Kuomboka – Coming Out of the Water

Every year, as summer gives way to winter, the Kuomboka procession is a flurry of vibrant colours, beating drums and chanting voices. This annual procession marks the transition of the Litunga (Lozi King) from his summer to winter residence, which is located on higher ground, away from the seasonal floodplains.

Kuomboka Procession on the Nalikwanda

The exact date changes every year, depending on the ebb and flow of the natural world and has been postponed for the last two years owing to the pandemic. On the return of the Kuomboka this year we were fortunate enough to have renowned Zambian photographer, Patrick Bentley at our Time + Tide King Lewanika Camp in Liuwa Plain to capture scenes of the highly energetic, wonderfully noisy and colourful event. 

Read more to see details of the day through Patrick’s spectacular images capturing the raw, real and immersive culture of the Lozi community.

Departing Lealui Palace 

In the early hours of the morning, before dawn has broken across the plains, a drum is beaten to signify the eminent departure of the Litunga from the Lealui Palace. When the sun finally rises above the horizon, the Mwenduko drum is leaned against a pole facing east, signifying that all is ready, and the ceremony is about to proceed. 

First to appear and board the Nalikwanda (the great dugout canoe) are the 180 royal paddlers, clad in traditional siziba attire that features red, the colour of warriors. A magnificent sight, the Nalikwanda is painted with bold black and white stripes – black for the Lozi people and white for spirituality. Representing authority of power, a towering statue of an elephant sits atop the first barge, complete with moveable ears.

Kuomboka Procession on the Nalikwanda

Finally, once everyone else has boarded, the Litunga makes his way onto the first boat of the Nalikwanda against the rhythmic chanting of praise for him. Once settled, a chorus of drums begin playing a song called the Ifulwa, which marks the official start of the journey to the Limulunga Palace. For the last ceremonial step before departing, the paddlers sing songs about how the great Nalikwanda was built by the Lozi people, and songs of praise for the strength, bravery and tact of the paddlers. 

Kuomboka Royal Paddlers

The Procession

As the full Nalikwanda procession departs, the royal musicians on board continue the festivities. Smaller barges join the procession, travelling in beautiful displays of alternating circles on either side of the main barges. Throughout the journey, a fire burns on board the Litunga’s boat – the smoke being used as a long-distance signal that the king is alive and well. Halfway through the Kuomboka procession, the boats dock at Namutikitela to allow the paddlers to rest and enjoy a traditional Lozi meal of meat and ilya (a thick maize porridge made with sour milk). 

Lozi community taking part in the Kuomboka Procession

Music of the Kuomboka 

Music plays a fascinating role in the procession, acting as a form of beautiful, complex communication between those on the boats and those they pass by. The royal paddlers sing continuously, with the melodies changing depending on the needs of the group. If a paddler is lagging behind the rhythm of the others, the melody changes to inform him. If he fails to keep up, he will be transferred to a smaller barge, and in extreme cases, if he resists, he will be thrown overboard. Throughout the journey, the royal musicians play the Maoma drums and Lozi silimba (a wooden xylophone), calling for people to follow them to higher grounds. 

Arriving at Limulunga Palace

Upon arriving at the Limulunga Palace, the Litunga disembarks and walks majestically into the Royal Pavilion. To honour his arrival, men perform the royal homage of kneeling, bowing their heads andclapping the Kushowelala song, while the women sing and dance. The royal paddlers dance like warriors and perform the Lozi Royal Salute. For the rest of the day, a variety of convivial song and dance are performed, ending with the final beats of the Moama drum at 10pm, which signals the safe arrival of the Litunga on higher ground. 

We look forward to welcoming our guests in immersing themselves and experiencing the culture and energy of Liuwa Plain’s Lozi people with us at Time + Tide King Lewanika. The road less travelled awaits…

 

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