Mwine Lubemba Chitimukulu Kanyanta Manga 11 arrive at the arena to start the Annual Ukusefya pa Ngwena Traditional Ceremony

By Sampa Kabwela

It has become apparent to me that there is nothing more to us, Zambians. We are not a people deeply rooted in any traditions, beliefs, rituals or anything. This idea that we are a great people with values and traditions passed down millennia is a myth.

Everything about us is violable. There are no red lines; for us, anything goes. Perhaps, Zambia is what it is; a name, a place and a bunch of people bound together by nothing more than fate.

I attended the installation of Chitimukulu, Henry Kanyanta Sosala, a few years ago. It was also my first time to attend Ukusefya Pangwena, the traditional ceremony which celebrates the migration of Bemba people from the Luba Kingdom in Congo, to present-day Zambia.

If my going there was a pilgrimage to celebrate my identity, history and Bembaness, I came back lost and deeply troubled.

There were thousands of people, the air filled with intrigue and mystery as royal drummers and courtiers performed rituals which seemed to evoke the presence of celestial beings. The festivities reached a crescendo as Mwine Lubemba, Chiti Mukulu, made his grand entry, as courtiers, singers and dancers punctuated each step with rituals, praises and song.

I waited for the grandest of this historical moment to see the Chitimukulu enter the main arena hoisted high on the back of a crocodile, pa ng’wena, adorned in sacred and scary regalia rich with charms, beads, history and perhaps bits from the dead.
Alas, the Chitimukulu entered the main arena. Yes, he looked like a King, but not a Bemba one. His regalia was an unfamiliar piece of identity, an excessively shiny, multicoloured golden embellished robe with a matching crown, bearing no historical reference nor significance. It looked like the sort you would see in an Asian movie mimicking opulence.

Rather than find myself in Chitimukulu’s pieces of identity, I was lost in them. But nothing would prepare me for the caricature, the paper-mâché crocodile upon which his throne was hoisted, and upon which the whole ceremony of Bemba migration is told.

Bemba people, listen, if you are reading this; that ‘crocodile’ is a travesty. If we are half a great people as we purport to be, the story of Mukulumpe, Chiti, Nkole and the Bemba empire cannot be told on the back of that ‘joke’, and the Mpezeni agrees. He had offered to summon among his subjects, the best taxidermists and sculptors to mount a life-size crocodile and gift it to the Bemba people.

Once, I watched another traditional ceremony and was at a loss of words. A mobile company had supposedly sponsored the ceremony — nearly all the subjects including courtiers where brandished in the corporate colour of the mobile company. Their Chief arrived in a BMW, open roof, standing and waving at subjects in a manner of a small-time politician. In a different ceremony, their Chief too, arrived in a land cruiser and by so doing, skipping half the rituals. I cannot think of anything as sad as these moments.

I have seen a chief interviewed on television clad in a pair of jeans. By all means, our chiefs should wear jeans if they so desire, drive good cars and surf the internet. But in life, time and place are important. Those western suits, Brazilian weaves and wigs not only reduce the natural authority and mystery that royals have, but they also make a joke of us, their subjects. Those graduate-like gowns and police uniforms worn by members of different royal establishments, what is the story with that?
Surely, we have keepers of royal histories who can work with local designers to interpret and reconstruct authentic and aesthetic royal regalia and emblems. The Ministry of Chief Affairs could be of more value by embarking on such a project with different royal establishments, no?

If there is one thing admirable about our colonizer, and the one lesson we failed to learn from them, its keeping tradition. The British love and protect their traditions. They are keepers and guardians of their history and traditions, however trivial — the Japanese; extremely modernized and extremely traditional, all at once. I watched the coronation of their new emperor with fascination; every detail steeped in tradition and history. Closer to home, we have Ethiopians, South Africans all guarding their traditions.

I will never forget a delegation from Botswana halting the official opening of an intergovernmental meeting on account that the shade of blue used in their flag, was wrong. It was a perceptible difference to the rest of us, yet to them, it was a violation of their identity and not tolerable. The meeting couldn’t start until a new flag with the correct colour was found. In our case, the green colour on our flag is changeable and violable; the latest version is neon green, different from an earlier variation of a deep vegetation green. Our identity crisis is deep so much so that in search for a new identity, we resorted to a chicken as a national monument and symbol of our identity.

