The ceremony has a rich historical background. The drumming announces the event. With the imposing Nalikwanda (the king's boat) 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.
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. 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 literally means "to move out of the water".
But there's more! Legends say 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 each year in a 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.
The Best of Zambia team went to Kuomboka in 2010 courtesy of Zed Extreme Adventure Safaris in partnership with the Travel Shop.
Tour operators that can take you to the Kuomboka ceremony
The performance and weaving of various paddling styles, dances, songs, colourful scenes, dressing styles, cultural and traditional homage and multitude of tourists perch the Kuomboka Ceremony in the top-list of the water festivals performed the world over.
The Kuomboka is the traditional ceremony held annually to mark the movement of the king to higher ground at the beginning of the rains. It's a time of great celebration, and the ceremony is conducted to the pounding of drums, while the paddlers, resplendent in animal skins, dance and sing.
Music and dance
There is a band of musicians within the king's court; they sing as well as play musical instruments. These musicians perform on state occasions, the instruments used by this band include a wide variety of drums (kettle, friction, small tube-shaped drums, and war drums), marimbas, the kangomhbro or zanza (ten pieces of metal fixed around a plate of hardwood on an empty calabash), various stringed instruments made of the ribs of fan palms, iron bells, rattles, and pipes of ivory, wood, or reeds.
The Lozi outfits are interesting in both their history and design. The traditional costumes are simply a functional adaption of the famous Scottish kilt and beret. The red beret and the ivory bangles remain modern day symobols for the Lozi people.