Traditional Ceremonies: A Zambian Safari!

Zambia safari has it all …an ideal tourist destination for that special holiday of your lifetime. And Africa’s undiscovered gem! But why? Because of the rich cultural heritage, the spectacular wildlife, the unforgettable adventure and the awesome beauty.

And don’t forget Zambia is home to the mystic and awesome Victoria Falls. And Zambians are well known for being warm and friendly people. Zambia safari is a cultural tourism you’ll remember.

Rich Cultural Heritage

With a population of only 10 million people in a country of 753,614 sq km Zambia is large country. It’s larger than Texas in the USA and has one of the lowest populations to land ratio in Africa. The high urbanisation has resulted in massive tracts of uninhabited land across the country. But, however, many of the rural inhabitants have retained their indigenous and traditional customs and values.

The government recognizes this and has set up institutions to protect and promote Zambian culture. The National Heritage Conservation Commission is one. Government and private museums and cultural villages promote the expression of artistic talents.

Over 73 dialects are spoken in Zambia but the official language is English and most Zambians speak it fairly well. All media and business is in English. Bemba is the next most commonly spoken language, followed by Nyanja. Other large languages are Tonga, Luvale, Lozi. Being a haven of peaceful Zambia has hosted many refuges from the neighbouring countries in the past and still do today. It’s an epitome of unity in diversity.

Traditional Ceremonies

Would you have known it? Zambia has numerous traditional ceremonies. But a word of advice! They generally do not follow the normal calendar. The weather elements and a bit of “sniffing around” or such related matters bring things to bear on the date… if you get the drift…

But seriously, the timing of most traditional ceremonies depend more on natural factors such as rainfall, the season, the position of the moon, the month, etc. If you happen to be around when one of these ceremonies is on don’t miss the opportunity. Just ask your tour operators they’ll advise you.

There are more than 21 annual traditional ceremonies cerebrated in Zambia. They generally manifest customs, social life, rituals, oral history, material and spiritual culture. They provide a valuable insight to a traditional culture that has been passed down from generation to generation.

Two of the more colourful traditional ceremonies are Ku-omboka and Umutombuko.


The Ku-omboka means “to get out of the water onto dry ground”. Every year during the rainy season as the floodwater of the upper Zambezi River valley rises, the Lozi people make a ceremonial move to higher ground.

They pack their belongings into canoes ….and the whole tribe leaves en mass! The Litunga (the Lozi King) rides in his royal barge called the “Nalikwanda”. It’s got zebra stripes that run up and down and make it look great on the water. Numerous boats and canoes of all sorts, shape, colour and make follow it.

Just imagine the jostling that gets under way when it’s time for the people to get selected for this great honour, the honour to paddling the royal barge. A troop of traditionally dressed Lozis paddle it with pride. It takes about six hours to cover the distance between the wet season capital Limulunga and the dry season capital Lealui,

This crossing when completed successfully is celebrated with traditional singing and dancing. Great traditional beer and all! This ceremony dates back more than 300 years ago.

The Umutombuko

The celebration is an annual reminder of the victories of Chief Mwata Kazembe of the Lunda people. It commemorates the migration of his great kingdom into Luapula Province of Zambia from the Congo earlier last century. The two-day ceremony is a grand affair, mixed with ritual, semi-mystic performance, pounding drumbeats and long speeches. The women bring tributes of beer and food to the chief.

Then the chief, smeared with white powder, goes to pay homage to his ancestral spirits by pouring the foodstuff in special places such as shrines and into the special lake. Children have a “field day.” They jump into the water to collect the food stuff. …and they get praised for finding the bounty.

Later the Chief is carried in a special hammock back to his palace accompanied by the beating of drums. On the second day, a goat is slaughtered before the Mutomboko dance is opened by the chief. This ceremony takes place in the Luapula Province near the border with DR Congo.