Kuomboka Magical: Lozi King migrates to Limulunga

THE Nalikwanda arrives at the Nayuma harbour in Mongu. PICTURE: ROYD SIBAJENE/ZANIS

THE deep throbbing of the maoma yesterday reverberated across the vast Zambezi plains as Litunga Lubosi Imwiko II of the Lozi people migrated from Lealui to Limulunga on the plateau, in a centuries’ old procession called Kuomboka.
And the usually quiet and drab island of Lealui, which is also the seat of power for the Lozi kingdom, came alive with ululation, praise-singing and colourful Lozi traditional dress.
The men wore their pleated skirts accompanied with waist-coats, called siziba, and the women came in their misisi.
For the past three years, the ceremony had not been held due to drought and other factors, but yesterday, it was time to conquer the flood waters of the mighty Zambezi River, the very reason of the Kuomboka.
At Lealui, crowds surged to catch a glimpse of the Litunga and his guest, President Edgar Lungu, as they walked from the palace to Nayuma harbour to board the royal barge, the Nalikwanda.
Mr Lungu wore a siziba, complete with the lishushu – the red beret.
The Nalikwanda, bearing the flag of Zambia and the red flag of the Barotse kingdom, set off at exactly 10:15 hours, cheered on by hundreds of people.
The new royal barge was powered by 180 shirtless men – the royal paddlers – dancing and swaying in unison and in tune to the drum beat.
Guess who was among the paddlers; Minister of Justice Given Lubinda, displaying his skill. He was shirtless, yes.
He later admitted he was doing it for the first time, but he relished the moment.
The Nalikwanda was accompanied by about 50 boats causing commotion in the water as paddles hit against the boats. Among the noticeable boats was the Mbolianga, which carries the Mooyo or queen, and also a boat for the elite marine force.
First Lady Esther Lungu travelled in a different boat, as no woman is allowed on the Nalikwanda.
There were shouts of “aliyeni, aliyeni!” (let’s go, let’s go) from the boats as the flotilla surged towards Limulunga.
Two hours and 15 minutes after setting off, the expedition made a brief stop at a small island called Nasitoya, where helicopters waited to airlift the presidential party back to Mongu.
The President and the Litunga both alighted from the Nalikwanga and had a casual moment, talking to various VIPs.
Mr Lungu also used the moment to pose for photographs with the Litunga and some Cabinet ministers, with the Nalikwanda and the beautiful plains providing background.
Mr Lungu was delighted to ride on the Nalikwanda for the first time.
And in a short interview on the island, his strong message was: “Let us separate tradition from politics.”
The President also introduced the leader of the small marine unit currently stationed in the district to the Litunga, assuring him of protection.
“These young men are here to provide protection,” he said.
He then practised the little Lozi he has mastered to bid the king farewell.
At 14:30 hours, the expedition party stopped for lunch.
The royal paddlers could be seen holding large chunks of hippo meat.
The expedition was not without incident.
Once the Nalikwanda got stuck in shallow waters, and men wading in ankle-deep water had to push it through.
One of the royal paddlers’ paddling stick broke with a loud cracking sound, and there were calls to throw him into the water, as legend suggests. He was spared the punishment.
And as the boats approached Limulunga, the canal got narrower, causing a traffic, or is it boat, jam. And at the entry to the harbour, the boat was delayed as men tried to break down a dam made of poles, in order to make way for the boat.
The expedition was also soaked by heavy rains, but this could not dampen the spirits of the people, save for one man carrying the Litunga’s fire in a hearth, who was frantically trying to keep it alive under the rains, constantly blowing into it.
The king’s fire must never go off.
The Litunga and his travelling party arrived at Limulunga around 16:00 hours, cheered by thousands of ecstatic crowds, that included President Lungu.
There were a few noticeable differences about yesterday’s ceremony: the model elephant on the new boat can move its limbs and lift branches to its mouth, while the Mbolianga did not have the crane on top. The crane bird is the symbol of the Lozi queen, or Mooyo.
The boat, however, did have occupants.

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