Kuomboka: a Ceremony Worth Witnessing
Kuomboka. A word that translates from the beautiful Lozi language as ‘emerge from the water’. A distinct sense of celebration surrounds the atmosphere as the upper Zambezi River is at the height of its flood. The soils that demarcate the land from the flood plains are crowded. Jubilant women sing and clap – their hands moving to a rhythm that perfectly matches the movement of their traditional musisi dresses. The Nalikwanda prepares to take off; its black and white stripes complimenting the view of the flood plains. Rhythmic drumming and the ring of the marimba announces the presence of royalty and the start of the Kuomboka ceremony.
The Litunga, who is dressed in his traditional siziba attire, enters the Nalikwanda – which is large enough to accommodate his honorary guest, attendants, musicians and one hundred paddlers who wear a red beret as part of their uniform. The Queen’s boat follows the Nalikwanda as the adoring crowd marvels at the procession from the banks of the river. Many people have travelled far to witness this important occasion – a great number from international countries.
Sunset approaches. The crowds have tirelessly awaited the arrival of the Litunga at Limulunga. The rhythmic movement of the paddlers arms has remained consistent, despite the fact that they have been paddling for approximately eight hours. As the convoy of royal boats halt at the foot of the hills that house the Limulunga, the Litunga emerges – dressed in a British Ambassador’s uniform. This is a tradition that has been passed down since King Lewanika attended the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902. Dusk arrives; the celebrations continue at the Palace in honour of the Litunga who has successfully relocated his people to safety.
For the Lozi-speaking people of Zambia’s Western Province, this is the most important traditional ceremony of the year. As the upper Zambezi River floods – indicating the end of the rain season in April – the Litunga (king) relocates from his compound in Lealui of the Barotse Floodplain to his Winter Palace in Limulunga, which is on higher ground. His relocation is an indication of the Litunga leading his people to a safer environment; originally, this relocation was a mark of the Lozi people’s fight for survival from natural occurrences. It continues to be honoured in similar fashion to date.
During the celebrations, guests are served snacks and beverages on Makenge basket trays. These trays are exclusively made in the Western province, through a skilled process of weaving roots from the makenge bush. The weaving is an intricate skill that has been practiced for hundreds of years; the skill is passed down from generation to generation. Although these makenge basket trays are accessories used to serve guests, they are also popular during the time of marriage across all Zambian tribes. The handwoven baskets are gifted to brides as they start their homes; in most cases, the brides preserve the baskets and pass them down to their daughters when their time to marry comes. A single basket can be used for over one hundred years in one family – simply by being passed on from mother to daughter and so on.
Over the years, married women in Zambia have used the makenge basket to store food. The baskets also add a touch of art to homes when they are used as wall and table decorations.
This traditional weaving practice has been adapted to a contemporary style that allows current day families to embrace Zambian culture and art by decorating their homes with the makenge basket trays. These trays are available for purchase at our Africonté store. Shop now and indulge in the rich culture of beautiful Zambia.