Bulozi fasi la bondataaâ€™luna Hala mafasi, lelinde kilona Kimolupepezwi, kimoluhulezi Mi lwa lilata This is the opening stanza of my peopleâ€™s national anthem composed in 1916, the year that Imutakwandu King Lubosi Lewanika I the Great, founder of modern Barotseland, passed on to join the other founders of the Barotse Nation. In essence, the stanza eulogizes the beauty of the landscapes of our beloved Barotseland, the most beautiful of all lands. Our love for our country, Barotseland, is perhaps unparalleled in history. Yes, I have heard similar patriotism elsewhere, but my peopleâ€™s love for the land of their forefathers fills every eye, brimming with tears, and a label of tribalism by other Zambian tribes.
Our Barotseland, Zambia’s Western Province, lies to the South – West, bordering Angola on the West, Namibia and Botswana on the south - west and Zimbabwe to the south. The part of Barotseland extolled by the national anthem consists mainly of the Great Barotse Plains, around which the socio – economic and political life of my people are centred. This is what we call Bulozi proper, where floods are extolled as blessings rather than disasters. Central to my people’s social and political organisation are land, the institution of the Litunga (kingship) and ancestral graves and shrines that tie even the most educated Barotse to the land of our forefathers. The graves of our forefathers, the shrines of our departed kings, and the bones that lie therein are what we Barotse people take as our title deeds to the lands we occupy. Each clan in Barotseland has traditional land it can trace to hundreds of years back, including the history behind the acquisition of such land. Perhaps, what distinguishes my people from the other ethnic groupings in Zambia and elsewhere is the magnificent annual Kuomboka (literally meaning “coming out of the water”) Ceremony with all its pomp, splendour and regalia that lives locals and visitors craving for more. Kuomboka is a spectacular annual flotilla of ships, and the antics of the royal paddlers, as the Litunga of Barotseland and his people make the annual transhumance from his flooded Barotse plains to highlands above the plains - the people to their numerous winter villages or to take refuge with relatives permanently domiciled on the highlands, and the Litunga to his seasonal winter palace at Limulunga (16 kms north of Mongu) . The permanent capital is at Lealui (13 kilometres west of Mongu). The week – long Kuomboka ceremony may not have been always an annual event in the period when the kingdom had no permanent capital. But when Sipopa (Litunga 1864 to 1878) set up a permanent capital at Lealui in the flood plains, it became necessary for the Litunga to leave the flooded plains for the highlands annual. The origins of the Kuomboka are shrouded in mystery and myth. The tale goes that during a great flood in the distant past, the Barotse flood plains and all and sundry were submerged in a great flood. Before the flood, the Barotse god, Nyambe, detailed a certain Nakambela to construct a barge made from materials collected from all parts of Barotseland. Only the plant seeds and animals that were sheltered in the great barge survived the great flood passed on to us by word of mouth as the Meyi – a - Lungwangwa, the water that vanquished everything, animal and plant that were not on the barge. In Barotse tradition, therefore, Kuomboka is the rendition of the events that occurred during an ancient great flood. In time the Kuomboka with all its regalia, colour and pomp and splendour became an every year event. In remembered history, Litunga Lutangu, nicknamed, and popularly called by the Mbunda name, Sipopa, built a permanent capital at Lealui. Previously, the Barotse capital kept on shifting owing to the hobby and fancy of the individual Litunga. As Lealui experienced annual floods, so tradition has it, it became necessary for the Litunga to “escape” to higher grounds which happened to be anywhere, before the palace at Limulunga was built. Here we see the genesis of the Kuomboka as a truly yearly event. Imutakwandu Litunga Litia Yeta III built a permanent palace at present day Limulunga in 1933, as a winter capital to ride
the flood period. By all accounts, Yeta III was the first of the Litungas to transform the Kuomboka into an annual funfair, economic and a tourist attraction. Until recently, the day of Kuomboka was a closely guarded secret, only made public on the Thursday before the Saturday of the actual event by the Litunga himselfi. Two days before his depature from Lealui, normally a Thursday in the modern scheme of events, the Litunga beats (kufulumuna) the maoma (royal drums), another great attraction of the ceremony, to make an official announcement that it was time to leave the beloved Barotse plains to the floods, and to summon paddlers to Lealui. The following day, Friday, hundreds of men (and women) converge on Lealui to prepare for the setting off the following day (Saturday). Today, the “official” announcement is made long before the Litunga beats the announcement on the royal drums. Traditionally, Kuomboka was held during the first or second week of March, at the peak of the floods in Barotse Plains, but in recent years, owing to its tourist value and the large number