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Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Pulling down the clouds

By Andrew Mulenga

It is easy to be swept into the merriment and festival atmosphere of the Chakwela Makumbi ceremony of the Soli people in Lusaka province as you mingle with the crowds outside the palace’s main arena almost forgetting the whole essence of the event.

Nkomesha on her way to the arena
It is only when one tries to follow the traditional procession of the and gets to listen to the host, her royal highness Chieftainess Nkomeshya Mukamambo II that one can learn and try to understand of the whole purpose of the occasion.

“The essential principle and purpose of this ceremony is to ask our ancestral spirits and the almighty God through prayers, for good rainfall and other favourable weather conditions, so that people can grow more food for themselves to eat,” read part of her written speech to the guest of honour, the Vice President Dr Guy Scott, other dignitaries and guests including the Tourism and Arts Minister Sylvia Masebo, members of the diplomatic, business and farming communities.

Chakwela Makumbi, a Soli phrase loosely means ‘to pull down the clouds’, it is a spiritual undertaking, that involves  her royal highness praying for  a good rain season in preparation for the planting of good seed of which she symbolically  has to be the very first person to plant a seed.

Escorts clear the way
for the chieftainess
In her speech, she also seized the opportunity to thank the Patriotic Front government for a number of developmental projects in her chiefdom in the areas of education, agriculture, health and road networks.

In education she thanked government for the construction of four classroom blocks and a staff house at Mikango Basic School, a dormitory at Mukamambo II Girls’ School, six classrooms at Twatasha Basic School (ZNS) Airport, 3 classrooms and a staff house at Twikatane Basic School and students' hostels at Chalimbana Local Government Training Institute.

“I would like to greatly thank the PF government for having transformed the National in Service Teachers College (NISTCOL) into a full-fledged university. I sincerely thank his Excellency the president of the republic of Zambia Mr Michael Chilufya Sata for recognising this historic
A rifleman finishes
cocking his muzzleloader
institution by turning it into a university. I am reliably informed that they will commence degree programmes in January, 2013,” she stated.

She also thanked the president for having transformed Palabana Daily Training Institute into a University as well. And although she was thankful for the completion of 10 staff houses at Chongwe district hospital as well as the construction of four health centres, namely; Bimbe, Mulalika, Katoba and Chute, she appealed for the construction of more staff houses, more professional staff members and the provision of necessary equipment. She emphasised that there was also need for X-ray, theatre and maternity facilities and the construction of a shelter for those caring for patients.

On agriculture, she was very pleased with this year’s season citing a bumper harvest. And while she appreciated the
The chieftainess in prayer
fertilizer support programme, she appealed to government through the guest of honour to double the inputs from four to eight packets as it was in the past, but also hoped for earlier delivery and distribution. She was also unhappy with the payment system for the farmers and hoped a better one could be devised so that the farmers are able to plan for the next farming season.

She thanked government for the road works on the crossing points at Chibombe, Kasenga and Kampasa streams, but again raised some concerns.

“Tarring Leopards Hill Road to Chiyaba should not end at Katoba junction, and turn to Chiyaba; instead another contractor should be hired to continue with the road construction and tarring up to Great East Road via Chalimbana University. This is a ‘U” road and it cannot be
She is helped to her feet
after she breaks down in tears
during prayer as per tradition
good to do the road half way only to come and complete it after a considerable period of time, approximately over 5 years. Please consider this seriously”.

She concluded by talking about HIV/AIDS, its impact in her chiefdom and the measures she is trying to implement in terms of awareness.

“This scourge has not spared the districts under my jurisdiction; namely Lusaka, Chongwe, Kafue, Chilanga and Shibuyunji districts. Our people in these districts are equally vulnerable to this disease. However, we as traditional leaders have also been actively involved in the National Effort in the fight against HIV/AIDS, by sensitizing our people in the observance of high morals, the avoidance of loose sexual habits, the avoidance or banning of traditional sexual cleansing and the discouraging of polygamy.”

The previous night, before the palace grounds were prepared for the ceremony, a cow was slaughtered and the chieftainess was offered its roasted liver with no salt as part of a ritual while the head and hooves were also roasted and eaten without salt by the four royal headmen of the chiefdom.
She lights a fire to launch the
clearing of fields for planting.
She is accompanied by
 Republican Vice President Guy Scott
and other government officials
The same night the four headmen or Indunas; bena Nkumbula, bena Chitentabunga, bena Kabeleka, and bena Mwampatisha met at the Kantungu, a special meeting place inside the palace compound to pay homage to the departed rulers of the Soli as well as to perform rituals to evoke the spirit of the first mukamambo who is buried nearby.

