BOYD PHIRI, Mongu
IF this year’s Kuomboka ceremony was not memorable, it was unique in scope with all the evidence of strong cultural connection between the Lozi people of Western Province and the Chewa people of Eastern Province of Zambia.Never before has the Barotse Royal Establishment (BRE) invited another traditional leader as special guest to officiate at the Kuomboka ceremony.
The ceremony has over the years been officiated by a head of state as an invited guest or another political figure representing the President.
Of course, the organising committee did not have problems with the idea of inviting political figures to grace the ceremony.
However, its concern about some politicians taking advantage to turn the event into a political spectacle has only been magnified in recent years.
BRE spokesperson Induna Katema says previous experiences where political leaders had been invited resulted in tensions among political party supporters.
For example, last year the main opposition party UPND caused drama when its leader’s convoy refused to give way to President Edgar Lungu’s motorcade on Limulunga Road.
President Lungu, as an invited guest, was on his way to Limulunga to meet the Litunga on his arrival aboard the royal barge called Nalikawanda.
The UPND leader, Hakainde Hichilema, was also one of the political figures attending the ceremony.
Nonetheless, this year the organising committee of the Kuomboka ceremony decided to invite a traditional leader as guest of honour at the event, a move seen by observers as a way of avoiding another political spectacle.
Some weeks before the ceremony the BRE announced that anyone wishing to attend Kuomboka would come in their own individual capacities.
Announcing the invitation of the guest, Ngambela Nyambe Mwenda said the BRE invited Paramount Chief Gawa Undi of the chewa people as guest of honour to move away from the trend of inviting politicians to grace the ceremony.
He said the Barotse Royal Establishment is non-partisan, which is why it does not want to mix tradition with politics.
Minister of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs Lawrence Sichalwe said during this year’s ceremony that the organising committee of Kuomboka had the right to choose a person to officiate at the ceremony.
He said Government respected and supported the decision made by BRE to invite traditional leaders as special guests.
However, the Lozi King, Litunga Lubosi Imwiko II, emphasised during a banquet hosted for the guest at the close of the ceremony that the invitation of Kalonga Gawa Undi was meant to foster peace in the country.
“This year’s Kuomboka ceremony was eminent and prominent because it is the first time a fellow traditionalist is gracing this important event. It is our hope that what we have demonstrated here today will send a message to the world and to all parts of Zambia that there is a lot of pillars that need concrete bond, concrete peace to stand firm,” he said.
True to his word, people attending this year’s Kuomboka ceremony witnessed peace and a different set-up woven in cultural bond.
The invitation and presence of Kalonga Gawa Undi, paramount chief of the Chewa people of Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique, added a new dimension to the ceremony.
Everything went according to plan on April 28, as spectators got absorbed in nothing else but the royal ambience and Kuomboka ceremony.
Traditional attires from Lozis and Chewas who accompanied Kalonga Gawa Undi from Katete swirled at Lealui and Limulunga in Mongu.
Those who have never been to Kulamba ceremony of the Chewa people in Katete had an opportunity to sample Gule Wamkulu, which in the past was a rare spectacle at Kuomboka.
Gule Wamkulu, translated as ‘the big dance’, is a dance performed with raw energy by masquerades, often young men initiated into adulthood.
The performance is the main attraction at Kulamba ceremony of the Chewa held at Mkaika in Katete in August every year.
All camps of Gule Wamkulu fall under Kalonga Gawa Undi, which is why a few groups of Nyau masquerades accompanied their king to Kuomboka to showcase their performances.
Before departure from Lealui, the Litunga stepped out from his palace accompanied by Paramount Chief Gawa Undi to welcome some visitors, who included the guest’s entourage, Minister of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs Lawrence Sichalwe and other government officials.
As usual, the royal drummers called bambeti made sure the atmosphere had some royal rhythm.
It was a spectacle to see the Litunga guide Paramount Chief Gawa Undi, who was clad in a dark blue suit, board the Nalikwanda as the latter escorted the Lozi King halfway the journey.
As the paddlers set the royal barge in motion for the journey to Limulunga around 10:30 hours, the crowd roared into cheers.
When the white-and-black striped Nalikwanda receded in the distance, people jostled for vantage points to capture the Litunga’s departure.
The Litunga, dressed in his royal regalia, arrived at Limulunga harbour around 17:00 hours, much to the excitement of spectators who had gathered at the summer palace.
He was received by the guest of honour, Kalonga Gawa Undi, who by that time was in his white royal regalia.
Amid song and dance, the two traditional leaders walked majestically in a procession to take their seats at the main arena which was already lit up in red traditional headgear for men and different colours of women’s musisi traditional dress.
The climax of the event of the day saw paddlers perform the ngomalume dance to celebrate the arrival of the Litunga to dry land, Limulunga.
This was preceded by the beating of drums by royal drummers called bambeti, after which the Litunga and Paramount Chief Gawa Undi left the arena signalling the close of events for the day.
The following day, the Litunga held a banquet for his guest at Limulunga where he emphasised the need for peace in the country.
Kalonga Gawa Undi, a rare figure in public, also expressed the need for peacefull co-existence.
He appealed to his fellow traditional leaders in Zambia to help Government promote the spirit of ‘One Zambia, One Zambia’ by preventing tensions in the country.
“It is a great honour to have been invited to grace this year’s Kuomboka ceremony, which was a great spectacle to watch. We hope we will be able to reciprocate this gesture in the near future to build a strong bond between us and our people,” he said.
Paramount Chief Gawa Undi will go down in history as the first traditional leader to grace Kuomboka ceremony.
Kuomboka refers to the movement of the Lozi King out of the floodplains at Lealui to dry land at Limulunga in Mongu.
The hosting of the ceremony is also determined by the level of water in the plains. This year’s Kuomboka ceremony was successful as the water was more than enough to carry the royal barge – the Nalikwanda.
Indeed, those who attended this year’s Kuomboka will remember the ceremony as exciting and unique in scope.
BOYD PHIRI, Mongu