of people from all over the world who come to witness the ceremony, Kuomboka is now held during the second week of April, during a full moon. Athough the announcement confirming the holding of the Kuomboka is done two days before the actual event, behind the scenes preparations begin some two to three months earlier. A national committee known as the Kuomboka – Kufuluhela Organising Committee is responsible for ensuring that resources are mobilised for a successful Kuomboka ceremony. Early Saturday morning, day of Kuomboka, drums are sounded to the Barotse nation to indicate that their King would not spend another day or night at Lealui until the floods begin to subside. Personal chattels of the Litunga are loaded on the Nalikwanda by his man – servants, afterwhich the Litunga, in traditional dress (siziba and baki) boards. Today, a political figure joins the Litunga on the Nalikwanda, but changes boats halfway to Limulunga in order to be among the hundreds of thousands of people waiting to welcome the Litunga at Limulunga. The traditional dress is put aside on the way, and the Litunga adorns what has now become a traditional feature of Kuomboka – the British admiral dress. Hundreds of small canoes from all over the plain, including the Litunga’s spy boats and the Queen’s barge, join the procession. The royal drums and drummers accompany the Litunga on the Nalikwanda, and music is a most notable feature during the journey the journey. Also in tow is a boat specifically meant to rescue the unfortunate or unskilled paddlers who would be thrown off the Nalikwanda. The spectacular sights that a visitor or tourist to the annual Kuomboka ceremony would not fail to notice are the colours and regalia of the ceremony. As one enters Mongu, they are hit by the spectrum of colours that form the Barotse identity – reds, whites, and yellows – could be seen on shops. A visitor would come across Barotse men and women in traditional dress that form the Barotse traditional/ national dress. The Barotse national dress is made of a type of skirt and blouse, more like the Victorian skirt, locally called the misisi for women as shown in the picture.
The men’s dress, siziba is made of a kilt and a waist coat, won with a white shirt and tie or bow. The men’s dress, with a is incomplete without a walking stick and a red beret. It is not clear when the above regalia were introduced as a traditional dress. The Post Newspaper of Zambia in an editorial credited the wearing of the red beret to the 10 th Litunga, Santulu Mulambwa who reigned from 1780 to 1830. Originally, the Post editorial suggested, the red beret was only won by paddlers “those that were honoured to be in the Litunga's presence ….” Today, the red beret is a ceremonial dress that many people put on for the duration of the Kuomboka ceremony and fundraising activities for the ceremony. The major attraction of the Kuomboka, certainly for the locals, is the chance to see the Litunga. Normally unseen in public, except for rare occasions when the he graces the kuta (court), the Litunga rarely appears in public. Kuomboka offers a great opportunity for the locals to see their King. In addition, the sight of the Litunga, dressed in a British admiral officer’s uniform, matching majestically from the harbour at Nayuma to his palace at Limulunga is a sight that even foreign visitors envy and would not miss for anything, that induces brimming pride in all Barotse, educated and uneducated alike. The admiral’s uniform was a gift to Lewanika Lubosi from the British monarchy. In 1902, Lewanika was invited to the coronation of King Edward VII. It was during this visit that Lewanika was presented with the uniform and all the regalia that go with it. To the Barotse people, the uniform signified the cordial relationship that the kingdom had with the United Kingdom. However, it was Lewanika’s son, Litia who took the title of Yeta III that made the uniform a popular feature of the Kuomboka by wearing it during each year’s ceremony. Thus in his uniform, marching majestically accompanied by drumming from the Nayuma Harbour, where the Nalikwanda docks to the palace at Limulunga, the Litunga is mesmerising and such a sight that once witnessed one would wish to see again and again and again. Certainly, the Nalikwanda, in its white and black stripes symbolissing its mystical origins is another of the major attractions of the Kuomboka. Paddled by hundreds of men dorned in sizibas, white T – shirts and red berets, it is in this majestic barge that the Litunga and his personal chattels travel during the ceremony. As is the origins of the Kuomboka ceremony, the Nalikwanda has a mythtical or religious origin in the great flood of ancient that submerged everything. As alluded to above, it is believed that, Nakambela constructed a big canoe from materials gathered from all parts of the kingdom as was instructed by the Batrose god, Nyambe. Thus the great barge Nalikwanda (literally meaning for the Barotse nation or people), came into beingLike the Biblical Ark, the Nalikwanda was loaded with all sorts of plant seeds and animals. From these, the legend says, propagated all the plants and animals we see in Barotseland today. To this day, the Nalikwanda is constructed from materials gathered from all over Kingdom.
