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Discover Kulamba, a Three Nation Traditional Ceremony
October 04, 2006
October 04, 2006 Issue #0019


Written by Enestle Zimba,
Founding Editor
Africa’s Best Kept Secret Ezine
(c) copyright 2006 Zambia African


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================== TABLE OF CONTENTS ===================

o Kulamba, a Three Nation Traditional Ceremony
o Just My Thoughts
o Resource Centre
o Free Trials


o Why is Zambia safari Africa’s best kept secret?

... because of Kulamba, a three-nation traditional
ceremony of the Chewa people of eastern Zambia..

Kulamba traditional ceremony of the Chewa people is
held every August near Katete town some 70 kilometres
southwest of Chipata. Besides being the capital of
Eastern Province Chipata is the gateway to Malawi, the
warm heart of Africa, and South Luangwa, Zambia’s
premier national park. Kulamba traditional ceremony
is also an annual initiation ceremony when young
teenage girls join the celebrated womanhood. Various
‘nyau’ dances entertain the people. The ceremony lasts
for fives days.

The traditional ceremony of Kulamba is normally held
in the last week of August at Mkaika, the headquarters
of the Chewa people of Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique.
Subordinate Chewa chiefs from the three countries
converge at Mkaika near Katete to pay homage and
present their annual reports to their senior ruler,
paramount chief Kalonga Gawa Undi. The name ‘gawa’
means the distributor or giver of land on which all
Chewa people from the three countries live today.

The ceremony showcases the various traditional dances
the Chewa people perform. But one dance can be singled
out. This is the “nyau” dance also known as “gule
wamukulu,” meaning the ‘big dance.’ It is a most
revered dance that is said to involve witchcraft. In
short, the dance is shrouded in secrets. The elders
of the tribe insist that joining the nyau group is
by invitation.

Among the Chewa young boys join the nyau group to
learn life skills required for adult married life.
They are gathered in the bush at a camp called
“mganda” where they spend time to learn the skills
of adult life such as looking after their wives
and their families and above all learning the nyau
tradition and dances.

To graduate and become an adult one needs to learn
the nyau dance. That’s the mark for acceptance by
the society in adulthood. Only then will the young
Chewa man be allowed to take the hand in marriage
of a young lady from a respectable family. So the
“nyau” phase in life is a must for all young boys.
It is an initiation ceremony for boys to join the
adult life. Upon graduation a few dancers are
retained in the nyau group to continue the legacy.

Meanwhile at the mganda camp only men are allowed.
The men attend to the costumes, teach the young boys
and provide food to “nyau” dancers. On their part
the nyau have the liberty to steal domesticated
animals such as goats, pigs, chickens, doves, etc,
from the villages. The ‘bounty’ constitutes part
of the food consumed in the camp.

The nyau costume consists of a mask on the face and
birds’ feathers and animal skin on rest of the head.
Generally the rest of the body is not covered except
between the waist and the knees. A wrap like skirt
made of strips of animal skins or cloth is used to
cover this part of the body. The nyau also wears
bells around his uncles. The bells are either made
of metal or from a type of fruit shell dried hard
and filled with stones.

The costume is designed to hide the identity of the
nyau dancer. He changes his voice to a guttural
sound so that even his wife may not recognize him.
With this identity change nyau dancers can, with
impunity, steal domestic animals from the villages.
Some type of nyau may attach people at they own whim.
It’s part of the tradition...

The sound from the bells as the nyau dances adds to
the rhythm of the drumbeat while the feminine singing
voices by women complement the melody. When dancing
the nyau appears to follow the drumbeats of the lead
drum called “mbalule” but in fact it is the lead
drummer who follows the dancer routines.

The lead drummer knows all the dance routines the
nyau performs, of course, the result of long practice.
Generally the dance routines involve a lot of foot
thumbing, waist gyrating and arms flailing. The better
the dancer the more body movement and intricate ones
too. The lead drum, mbalule, is the most important
musical instrument in the nyau dance and you can
recognize its unique loud tone miles away.

