The Kuomboka ceremony has a rich historical background. ‘Kuomboka’ is a Lozi word that literally means ‘to move out of the water’. The ceremony came about because of the annual flood of the Zambezi River which turns the farmlands of the Malozi into a mighty lake. It becomes necessary for the people to move to higher ground. As the plains around Mongu flood, the Lozi king travels in a large barge, called the Nalikwanda (best know for its black and white stripes), from his dry season palace in Lealui to his rainy season palace in Limulunga. He travels with the royal family, their staff and their belongings. The ceremony is preceded by heavy drumming of the royal Maoma drums, which echo around the royal capital the day before Kuomboka. This drumming announces the event. With the imposing Nalikwanda gently making its way out of the plains steered on by colourfully attired boatmen and songs of jubilation and drumming running away with the wind, it’s hard not to get excited about this special event. You’ll even get opportunities to see Zambian wildlife and birds.
Legends of Kuomboka
There’s never a good story without the slight blend of fiction and drama! We were pleased to discover that the Kuomboka ceremony of the Lozi people has just the right mix. Dating back over 300 years, the Kuomboka ceremony is surrounded by interesting myths and legends.
We know the Kuomboka is known to have come about due to the flooding of the Zambezi plains which forced the Lozi king (the Litunga) to move his people and his belongings to higher grounds every rainy season, thus the term Kuomboka which literally means “to move out of the water”. But there’s more! Legends tell that before the time of the first known male chief, Mboo, there came a great flood called Meyi-a-Lungwangwa, meaning “the waters that swallowed everything.” The vast plain was covered in the deluge, all animals died and every farm was swept away. People were afraid to escape the flood in their little dugout canoes, so it was that the high god, Nyambe, ordered a man called Nakambela to build the first great canoe, Nalikwanda, which means “for the people,” to escape the flood. Thus the start of what is known today as the Kuomboka ceremony.
Another interesting story surrounding the Kuomboka is about the Litunga himself. The Litunga begins the day in traditional dress, but during the journey changes into the full uniform of a British admiral. This uniform is known to have been presented to the Litunga by King Edward VII, in 1902, in recognition of treaties signed between the Lozi people and Queen Victoria. The tradition has been passed down from one Litunga to the next. Each Litunga has his own tailor-made uniform sent from the UK.
The last legend relates to the ceremony finale as the royal watery procession arrives in Limulunga. It is rumoured that every time the Nalikwanda takes the bend that leads up to the harbour of the dry plains, it always rains! Apparently this is because the Lozi king is said to have great mythical powers.
With a rich cultural background, exciting tales of magic and mystery and the colourful eventfulness of it all, the Kuomboka ceremony is definitely a must see. Add it to your list if you want to have a true experience of Zambian culture. The Best of Zambia team went to Kuomboka 2010 courtesy of Zed Extreme Adventure Safaris in partnership with the Travel Shop. Visitors are welcome to the ceremony and Kuomboka cultural tours can be arranged by the Zambian tour operators on the right.