Of ceremonies and cultural symbols

THE month of August had three traditional ceremonies to celebrate – the Kulamba ceremony of the Chewa people of Zambia, Mozambique and Malawi; the Ukusefya pa Ng’wena of the Bemba people of Northern and Muchinga provinces and the Likumbi Lya Mize of the Luvale in the North-Western province.
All the three ceremonies had good patronage and a fair share of media coverage.
I witnessed the Kulamba ceremony presided over by Chief Kalonga Gawa Udi.
On the sidelines of the ceremony, while anticipating a thrilling performance of Gule Wamkulu, I saw one Chewa man who later introduced himself as Smart Phiri; he was clad in a traditional costume made from tress fibre.
Smart was also brandishing some cooked and dry mice which he had pegged on a rail of sticks. Mice is a delicacy among the Chewa people, and you could see how even highly ranking officials with roots in Chewaland were salivating at the sight of mice.
But I was particularly interested in visiting the arena where the Chewa traditional artifacts were exhibited. There were a few crafts on display. But there was not much to write home about for a culture which can be traced centuries of years back.
The scanty artifacts displayed did not certainly disclose much about the Chewa heritage.
But Gule Wamkulu was a marvel to watch.
And in Mungwi, Northern province, the Bembas conducted the Ukusefya Pa Ng’wena.
Although I did not attend the ceremony, I was able to watch it on television.
Perhaps, the most vivid image at the ceremony was the carriage in which Paramount Chitimukulu was cantered.
But even from TV, I could see the inferior craftsmanship exhibited in the creation of the carriage.
It appeared to have been made from paper mash, but whatever material it was made from, the artist behind the craftsmanship could have done a much better job.
We are talking about creative arts forming the cultural backdrop of a society, and there is no better way to experience a people’s culture than through the fruits of its musicians and craftsmen.
And traditional leaders being the principal custodians of their people’s cultural heritage, they have, or must have at their disposal, the finest craftsmen at their service.
Kings and queens the world over enjoy the works of their best artists.
I believe Bembaland has refined craftsmen who could have done better service in crafting crocodile than that which looked like a dinosaur.
And with more people both from home and abroad visiting these traditional ceremonies, there is a need to design information packages that detail their significance and relevance in a society that is becoming more cosmopolitan.
Understandably, culture evolves but it is important to refine and carefully preserve vital emblems and values of a society.

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