At the start of the dancing a nyau dancer will appear
from the nearby bush where all the nyaus dress up.
From his costume people instantly know the type of
nyau and what to expect, trouble or fun. The nyau
will introduce the song and interestingly the women
will pick it up because the songs are well known and
popular. However the dance routines are quite varied.
Some are somber, others are cheerful while others are
meant to frighten the day light out of you. Some walk
and dance on stilts.

There are a variety of nyau dancers. They appear at
different occasions particularly on functions such as
weddings, funerals, installation of chiefs, initiation
ceremonies, etc. The dress code depends on whether
the nyau dancer is for the purpose of creating fear
or entertainment.

Some nyaus are very cruel. They may beat or whip
anybody at will but others are very friendly. The
cruel ones cover their bodies completely to avoid
recognition. These are the most feared. So find out
the occasion and what nyau dances are expected to be
performed. You could be in for a rude shock or real fun.

Another important function of the Kulamba is the
girls’ initiation ceremony. As Kulamba was celebrated
“Anamwali,” the young teenage girls who come of age
leave their confinement home where they would have
spent time learning life skills and responsibilities
of adult womanhood. The new graduates aged between
13 to 19 years, bare-breasted and painted in bright
colours dance in the main arena. When dancing the
girls go down on knees and sit on their heels while
gyrating their waists. It’s a great display of rhythm
and coordinated movement.

During the ceremony you have choices to make. What
dance to watch and which arena to go to because the
arenas are many and some have the same or similar
dances being performed. It’s a question of what
interests you most...

On the eve of the last day people prepare various
activities to be displayed to Gawa Undi, their
traditional ruler, in the main arena the following
day. Government officials from the three countries
normally would be present.

In the evening the paramount chief is taken away to
an isolated place called ‘Gwalada’ where he spends the
night alone. No one is allowed here. It is prohibited
especially to all women including Undi’s wife. In the
morning Gawa Undi joins his subjects at Mkaika for
the final day of Kulamba Ceremony. He enters the arena
straight from his royal retreat and is escorted by
indunas (tribal elders).

The first action of Chief Undi is to greet ‘Mama Nyangu’
his traditional mother before taking his position on the
royal throne under the shelter among his guests. Chief
Undi would then address his people. Thereafter his
subordinate chiefs from various places would present
gifts to him. Government officials, members of the
house of chiefs and individuals followed suit.
Meanwhile dances by nyau, anamwali and the women folk
continue until dusk.

Throughout the Kulamba ceremony people enjoy
traditional food, drinks and dances. For those with
acquired foreign tastes exotic drinks and foodstuffs
are also available.


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~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~JUST MY THOUGHTS~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Chief Undi’s guest list is both national and international.
As a rule government officials from Zambia (normally the
president’s personal representative), from Mozambique and
Malawi are invited. The senior chiefs from other ethnic
groups and Undi’s subordinate chiefs also attend. In 2006
the Mozambiquan Tete Province governor Eximo Seghor was
guest of honour. Paramount chief M’mbelwa of the Ngoni
people of Malawi also attended the ceremony.

Kulamba is indeed a great traditional ceremony. It pulls
together the traditional dancers from three countries
who entertain people. And the attending people can’t be
distinguished as Chewas from Zambia, Mozambique or
Malawi. During the period of the ceremony the Chewas
from Malawi and Mozambique literally walk into Zambia
without visas. They don’t need them. It’s reminiscent
of the bygone era before British colonization. But all
end up at the capital of the Chewa, Mkaika, to join in
praising their ruler with the common ‘Yooh! Gawa!’

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Written by: Enestle Zimba
Africa’s Best Kept Secret Ezine
73 Eucalyptus Avenue,
Luanshya, Zambia
(c) copyright 2006 Zambia African

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