These days, pasta and noodles are our new norm. For most women, the coveted hair is pieces shaved off from the heads of women of other races, often as sacrifices to their gods. Our schools now teach foreign languages as compulsory while we discard our own. Newborns are now given Hebrew and strange names and spoken to in English. The day you will meet an Englishman called Mulenga Smith, Sibeso Mundia Jackson or Moono Williams, let me know. We have a whole generation who cant speak a word in their mother tongue, yet and sadly, English is not and will never be their mother tongue (Check mate!).
This is profoundly sad, because children are losing not a language, but the encrypted codes by which they must live their lives. I have said this before; our history, beliefs, values and wisdom are strictly tied to the language.

Countrymen, we have to make up our mind on who we are as a people or perhaps ours is a sad case of everything being lost in the fire.

Sampa Kabwela is an artist & publisher. You can reach her on [email protected]

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38 COMMENTS

  1. The tongas are very proud of their traditions and tribe but for that they are called tribal. So go figure

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    • Sampa Kabwela is pretending not to know how Western forenames were introduced to Africans. It’s the reason her chief is also called Henry. Because I know she knows, I won’t say anything more on this issue. On regalia at ceremonies, Kabwela should know that there was a long break in observance of traditional ceremonies because the British colonists had banned them. There was therefore a break in passage of knowledge from one generation to the nxt. I, however, agree with her on our failure to draw lines in the sand that ought not to be crossed. She’s a thoughtful critic who likes to say it as it is. I would want to meet her one day.

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    • Identity Identity my foot!
      This is the same woman wearing a wig duped to believe its Brazilian hair yet very much Indian!

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    • Here in the diaspora, we are now hiding in the cultures of Nigerians and South Africans. It’s bad!

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    • That is a styupid picture and ignorance in a mix!! Why Chitimukulu sitting on sofa/couch? Nothing looks traditional on that. It is like playing Michael Jackson music at Ukusafya Pa Ngwena ceremony.
      By-the-way, Zambian identity is not Chitimukulu…

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    • Government must make Sampa Kabwela a cabinet minister in charge of cultural and the creative arts and do away with Ministry of Religious affairs. We need a cultural direction. We don’t need a Christian dictatorship

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    • Most “traditions ” are silly and steeped in superstition. I choose to use LOGIC to determine how I live and not some outdated silly, superstitious beliefs. Look at Sosala being carried like he does anything productive, when all he does is rant about silly notions

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    • And then these crazy Northerners don’t even know what a crock looks like. that’s a cartoon. Lol I would understand the People from N.W, Western, Luapula and Eastern were we have rivers that carry crocs. Correct me if am wrong do these thieves from Northern have croc infested rivers?

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    • They main be proud but how many books have they written in their language. How many 30 year olds and younger Tongas can read and write their language?

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    • To think that media houses lack serious topics to debate! Partly the reason why “development” still remains a dream!

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    • Nzelu I’m impressed that you too know that and I agree but how many Zambian Christians actually know that Jesus was black?

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    • Good observation. Zambians celebrate Guy Fawkes Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Beerfest, etc. its ridiculous.

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  2. “Perhaps, Zambia is what it is; a name, a place and a bunch of people bound together by nothing more than fate.”

    The origin of Mighty Zambezi, its flow into maturity and the stories of it’s main arteries Kafue and Luangwa is what binds the peoples, wildlife and vegetation that are Zambia. This may be called fate but so does fate bind all peoples as all are of the same earth.

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    • Just the name Zambezi itself isn’t Zambian. The Lozis call it Lyambai and the Luvales call it Lyambezhi. So this country is supposed to be Lyambia..

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  3. Iwe Sampa, are you saying the traditional ceremony of the Bembas should remain the same as it was initially celebrated? Should it not be an expression of how it has moved with the changing times? Are you saying anything that defines the identity of a people should remain pristine and frozen in time? Tontonkanyapo bwino, chikashana!

