Chief Mutondo XXXVII's 1st Anniversary as Chief Celebration
While I still admittedly don't have a firm grasp on the politics and division of power in Zambia, I'm told that the Zambian Chiefs have more local power and influence than the Zambian President and politicians. There are roughly 70 Zambian Chiefs and they are revered like gods. For example, you are required to sit on the ground when he enters the room and take your seat when he says so. When he leaves the room, you kneel. When you visit his palace, you must offer him gifts.
This past Saturday at the Lukena Palace a few miles away, a party celebrated Chief Mutondo XXXVII's first anniversary as Chief in this region. Being Zambian time, everything ran more than a few hours late and the celebration originally scheduled for a single day was extended into Sunday. I was graciously invited to both days.
No one in Shamiyoyo owns a vehicle so we hired one for 200 kwacha. Our driver showed up a few hours late Saturday morning, but we made it to the Palace and found that the program had been delayed by over three hours. We hadn't missed much.
We arrived and some local school children were performing dances to music played on drums and handmade xylophones made with gourds and local wood. The music was entrancing. However, if I may be honest, I was often taken out of the moment by an official who wielded the microphone the entire time and sang nonstop with the music in an offkey voice that sounded like a constant droning 'wah wah wahhhhhh.’
Next, the Queen entered, slowly dancing her way to her throne followed close behind by the high ranking female elders. Then the Chief made his grand entrance. Alerted that the Chief was entering, the entire crowd kneeled. As the gate opened, the Chief emerged and slowly walked around the royal monument, rythymically tapping his left then right shoulder with his traditional puku tail Chief's brush.
The Chief and his officials sat in a three-walled concrete enclosure along the front wall of his palace. The Chief sat on a throne resting on a lion skin pelt while his officials sat or kneeled on the concrete floor flanking the throne.
At this point, a high ranking official passionately recited the history of the Nkoya tribe. The Zambian national anthem followed. Afterwards, I was asked if they sing the same Zambian national anthem in America. I'd never conceived of the idea but answered politely in the negative.
Zambia is a very Christian country so a prayer and hymns by a Catholic choir came next.
After a few short plays, some poems, and more music, the Chief gave a speech.
Chief Mutondo told everyone not to fear him because he is a simple man and he loves everyone. He officially decreed that witchcraft was banned in his Chiefdom under the rationale that some witchdoctors are fake. Agreed, but the next two decrees raised my respect for the Chief to a new level. He next banned child marriages as they prevent young girls from getting educated. While there may be other reasons to support this ban, the effect is the same. Lastly, he banned the failure of parents to send their kids to school. School fees are now paid for by the government so there are no excuses. The punishment for breaking this rule is a fine of a pig or goat to the Chief. He emphasized and promoted literacy and wants his Chiefdom to be educated. He closed by promoting love and unity, citing to the Bible.
As a welcomed surprise, the Chief invited Charles and me into the Palace for lunch. Our company included the Chief's extended family, high ranking officials, and other special guests while the Chief ate in the privacy of his home. I drew the short straw and was served last, missing out on the nshima and goat. Charles and I were instead served chicken, rice with veggies, and gravy. Still, it was delicious.
After lunch, more impassioned dances and music with drums and xylophones. At the conclusion of several more performances, it was announced that due to the delays, the program would resume tomorrow. The party would continue.
Zambia time strikes again. Our driver showed up 5 hours late and we arrived around 2 PM. As if we had never left, we arrived to more dancing and music.
As a grand finale, a Makishi dancer performed. From what I understand, Makishi dancers represent boys transitioning to men in Zambian cultures. They wear traditional decorative wooden masks and head to toe outfits such that their vision is obscured and need occasional assistance to move around. The Makishi first danced on his knees while slowly approaching the Chief. After paying respects to the Chief, the Makishi stood up and danced to drums. Then he was raised onto two small planks supported on the shoulders of four men as they circled the courtyard. While balancing on the planks, he continued dancing while asking for tips. Impressively, he only almost fell twice, but to his credit, he did not. The Makishi's performance ended by taking another lap around the crowd, dancing and asking for more tips.
After the ceremony, I asked to take a picture and I thought the Makishi indicated yes so I snapped a photo. As the scariest moment of this trip, he got in my face and between the costume fabric came a raspy voice screaming, 'Money! Money! Money! Money!' as his associates surrounded me. I had already given him some kwacha and had none left so I told him that. One of his helpers said it is tradition to give Makishi money in exchange for a photo. Luckily, one of the men with him recognized me and said since I've already helped Shamiyoyo, it was ok to not pay this time. Lesson learned.
As the ceremony was winding down at 4:30 PM, we tried to leave, and our driver refused to drive us until he talked to the Chief. After some apparent miscommunication, we were informed the Chief would not let us leave until we were fed. We were told that we could take rice to go. But then after more miscommunication, we were informed that we must eat at the Chief's Palace and then he wanted a word with me. After being served plain white rice with sugar and powdered coffee creamer (a common dish here), we met with the Chief. As the spokesperson for our group, I informed him we only respectfully desired to leave as we all had had a long day, David and Wana had school in the morning, Stan had a family and kids waiting at home, and I wanted to return to Shamiyoyo as I never get phone reception at the Palace and I had promised my parents a phonecall scheduled for two hours prior. He told us we were at liberty to leave at any time which effectively was not true, but I appreciated his hospitality. Over three hours after we first tried to leave, we were on our way. Again, Zambian time.
Despite the hiccups, the Chief's party was an experience I'll never forget. It was a mesmerizing display of Zambian and Nkoya culture and pride in their history and identity. A second anniversary party will be held around the same time next year and I hope others get to experience it.