Zambia’s Kuomboka Festival

Posted by Claire Allison on 28 March 2013 Tags:

If you happen to be travelling through Zambia towards the end of March or the first two weeks of April, then you’re in luck! Each year after the rains when the upper Zambezi River floods the Barotse plains of the Western Province, the Lozi people celebrate the move of the Litunga, king of the Lozi people, from his compound at Lealui in the Barotse Floodplain of the Zambezi River to Limulunga on higher ground in the annual Kuomboka Festival.

Rowing across the flood plains of the mighty Zambezi. Copyright: Charl Pauw

Barotseland is the only place in the world where floods are celebrated through an annual and ancient traditional event dating as far back as 300 years ago. The word Kuomboka means ‘to get out of water’ in the Silozi language. The event usually takes place in March or April and on a Thursday morning, the king and his court move from his dry-season abode at Lealui in the middle of the plain, to his high-water residence, at Limulunga, on the eastern margins of the flood plain. The precise date is only known a week or so in advance, as the Lozi king decides on the exact day.

During this formidable procession, the Litunga (king), his entourage and their luggage travel in very large and beautiful wooden boat known as the Nalikwanda to the pounding of large royal drums (maomas). Over 100 paddlers row the Nalikwanda across the flood plains and the journey can take up to 8 hours.

When the Litunga boards the Nalikwanda at Lealui he customarily wears a light European-style suit, a pearl-grey frock coat and a trilby hat. When he leaves the barge at Limulunga he is dressed in a dark-blue uniform which is ornately embroidered with gold braid, with matching cockade hat complete with a white plume of egret feathers.

The Nalikwanda crossing the flood plains

The Nalikwanda crossing the flood plains. Copyright: Charl Pauw

On arrival in Limulunga, the Litunga is given a warm, celebratory welcome as thousands of people turn out to welcome him and where the revelry continues for a further 8 hours (at least!) and locals enjoy a delicious feast and traditional dancing until the early hours.

The dates for this year’s Kuomboka Festival are yet to be announced so if you’re keen on seeing this spectacle, you still have time!

Check out Getaway Accomodation for affordable places to stay while in Zambia, starting at R46 a person a night.