Columnists Features

Lwiindi-Gonde: Ceremony of rain, harvest

CLAD in black apparel, a group of about 35 barefoot men, women, and girls arrive at the main arena ‘fenced’ with hundreds of people.
Two women from this group are seen carrying clay pots filled with a local brew which they place near a small grass-thatched hut located in the centre of the arena, much to the amazement of the attentive crowds.
As they sit around the small hut, a man, who identifies himself as headman Hakasenge (George Mwiinga), introduces the black-dressed group to the crowds as Bakambila mvula kumalende (those who pray for the rains at the shrines).
Headman Hakasenge then announces that Bakambila mvula would soon proceed kumalende (shrines) to offer prayers to the ancestors and then get back to the arena and give a report on the ancestors’ prediction of this year’s rain pattern and harvest.
Welcome to the Lwiindi-Gonde traditional ceremony of the Tonga people in Southern Province, an annual event held west of Monze town to thank the ancestors for the first harvest and ask for rains from the descendants.
In appreciation of their rich traditional culture, scores of local people and those from other parts of the country recently thronged Monze to witness the coveted 19th Lwiindi-Gonde traditional ceremony held from July 4 to 7 this year.
The colourful ceremony, hosted by Chief Monze, involves a visit to Gonde, a thick shrub where the first Chief Monze who was a rain-maker, is believed to have disappeared, a place now regarded as a shrine. His body was never seen.
The shrine at Gonde is especially considered sacred by the local people because that is where the second Chief Monze, who was called Nchete Ilya Mabwe, meaning the King who eats stones and rain-maker or giver, is buried.
A visit to this ‘sacred’ place is led by a Basimizimu Basikupaila mvula (team of spiritually-possessed women, men and children clad in black who pray for the rains).
If you crave to attend next year’s Lwiindi-Gonde ceremony, be reminded that just like Basikupailila mvula, visitors to the shrine are supposed to be barefoot. And for women, those on menstruation are not allowed to visit the shrine.
Now, this year’s ceremony attracted multitudes of people who turned up to witness how Basimizimu would conduct their prayers and subsequently give a report from the ancestors.
Spiced with native song and dance by an assortment of cultural ensembles, the official opening of the ceremony began with the grand entry of Chief Monze, a spiritual and traditional leader, into the main arena.
Clad in a ceremonial gown, an animal-skinned gear around his collar as he waved to the ecstatic crowds, Chief Monze, accompanied by government officials and 19 visiting chiefs from Southern, Copperbelt and North-Western provinces, walked towards the high table to sit.
As the chief and his guests settled, an announcer invited various dance groups for an assortment of rich Tonga traditional music and dance, among them, the famous Budima, originating from the Gwembe Valley, which is accompanied by flutes (Nyeele) and a large ensemble of special drums.
The crowds were also treated to Kuyabila, where a person accompanied by the friction drum (namalwa) or a rattle (muyuwa) sings.
While the performances were on, Bakambila mvula arrived and walked straight to the central part of the arena and sat around a small hut while facing towards the chief and his guests.
At this point, their leader, headman Hakasenge, announced that the spiritualists and prophets would conduct a brief ritual before proceeding to the shrines to conduct other rituals and later return to the arena to give a report.
“We (Basikupailila mvula) shall now proceed to the shrine to pray and we shall be back to give a report on what the ancestors will say about this year’s rainfall pattern and the harvest. Only ‘clean’ people should accompany us to the shrine,” the headman announced at the event graced by Minister of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Christabel Ngimbu.
Bakambila mvula, accompanied by scores of visitors, proceeded to the shrine while other people remained at the arena for the official opening.
And speaking when she officially opened the ceremony, Ms Ngimbu said Government will continue to value traditional ceremonies like the Lwiindi-Gonde because they do not only promote cultural identity and unity but also provide an opportunity for Government to interact with chiefs.
“Cultural ceremonies promote peace and unity as they bring people from all walks of life together. They provide an opportunity for Government to interact with chiefs and discuss on issues of good governance and development,” she said.
Ms Ngimbu also assured the chiefs in attendance that Government will continue working closely with traditional leaders because they are a cornerstone of national development.
“Government considers all traditional leaders to be integral in the governance system, they are important stakeholders in the country’s development process especially where rural development is concerned,” she said.
Earlier, Chief Monze, who leads his community in the Lwiindi-Gonde, said the ceremony is an important occasion which unifies the Tonga people and reminds them of their peaceful nature.
“This 19th ceremony is unique and is well attended because traditional leaders from other provinces are here. A long time ago, the first Chief Monze Mukulukulu was confronted and he chose a cob of maize in place of a bullet, that is where the history of peace comes from. It’s our culture, we love peace and unity,” Chief Monze said.
And speaking on behalf of the visiting traditional leaders, House of Chiefs vice-chairperson Chief Ntambu of North-Western Province, said he was grateful to be part of the Lwiindi ceremony, which he described as an ingredient to the country’s rich cultural heritage.
“Zambia has 72 tribes, meaning we have 72 different cultures. I am grateful that you the Tonga people are part of this great culture that makes up Zambia. We are proud of you that you the Tonga, through this ceremony, are part of the several beautiful cultures that make us unique,” Chief Ntambu said.
Away from the speeches, Bakambila mvula had now arrived back from the shrine and announced what the ancestors communicated to them.
“The rains will this year start in October but will briefly stop. But that does not mean farmers should stop planting their maize…Invula isindingenye iyo talika mu November (serious rains will start in November),” a Mr Mweemba, a member of the Bakambila mvula, informed the gathering.
As Noah of the Bible predicted the floods, Mr Mweemba, who is also a mushinshimi (prophet), warned that farmers who will plant their crops on the river banks should be wary of floods.
“We shall have lots of rainfall…those who plant along the river banks should not complain when their plants are washed away. Ensure that you plant your crops on time,” he said, much to the amazement of some attendants.
At this point, several people were heard saying, “At least the anticipated heavy rains may help bring to an end the ongoing load shedding, which has been attributed to low water levels at Kariba North Bank power station.”

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