtesy call on Kalonga Gawa Undi at the Gwalada (palace).
Thereafter, the guest of honour, invited chiefs and Chewa chiefs are escorted to the Dzimbabwe (main arena).
Then the royal family led by the Mama Nyangu, the Queen mother, enters the main arena and sits on the Tsimba surrounded by royal guards.
This procession is then followed by the royal guards carrying the Ambili (Kalonga’s instruments of power-elephant tusks, lion and leopard skins). This procession is led by a senior induna who prepares the King’s seat in the rotunda (King’s seating area in the main arena).
The Kalonga is then led out of his palace to the main arena escorted by mbumba za Gawa (group of singing women). Upon arrival, the Kalonga walks around to greet the assembled people.
After that, he briefly stops at the Tsimba to greet the Queen Mother and the rest of the royal family, then proceeds to the Kasusu and stands in front of it before sitting down after the national anthem is sung.
The Kulamba ceremony is characterised by a variety of dances, with the ‘gule wa mkulu’ being the main occasion when nyau dancers wear masks and costumes made of wood representing various characters such as wild animals, spirits of the dead, slave trade, ancestors, the deaf, satire, education and acrobatic skills, among others.
Although the Kulamba does not receive much media publicity as other prominent traditional ceremonies in Zambia, it is the biggest event that brings together contingents of dancers and subjects from three countries to discuss important matters affecting the Chewa and their nation of origin.
Because of traditional ceremonies’ significance, Government has pledged to continue involving chiefs in the governance of the country.
“We are keen to uphold the progressive core values of culture and traditional linkages, and this is why we even established a ministry specifically to cater for chiefs,” Transport, Works, Supply and Communications Minister Yamfwa Mukanga said.
And Paramount Chief Kalonga Gawa Undi said Zambia will only attain full development if most people get educated.
“Let us discourage practices that promote the spread of HIV/AIDS and let us remain in harmony with other tribes. Most importantly, let us send children, especially girls, to school, otherwise we shall not attain the development we desire,” he said.
The paramount chief also urged Government to revise the land tenure system to avoid conflicts between chiefs and agents of the Government.
Among those who attended this year’s Kulamba ceremony were former President Rupiah Banda, Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services Joseph Katema, Deputy Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry Miles Sampa and his Tourism and Arts counterpart Lawrence Evans, some diplomats and senior government officials.
United Party for National Development president Hakainde Hichilema and his deputy Canisius Banda, MMD leader Nevers Mumba and national secretary Muhabi Lungu, also attended the annual event.

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