By Jeff Kapembwa
Lusaka - The dust at the Mutenguleni arena in
Chipata in Eastern Zambia where the foot stomping nc’wala ceremony was
held on February 29 has barely settled.
Focus has now switched to Western province where the kuomboka traditional event is set to take place next month.
On 4 April, the Lozi of Western Zambia hold their belated annual ceremony,
a traditional event to mark the movement of their king, the litunga, to higher
ground at the beginning of the rains when his traditional homestead is
submerged in floods.
Low rainfall in western Zambia and Zambezi River forced organisers, the
Barotse Royal Establishment (BRE), to cancel last year’s ceremony, according to the Ngambela (Prime Minister) Manyando Mukela.
This was despite preparations for the ceremony having started on a
high note. Unforeseen, the water levels on the Barotse flood plains
had remained below the normal hence the postponement.
The BRE, in a statement availed to The Southern Times, said the ceremony
was set to be held in Limulunga royal village in Mongu, the western
The event is expected to be extraordinary compared to previous years,
according to Ngambela Manyando.
It has been coined “extraordinary” because the king of
the Lozis, Litunga Lubosi Imwiko II, will have been on the
throne for 20 years. This brings the years of celebrations to 40
because he also served as senior chief for Litunga Lukulu from 1980 to 2000.
Kuomboka “getting out of the water” marks the
movement of the king to higher ground at the beginning of the rains.
The movement of the king to higher ground at the beginning of the
rains climaxes the celebration, conducted to the pounding of drums,
while the paddlers, resplendent in animal skins, dance, and sing. The
paddlers of the nalikwanda barge (boat carrying the king), resplendent
in animal skins, dance, and sing.
Historically, kuomboka, unlike nc’wala, started hundreds of years ago,
spurred by the flooding of the Zambezi River, forcing the king to
shift from his flooded palace to a dry land, hallmarking the
In 2012 the ceremony, dubbed the biggest traditional event in Southern
African Development Community (SADC), was called off because
it's against the Lozi tradition to hold the kuomboka under a full
While the new road here means the journey by boat is no longer
necessary, tradition dictates the ceremony continues as it was – though
since there's a road a lot more people come to watch.
In 1933, a palace was built by Litunga Yeta III on permanently dry
ground at the edge of the plain at a place called Limulunga. Although
the kuomboka was already a long-standing tradition, it was Yeta III
who first made the move from Lealui to Limulunga a major ceremony.
Central to the ceremony is the royal barge, the nalikwanda, a huge
wooden canoe painted with black-and-white stripes which carries the
It is considered a great honour to be one of the hundred or so paddlers
on the nalikwanda and each paddler wears a headdress of a
scarlet beret with a piece of a lion’s mane and a knee-length skirt of
animal skins. Drums also play a leading role in the ceremony.
The most important are the three royal war drums - kanaona, munanga
and mundili - each more than one-metre wide and said to be at least
170 years old.
The Litunga begins the day in traditional dress, but during the
journey changes into the full uniform of a British admiral, complete
with regalia and ostrich-plumed hat. The uniform was presented to
the Litunga in 1902 by the British king, Edward VII, in recognition of
the treaties signed between the Lozi and Queen Victoria, according to
data availed to The Southern Times.