Another stirring is the elephant, riding the mast of the Nalikwanda. The elephant is one of the insignias of the Barotse nationhood, and signifies the power of the Litunga. It is not clear when the elephant was introduced as an insignia of Barotse statehood, let alone a marvellous “decoration” on the Nalikwanda. It is believed that the practice of the elephant on the Nalikwanda was introduced by Santulu, the tenth and greatest of the early male Litungas. Santulu is fondly remembered by his nick name Mulambwa (you cannot buy a person like a dog), in apparent reference to his opposition to slave trade. A story is told that, as a prince, Mulambwa got a message that his mother had been killed by his brother, Litunga Mwananyanda Liwale, and that he was also in danger. Mulambwa was at this time returning from performing the King’s errand of resettling the Makoya people in today’s Kaoma. Upon hearing of his imminent danger, he returned to the resettled Makoya, where he was given a magical elephant and some medicine. The tale goes that when Mulambwa rode the magical elephant into his brother’s palace, there was such confusion that Litunga Mwananyanda died in the pandemonium and Mulambwa became the undisputed heir to the Barotse throne. It was Lewanika (born 1842 and ruled from 1878 to 1884, and 1885 to 1916), Mulambwa’s grandson who made the elephant a Barotse an emblem and symbol of the Litunga’s power. The white egret that also rode on the elephant with Mulambwa is repsented by the white cloth on the Nalikwanda’s canopy. Music from the royal drums, maoma, is very much in evidence throughout the five to seven hour journey from Lealui to Limulunga. The royal drums play several roles in the Barotse nation. They are used to send messages to villages in the plain and beyond. Messages could be announcements such as when the intention to kuomboka is confirmed; or could be a call to war. The Kuomboka flotilla starts at Lealui early on a Saturday, meandering its way to Limulunga as the proud paddlers exhibit their paddling skills, only to dock late in the afternoon after two or three mock dockings, exhibiting the paddlers’ skills. On docking, the paddlers of the Nalikwanda disembark first, and their leader gives a report about the journey, assuring the assembled thousands of Barotse people that their King was safe. After the report, the Litunga emerges and he is greeted by the dignitaries in the Barotse hierarchy and Zambian government officials. Then he proceeds to make his awe – striking royal match, accompanied by the royal drumming and praises from patriotic Barotse praise singers who still use the original Luyi/ Luyana languages. This is a majestic match not seen anywhere else on the face of the earth, and it is a must see match for one to appreciate its magnificence. Once the Litunga takes his place on his throne at Namoo, celebrations begin and would only end two Sundays later. Although the main highlight is the Kuomboka itself, traditional dances representing the wide spectrum of the Barotse culture of diverse origins are presented.
From Lukulu, Kaoma and Mongu comes a repertoire of traditional dances, including the makishi of Luvale origin. Also from Kaoma are the evergreen Nkoya dancers, who could leave mouths open wandering at the dancing skills. Kalabo mostly brings a dance of the shoulders called kayowe, while the Mbunda of Mongu and other districts contribute a dance called lilombola. The main highlight of all the dances on the day of Kuomboka is a war dance performed by men called Ngomalume. During the 2008 Kuomboka Ceremony, an old lady and her group of Nkoya dancers sent tears to the eyes of many a Barotse men and women with their song and dance that reminded spectators, that included Litunga Lubosi Imwiko II and George Mpombo (defence minister in the Mwanwasa Government) the group had come to the ceremony to pay homage to the Litunga “nisho batendanga ba ku mwaka” (as was the practice by our ancestors). This typifies the unity of the Barotse ethnic groups in their diversity. And the Kuomboka ceremony, as well as the Kazanga are symbols of ethnic unity as the Barotse Nation is made up of not less than twenty – five ethnic groupings, eight of which are my origins. Proudly Zambian tradidtional ceremony that everyone should see.
Refeences Oral Traditions http://www.theosophy-nw.org/theosnw/world/africa/rel-rook.htm http://www.tothevictoriafalls.com/vfpages/people/lozi.html http://postzambia.com/post-read_article.php?articleId=8598 Remembering the Elephant, The Lowdown Zambia, March 2004 People of the Victoria Falls
The last and perhaps only known female Litunga of the Barotse people was Mbuywamwamba, mother of the first male Litunga, Mboo Muyunda. Muywamwamba was asked to abdicate as the Luyana/ Lui began to be more warlike.