The actual day of the ceremony involves a lot of traditional song and dance that starts in the morning until a time when the cheiftainess comes out of her palace and is escorted to the main arena’s grand stand in the royal grounds where a throne is placed for her to officiate at the festivities.

As she emerges from the house, she is accompanied by her daughters, Indunas, some subjects and some musketeers that continuously fire muzzleloaders whose sound is said to symbolize the thunder of the much anticipated rains; it is after all a rain making ceremony.

She plants the first seed to pave
way for her subjects to commence
the planting season
The path on which she walks barefoot to the arena is specially painted with different shades of clay symbolizing purity, the people, the land and the Soli’s exodus from Kola in modern day Congo during the great Luba-Lunda migrations, and no one must dare step on it before she does, as they do so at the risk of being manhandled by the vigilant security personnel.

As the cheftainess sits down she is entertained by more dances and song, some are performed by the different groups that form the seven zones that make up the Soli chiefdom from Lunsemfwa in the north extending to the Kafue in the south, the Luangwa in the East and chief Shakumbile in Mwembeshi West of Lusaka. But some dances are performed by visiting cultural groups such as their traditional cousins the Luvale and this year there was even a Rwandese group that performed dances from their country in the main arena.

Subjects roll over on the floor
After a few performances, the chieftainess took centre stage where the community brought out an assortment of planting seeds and she put them together in bowls, sprinkling them with the rain water collected from the previous rainy season from a clay pot. This is done to bless the seed. Surrounded by some Indunas and women, she knelt down to pray, facing the heavens. She prayed in Soli and in English with her hands in the air, alternately raising the bowls with seed. “I will not be afraid LORD because you are there for me, you are there for me LORD you always
Visiting tribe - A member of the
Luvale Chota Cultural Group
protect me for the sake of your people LORD, be there for me…”, she said, her voice faltering and eventually weeping she faced the ground only to be lifted back to her feet by the Indunas and a kapaso who serves as both a bodyguard and a messenger and had been holding on to her slippers all along.

The royal entourage later proceeded on foot to the field along with the guest of honour, other officials and onlookers to light a fire in the royal field that signified the clearing of the fields for the new farming season. She then tilled a very small portion of land and planted some seeds to signify the beginning of the farming season. Afterwards she returned to the main arena for speeches, more performances and receiving of gifts and she finally retired to the palace leaving the festivities going on late into the night with much revelry.

Some could not be bothered by the ceremony and they
were just there to have a good time behind the scenes
The Chakwela Makumbi, like many other traditional ceremonies has become a battleground for corporate advertising which mainly involves a clash of the titans among the telecommunications companies that take advantage of visibility by plastering their banners all over the ceremony grounds as well as parking their outdoor concert vehicles in the area.

There was also much to drink and eat in the makeshift grass thatch stalls that serve as restaurants and taverns among other things.

It is also a time when villagers can purchase much coveted western consumables from the city such as cell phones, suitcase, cheap sunglasses and other clothing items that are displayed on the floor outside the arena.
In true festival atmosphere, there were even gambling stalls where people can try their luck at winning anything from alcohol to cash prizes.

Foreign visitors cool off
The chieftainess with her daughters in the grand stand
Young Rwandese dancers perform for chieftainess
Members of the Luvale Chota
Dance Group prepare
Members of the Mukamambo II Girls School choir sing the national anthem in Soli
The rifles are fired to mimic thunder
Riflemen and escorts clear the
royal path for the chieftainess
Some take time to try their luck at winning prizes
by throwing hoops on various commodities
The ceremony attracts all walks of life.
Two beauties pose for the camera in the palace
compound after the royal planting of the seeds
Evans, an annual trader at the even inspects his stocks
A Soli princess enjoying the procession
Miss Tourism at the event
The chieftainess presents a lamb to Vice President Guy Scott as a gift
A vigilant member of the
royal security team

As the tribal cousins of the Soli, members of the Luvale Chota Cultural Group
prepare to dance Chiyanda and Mokolo



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