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  4. Sampa is a luminary, a keeper of our Cultural( with a capital “C”) conscious and an example of what it is to be educated. The saying goes: “Once you educate a woman, you educate a nation”. Zambians, rally behind this “ once in a generation “ genius and help to rescue Zambia from cultural inhalation.

    As always, mwabombeni mayo Ba Sampa.

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    • Yes! Remember we are just a bunch of Coward’s who fled from different tribal war’s, it’s impossible to have a strong culture. The only thing we have in common is bungweele (cowardice). In short we are all imports.

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  5. Other cultures are using corruption to destroy our Zambian culture. They use so called donations to State House to influence Chiefs to kill our tradition and culture. Today you hear of Chief issuing statements banning this or banning that in their Chiefdoms all because of a mighty dollar. No child marriage, no initiation ceremonies, no this etc etc. phuck these stooped chiefs. Lusaka ‘lifestyle’ with a fake accent is now Zambian culture it’s a shame!

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  6. I don’t know about others but our Tumbuka people take pride in our culture,heritage and traditions.

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  7. Ba Sampa, ifyo fyabupuba. Dont mix your education if there is any with law of order, Critic is free but give it where you have enough understanding how it was done 90 years ago. Now if your source of critic is secondary information then your long article is empty banee.

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  8. Well illustrated Sampa. To start with our Bemba king has a slave name “SOSALA’ from saucer. Such travesty. The custodian of the Bemba culture with that name.
    Again where are the royal historians? I encourage you Sampa to offer your scribe skills to document otherwise we will end up be THE CHRISTIAN NATION a foreign culture. Some one claims Jesus was BLACK my foot!

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    • He was. Jesus wasn’t white. He was portrayed as white to enhance white superiority. Don’t you read?

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    • Ayatollah
      Even if culture is dynamic that ka crocodile and the ka sofa are an embarrasment,and to imagine that this is the first time someone has talked about it is an indictment on us as a people.Added to that is the ka talkative chief…

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  9. I have always wondered after seeing the chief off a BMW at the ceremony, the paper mache not life like crocodile. Let’s get our historians and designers to come up with some designs. Same with our homes where we dont teach our children the local lengual. Our languages will soon die, only a few prominent ones will remain. Do ur part!!!!

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  10. The ceremony must now be called UkuSofa pa Ng’wena. I wonder why all this fuss though because what’s unfolding in Zambia is all by our own design, a country united only by the impulse to disunity. We are such different people culturally, this country is not sustainable in the long term.

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  11. Let’s face it, Northwest, parts of Central, Western and Southern should be a separate country on its own while Luapula. Muchinga, Northern and Copperbelt should be ceded to Zaire because they’re culturally the same people. Eastern can join Nyasaland, bayo chucunganya lipeba!

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  12. One problem with some ceremonies is cruelty to animals. I think using paper crocodile is progressive. Taxidermy, slaughtering and drinking bull’s blood, eating goat balls are immoral and Satanic (superstitious).

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  13. A tradition can be started at any time. Simply ask yourself, “What matters? What has enduring meaning?” and do what you can to fight for preserving that.

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  14. Well done and good observation but just that we all aliens from different countries and it is for that we need to keep the tradition of were we coming from and by so doing it will mean we are absolutely lost. Bemba are very cleaver and no tribe can be compared to these chaps,just by looking you can tell so please careful ha aha ha kiki kiki wanyala.

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  15. @ Fact Checker # give us a citation that say Jesus was Black. Because he was of the Jews, were the jews Black?

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  16. Intrusive, illuminating and enriching piece of writing from Madam Kabwela. Good use of lively words and fitting words. If she had used an example of non-Bemba speaking ceremonies, she would have been branded a tribalist. Article proves her firm belief in the preservation of our culture irrespective of our diverse tribal/ethnic backgrounds.

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  17. Decolonize by taking away Brazilian hair, bra, high heel shoes etc. from Zambian women.
    Chicken identity it is. Foreigners coming to Lusaka from the airport can see huge white chicken welcoming them in midst of Hybrid roundabout. Not a lion, any of big five or even an eagle. Just a God damned chicken.

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