The Kuomboke Ceremony

© Kuomboke arrival of flotilla at Limalunga
The Kuomboke ceremony is the most significant cultural event in south-western Zambia. It is an annual celebration by the Lozi people, who gather in their thousands to pay tribute to their king and those who have gone before him. The ceremony marks the seasonal pulse of the Zambezi.

Photo: Courtesy Images of Africa

The ceremony has its origins in the traditional annual migration of the Lozi people from the Barotseland flood plains in western Zambia, where they spent eight months of the year growing crops, to higher adjacent ground when the summer rains made the wetlands uninhabitable. Kuomboke means "to move away from water".Today, the ceremony is largely ritualistic but has become a major event for many people, who turn up for the symbolic journey of the Lozi king (known as the Litunga) as he leads a flotilla of boats along the waterlogged flood plains from his summer palace, Lealui, to his winter quarters, Limulunga, near the modern-day town of Mongu, 10km away.The ceremony begins the night before with an all-night drumming session in which the Lozi's 200-year-old war drums, the Maoma, are used. The next morning, marching bands and musicians entertain the crowds as they wait for the king to board his barge, the Nalikwanda.A hundred twenty bare-chested men row the royal barge to the pulsating sounds of the traditional orchestra of drums and Lozi xylophones. An interesting feature of the procession is that the king boards his barge in ordinary clothing and disembarks in the full dress of a British admiral to the rapturous applause of onlookers.This part of the ceremony commemorates the granting by Britain of protectorate status to Barotseland in 1900 and the subsequent presentation by King Edward VII of a full admiral's uniform to the Lozi king at the signing of the treaties. The king will disembark only after the sun sets, paving the way for a night of wild festivity.The timing of the ceremony depends on the rains and the level of the water in the flood plains, making it difficult for the visitor to plan in advance the opportunity to witness the ceremony. Nonetheless, anyone wanting to do so should contact the Zambian Tourism Authority in Livingstone.Brett Hilton-Barber and Lee R. Berger. Copyright © 2010 Prime Origins.

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