Peek at cultural emblems

I DON’T wish to sound cynical about the quality of folk art in Zambia, but a lot of it certainly requires some kind of makeover.Forget about the elephant that was perched on the caravan of the Nalikwanda during the last Kuomboka ceremony and the statue of “Mwata Kazembe” unveiled in Mwansabobwe not too long ago.
Did you see the “crocodile” carrying hammock for Chitimukulu of the Bemba during the recent Ukusefye pa Ngwena ceremony in Mungwi district?
The images of the crocodile-mount carriage which also flooded some online platforms received a share of criticism from the public. Needless to say, some of the views were quite crude.
However, the question that bothers one is: are these cultural emblems deliberately designed and created to be the way they are appear?
While a school of thought within the arts may describe them as naïve or ethnic art and even try to justify their aesthetics, most of them are just kitsch and certainly provoke public debate.
While appreciating that traditional ceremonies and their emblems have their own significance in society, I am alive to the fact that traditional leaders are also custodians of the very traditional values including folk art.
And at the disposal of any traditional leader, are the services of the best talents in their given land. History reveals that, it is the trend in African societies for royalty to enjoy the good works of their renowned poets, dancers, artists and sometimes sorcerers. In principle, the traditional emblems reflect the creativity of a society.
However, going by the criticism of cultural emblems presented by society, it appears there is need to improve on the aesthetics.
A notable view on social media about the crocodile at the Ukusefya Pa Ng’wena is that it looked like some mysterious amphibian.
Perhaps, one of the reasons for society’s criticism of some cultural emblems could arise from the evolution of culture itself. There are a lot of cultural elements that have changed over the years.
For instance, the clothing of common people in African royalties has changed drastically. And while there has been tremendous shift from the way society dressed in the past, other elements of culture have not changed.
This fusion of modernity and ancient forms has created huge contrasts not only in aesthetics but in the functionality and general ambiance of some traditional briefs and values.
Illustrating further, the scenario from Ukusefya pa Ng’wena traditional ceremony, the carriers of Chitimukulu adorn “clothing” made out of tree barks on top of their modern attire. The fusion creates an interesting contrast and illustrates how the “dressing” culture has evolved over the years.
While it is important to preserve elements of culture, it is also significant to realise that it is inevitable for them to change.

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