Zambian ceremonies: the good, the bad and the ugly

Zambian ceremonies: the good, the bad and the ugly

When you read this we are, hopefully, safe and sound in Tanzania. However, I promised you a post about strange ceremonies in Zambia. So here it goes…

In Zambia there are 73 tribes, which also means 73 languages. Only the Western province has kings, the other tribes have chiefs. The kings of the Western province have lots of influence in Zambia as a whole. Our friend Justay is from the Kawonde tribe, which is one of the major ones in the North West. Fishing and hunting is their main activity whereas in Chadiza (Eastern province) the majority is into farming. This differs per region.

The story behind the mask

At the market in Livingstone we bought two masks of which one was used for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving in Zambia is a little different from the one in Canada and the USA. Here the boys wear those masks to pray to their ancestors for the rain to come. This happens mostly in the Western part of Zambia. People go to special sacred places to pray. This special place is mostly a tree that can handle dry periods. Around this tree they place several stones. Here they talk to their ancestors, bring gifts etc. Though we don’t have to thank for the rain in The Netherlands I think it is nice to have a thanksgiving mask in our house. To thank our ancestors for their hard work to make the lives of our grand parents, parents and our own brighter and easier. Thanks to them we are now able to travel to this part of the world and seeing and doing amazing things.

The other mask we bought is of a boy becoming a man. In Zambia there are many different ceremonies but one of the most important ones is a child becoming an adult. Within the ceremony of a boy becoming a man they go into the forest for about three months. Here they dance around fires, hunt animals down and in the end they get circumcised. When they get back from this initiation they are man enough to be able to sit with the wise and older men and discuss business.

Becoming a woman

Girls also get a ceremony of becoming a woman. In three months girls learn how to cook, how to clean, take care of children and of course how to serve their husband in bed. Normally this last part is just told by a grown woman who has experienced this herself, though there are some tribes that blindfold the little girl in a room where she sits on a blanket. An older man then comes in to have sex with her so she knows what it is like and how it feels. With that last part of the ceremony she becomes a woman. She is not allowed to talk to other girls anymore cause they didn’t go through the ceremony yet. However, according to Justay the end of the ceremony is changing. It still happens in the Eastern and Western provinces but it’s getting less due to the increase of Christianity.

In the same region there is another strange ceremony where the chief spears a cow to drink the blood of it when the cow is still alive. This ceremony is called Inchuala and is a ceremony for the chief and the ancestors.

Kuomboka ceremony

Not all ceremonies are bad. Our friend Justay tells us about a fun ceremony (Kuomboka) where the king of the Rosi people in the Western province moves from one palace to the other right before rain season. When the river becomes a flood he has to shift to the dry plains, this goes along with a lot of music, dances, food and more. A fun festivity where everyone is invited, tourists as well.

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Nyau dancers

There is also the story of the Nyau which we actually got to see when we were meeting our sponsorkids. A traditional ceremony. A Nyao means mask or initiation. This is a secret society of the Chewa, an ethnic group of the Bantu people from Central and Southern Africa. The Nyau society consists of initiated members of the Chewa and Nyanja people, forming the cosmology or indigenous religion of the people. Nyau masked dancers are understood to be spirits of the dead. As spirits the masquerades may act with impunity and there have been attacks and deaths during performances in the past. We’ve seen the Nyau dancers and it was quite the show.

As you might know I love cultures and want to know all about it, the good, the bad and the ugly. I guess I did a fine job by getting to know some of the cultural ceremonies of Zambia while being here for only 13 days, right? Let’s see if I can do the same in Tanzania 🙂



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