Reading this week (it’s been a busy week):

  • Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck

Yesterday and Friday I went to the Umutomolo Traditional Ceremony. This is the traditional ceremony of the Mambwe and Lungu people. The Mambwes and Lungus are two closely related tribes that live in the northern part of Zambia (and southern part of Tanzania) (as you’ll recall, I learned Mambwe, and currently I’m actually living in Lunguland, but Lungu is pretty much identical to Mambwe).

The ceremony happens every year, and serves to celebrate a successful harvest (it’s harvest season here in the southern hemisphere) and to pray for rains to come after the cold season, when they’ll be needed for next year’s crops. Since it is a fairly large event on the Mambwe/Lungu calendar, it attracts people from all over Northern Province, and Chiefs from all over Zambia. This year, of course, all of the Mambwe and Lungu chiefs were in attendance (and performed the essential acts of blessing the crop and praying to the ancestors), but we also had Chiefs from as far away as Northwestern Province (confusingly named, but about as far as you can get from Northern Province).

The main ceremony occurred on Saturday, but some other PCVs and I showed up on Friday. During the ceremony, many different villages will perform traditional dances, and to pick the best they all “try out” on Friday. This was a far better day to watch the dancing and hear the music, because the crowd was much smaller and there were fewer speeches. We were mostly there to support the dancers from my friend’s village, and it was pretty great to see all the performances.

We returned on Saturday to a far larger crowd. The exciting thing this year was that the President of Zambia came and gave a speech. This was the first time that a sitting President of the Republic attended the Umutomolo ceremony. We were in a restaurant when we watched the large Presidential motorcade roar through town and we figured it was time to get to the ceremony.

On Saturday, most of the ceremony was comprised of speeches, interspersed with music and dancing. In addition to the traditional dances, there was more modern music and entertainment, and a parody act that people seemed to enjoy but I didn’t quite understand. After an introduction by one of the Chiefs in attendance, the President gave his speech, where he addressed many of the issues of concern for the people of the district, such as infrastructure improvement projects and agricultural prices. After the speech, it was time for the actual ceremony. The wives of the Chiefs came up with samples of the foods grown in their Chiefdoms. Then the Chiefs (there are female Chiefs, but I don’t think any of the Mambwe or Lungu chiefs were female, though I might have missed some) came up and blessed the foods and gave thanks to the ancestors for a successful harvest. After this part, the crowd broke up for lunch, with dancing to resume in the afternoon.

While everyone was off getting lunch, we wandered around. In addition to the ceremony, there was an area full of merchants selling a lot of different things. I was disappointed to find there wasn’t much art or crafts to buy, but it was fun to walk around and look at all the wares and eat some street food. One especially interesting thing was a guy had made a model truck out of pieces of cardboard and plastic he had salvaged. The really interesting part is he had put in a motor in the thing and hooked it up to a motorcycle battery. If he hooked it up one way, the truck rolled forward on bottlecap tires, and then when he hooked it up the other way it rolled back. He managed to attract a pretty good little crowd with this thing.

After wandering around, we head out. It was fun to watch the ceremony, and I recommend getting there early to get a good seat. It was an event that attracted a lot of people from through Mambwe and Lungu-land, and gave people an opportunity to see each other when they normally wouldn’t have been able to visit. Plus, might as well make sure that sufficient thanks are given to the harvest and that rain is prayed for; can’t leave these things up to chance.