Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Pageants, Royal Barges and the like

The Zambezi floodplains from the sky

Watching the river pageant for the Queen’s Jubilee day before yesterday,  I sent my sister a text saying "are you watching the British Kuomboka" and just at that moment she was posting something similar on Facebook! We're funny like that sometimes.

Then the conversation on FB went like this:
Sister: That river pageant looks just like the Kuomboka
Me: Doesn't it tho?
Sister: Ja except the Lozis are feistier oarsmen
Me: say that again! And not afraid to get a bit more nekkid!

The Kuomboka Ceremony takes place in the Zambezi floodplains of western Zambia. The Lozi people live on these floodplains - which flood once a year anywhere between February and April. The land is so fertile that people have for centuries built mounds on the plains where they have established villages and planted gardens. Each year, however, the plains flood and the mounds become overrun with rats, snakes and insects escaping the rising water. And so the people too, are forced to move to higher ground. This is done in mighty stylish and dramatic fashion in the famous Ku-Omboka ceremony.

Kuomboka literally means 'to get out of the water'. The pageant celebrates the move of the King - the Litunga - from his palace in Lealui in the Barotse Floodplain to the fringes of the forest lands in Limulunga. It has been happening for over 300 years.

The king travels in a huge royal barge called the Nalikwana – the one with the black and white stripes and huge elephant on top. He travels with the royal family their staff and their belongings. The ears of the elephant can be moved from inside the barge and there is also a fire on board, the smoke from which indicates to the people that the king is alive and well.

The King’s wife is on a second barge – the one with the bird on top. The wings of the bird can also be moved up and down.

One website says
“The ceremony begins with the beating of the Maoma Royal War Drum to summon all the paddlers from various parts of Lozi land, 2 days before the actual journey. The sound of the Maoma can be head 15km away from Lealui. On the day of the Kuomboka, the Mutango(the oldest royal drum in the Lozi History) is played at Limbetelo, to announce that the Litunga is ready for the Journey to Limulunga.

The Litunga travels in the Nalikwanda(Royal Barge). It is usually paddled by 120 skillful men and is the first to start off with the Notila, Matende, Mbolyanga, Sabelele, Nalikena and hundreds of other boat following behind.

Once the Nalikwanda docks at Limulunga harbour, men wearing traditional kilts called Liziba perform the royal salute while women wearing their traditional attire called Misisi and Libaki dance and sing Limeka and Liimba which are strictly dances performed by women. The Litunga then disembarks from the Nalikwanda and goes to the royal pavillion called Lutatai.
The paddlers perform the warrior dance Lishoma and then make the royal salute.”

So basically you have the King’s awesome black and white barge, complete with elephant on top with flapping ears, smoke and reverberating drums. And behind him, in their boats – mostly little dugout canoes able to carry a couple of people and their meager belongings - are the rest of the population, all moving to higher ground. No one can overtake the king, only the scout boats. 

scout boat coming into the harbour

A few years ago my sister and I wrote a book on Traditional Zambian Ceremonies. Well, she did the writing I did the logistics. And we attended this ceremony in all its splendour. Wow. The photographer went up in a light aircraft to photograph the ceremony from above. My sister and I stayed on the water, following the Kalikwanda and all the other boats.

The Nalikwanda coming into the harbour with a scout boat

Looking through my pictures now I realize that half of them have been lost. I think I used two memory cards and when I saved them I replaced some of the pictures by mistake. No matter, I still have some. And some awesome memories of course. 


Val said...

we looked for the litunga's barge! this is great - hope i get to see it for real one day. would have been so cool if they had been on the thames that day but maybe a bit cold for their liking

Robyn said...

fantastic! but imagine the rain in the thames if they went!

Anonymous said...

Amazing. Maybe for the Platinum Jubilee? Sure Prince Philip would be up for it!

Seka Theatre said...

Val - wow, wouldn't THAT have been cool! The Litunga does change into a British admiral's uniform half way through the kuomboka so he would have fit right in!

Robyn - legend has it that when the procession on boats in the kuomboka rounds a certain bend in the river it always rains - so they would be used to it!

Mud - I bet he would!