Exploring the Mutomboko Ceremony as a First-Time Visitor
Updated: Oct 16
Why you need a Guide I finally understand why people blame the devil and/or witchcraft for their stupid actions. Sometimes, it is the only explanation: at least, it is the only explanation I have for why I found myself face to face with an angry member of the Bashi Muselo telling me to take off my shoes smack in the middle of the Mutomboko ceremony after I had just tried to walk over the Muselo while trying to make my way to the arena. I was part of a group of photographers and travel writers under the patronage of the Museum of Women's History and the Ministry of Tourism and therefore, had accreditation to access the main arena but, I had chosen to sit in the crowd to avoid drawing the attention of people whose view I would be obstructing.
I couldn't see or hear much so I decided since I had the option to move closer, I would take it. I got up, paying attention not to be obstructive and yet for a still unfathomable reason (it was witchcraft) I got distracted and tried to walk over the umuselo. The next minute, a man was grabbing my foot and demanding that I take off my shoes: so much for not attracting attention. Feeling people's eyes boring into my back, I sat down, shakily took off my shoes and handed them to him. I heard them demand payment for my insolence and to get my shoes back, but all I had on me was a bottle of water, hand cream and sunscreen. I considered handing over my sun glasses, a gift worth a considerable amount but luckily, a man seating near me took pity on my poor distracted soul and handed over a K50 after prostrating himself and asking them to forgive me as I was clearly new to the ceremony. I say "Luckily" because in retrospect, Bashi Muselo probably would have taken my paying in glasses -albeit expensive sunglasses- as even more insolence. My preserver was mistaken about one thing though: I knew I wasn't supposed to be anywhere near the Muselo; someone had clearly bewitched me and I lost my sense. We were in Luapula after all, the witchcraft central of the Republic of Zambia. At least, that's my excuse and I am sticking to it. He was, however, right about me being new to the ceremony. This was the first time I had attended the Mutomboko Traditional Ceremony or any traditional ceremony anywhere.
Mutomboko is the traditional ceremomy of the Luba and Lunda people of Luapula province. It is held annually in Mwansabombwe District on the last weekend of July and celebrates the advent of the Lunda and Luba kingdom from Kola in modern day Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The Umutomboko is a war dance of the Lunda performed by the Mwata Kazembe.Clad in a Mukonso and armed with the Mpoko and Chisoka, the Umutomboko is the culmination of a two-day celebration preceded by rituals such as paying homage to the ancestors, chanting, dancing and merry making.
How to get there
There is an airline that offers flights from Lusaka International airport to Mansa. It is a couple hours’ drive from here to Mwansabombwe. Driving is probably the best alternative as it allows you to travel at your own pace and take in the sights on the way. The bus is another (cheaper) alternative and my preferred way of travelling around the country. I got on a bus from Kitwe and got off right in the town of Kazembe for the Mutomboko ceremony. A bus is convenient for me because it comes without the obligation to make conversation. I read and listen to podcasts the whole way. I also had another first when I got on a motorbike taxi which I will unashamedly admit was more fun than I had imagined. Where to stay
The committee usually has a list of available accommodation and rates. My suggestion is to contact them when planning your visit to the ceremony. Be warned though, Kazembe is still a small rural town with limited accommodation and may not offer amenities that you would normally get in a bigger town. I may have a tale of the English breakfast we were given at the most reputable Lodge in town. It was...memorable. I stayed with a group at Mwaba Mwila Adventures camp site who provided us with Tents and mattresses. All we had to was carry our own Beddings. Be warned: a camping tent can get cold in July; consider bringing a hot water bottle.
Dress, grooming and decorum.
I am a massive fan of self-expression, especially as a woman. However, I would not encourage insisting on this right as a guest at the celebration of other people's culture as it is about them and not you and as such, you would ideally avoid wearing anything that may garner you unnecessary attention. The Lunda are a dignified and modest people whose traditional dress is being fully clothed in ankle length skirts, even for the men. Mutomboko branded chitenge wraps are convenient and readily available at a reasonable price.
You will also need comfortable walking shoes (there is a lot of walking over the 2-day ceremony), bottled water, sunscreen and a face mask to reduce how much dust you inhale. There is a lot of dust. The people of Mwansabombwe are friendly and courteous. You may return the courtesy by being a respectful observer. Clap 3 times in greeting and add ‘mwane’ to your response and definitely stay away from the Muselo used to carry the Mwata and the men who carry him on it.
Do NOT try to touch it and certainly do not try to walk over it. Who knows if you will live to tell the tale as I have.
Words by -
Chansa Chisha: https://www.facebook.com/afrohotmess?mibextid=ZbWKwL
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