By Michelo Malungisa –
Every last week of February, Eastern Province comes alive as it hosts the N’cwala Traditional Ceremony of the Ngoni people of Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique.
The ceremony, which is usually attended by people from all walks of life, is an event where the Ngoni people pay homage to their ancestors through Inkhosi Yamakhosi Paramount Chief Mpezeni the IV, who ascended to the throne 40 years ago.
This year’s celebrations were unique because it marked 40 years of the revival of the N’cwala after it was banned by the British colonial government from being celebrated for purportedly being too war-like. It was only revived in 1980, and since then it has grown into one of the richest and most significant events on the national calendar pulling tourists and visitors in hundreds to the border town of Chipata.
This year’s ceremony was themed “40 40 for peace, love and unity” and was attended by various dignitaries from all the four countries and beyond.
By the second week of February, all the accommodation in Chipata district was full, as people from different locations booked in advance to be part of the celebration which started on Wednesday while others it was time to advance their business opportunities.
By Wednesday February 22, 2023, the ceremony had started, with the arrival of all Ngoni chiefs and their warriors at Mtenguleni where songs to be performed before the paramount chief were rehearsed, and the performances which are perfected is the Ngoma dance.
The Ministry of Tourism through its department of Culture and Traditional Affairs also organised an “Ungoni” cultural exhibition to accord people a chance to learn more about the Ngoni tribe and get more information of the history and their way of life.
“We the Ngoni people are the most proud that the Inkosi yamakhosi will be turning 40 years on the throne, he has governed us in peace and unity in socially, politically culturally and economically and have remained steadfast, we only wish him God’s continued blessings upon his life,” said Jonathan Mazyopa a cultural expert.
Thursday was another busy day for the Ngoni people, as it was the day when the paramount chief received fresh crops from ‘Gogo’ Senior Chief Madzimawe to test before ordinary people can start the harvesting and testing of the crops.
When the first fruits were taken to the chief he addressed the crowd and was received with a roar of appreciation. The chief leads in his leopard skin outfit which acts as a dress code for the event as many people wear animal skin of some sort.
The chief proceeds to taste the first fruits such as millet, pumpkin, sugar cane and maize amid ululation by the Ngoni women, who also sing songs of praise to the chief, God and ancestors as the chief blesses the fruit.
After this ritual, the procession begins from his Ipendukeni palace in Feni to Laweni in Mtenguleni, where the main ceremonial activities take place.
The Ngoni king traveled a distance of about 100 kilometers in a slow moving motorcade so the people could see their chief, whereas in the past this journey was made on foot over a period of days. Crowds throng the Chipata Central Business district to catch a glimpse of the chief who is escorted by his impis.
Friday was a resting day for the chief, while visitors continued to flock to the Laweni palace to pay their courtesy calls.
On the other hand business people position themselves to cash in on the various merchandise as numbers of people arriving for the ceremony keep on increasing.
Tabitha Phiri, who trades in food stuff described business at N’cwala as good as there is always high demand for food.
“We always come here every year because business is so good, people buy food during the ceremony compared to other times, and here there are always a lot of people so chances of recording high sales are high,” she said.
Another trader from Malawi Elizabeth Zulu who deals in second hand clothes said , said apart from uniting the Ngoni people, N’cwala has presented a good business opportunity that makes businesses people from far and wide to take advantage and conduct their different businesses.
“Here you will find people from different places, whether far or near. We all come here because we are assured that whatever goods we have will be sold off easily because demand is always high here, “she explained.
Saturday the climax of the ceremony, Mtenguleni village is a hive of activities as the Ngoni people from the three countries namely, Zambia Malawi and Mozambique and other traditional groupings perform different dances to entertain the chief, his guests and the crowds.
Paramount chief Mpezeni was escorted from his Laweni palace to Mtenguleni village covering a distance of almost 1.5 kilometers by his impis accompanied by his special guests, who included Chief Mwata Kazembe of the Luba-Lunda people of the Northern Province who happens to be his traditional cousin.
The ceremony was also attended by King Mberwa of the Ngoni of Malawi who is the brother to chief Mpezeni, Governor of Tete Province in Mozambique Domingos Viola, and South Africa’s Zulu King Zweletini was represented by former Zambia’s Ambassador to Australia George Zulu who called on Ngonis reflect on their origins as Zulus during this year’s N’cwala ceremony and also called for more strengthened ties between the Zulus and Ngonis.
Paramount Chief Mpezeni described his 40 years on the throne as challenging, but special as it had given him an opportunity to oversee affairs of the Ngoni people and ensure that the cultural values are preserved and also serve all the seven Presidents of the Republic of Zambia.
“I can boost that am the longest serving Chief in Zambia, I have served all the seven republican Presidents in Zambia, for the Ngoni’s it has not being easy, but am proud that I have managed to superintend over their affairs for the past 40 year,” he said.
Paramount chief also counselled politicians to uphold the desire and dream of Zambia’s founding fathers, by upholding the love, peace and unity of the nation and not allow politics to divide them, adding that Zambians should always remember to remain united as a people if they are to develop individually and collectively.
Chief Mpezeni, who spoke through a representative N’cwala organising committee chairman Betsy Nkhoma, further expressed concern that increasing levels of tension especially among political leaders in the country, which if not addressed can divide people based on tribe, ethnicity and religion among others.
“I urge politicians to defend and sustain the peace which our forefathers fought for, through the one Zambia one nation motto, the future of Zambia lays in peace, love, unity and forgiveness which is key in nation development,” he said.
To demonstrate his commitment towards the promotion of peace, unity and oneness, the traditional leader proposed the remaining of the over 560 kilometres Great East road from Airport roundabout to the Mwami/Mchinji border be renamed as Umodzi highway.
“I therefore wish to propose that the great East road be renamed to Umozi highway, this is in a spirit of love, peace and togetherness, as people drive from Lusaka to Chipata they should know that we are one and we need to embrace each other, “he said.
Meanwhile, the Zambian government was represented by Local Government and Rural Development Minister Gary Nkombo who assured the traditional leader together with his guests that all his requests will be treated with urgency, adding that he will raise the call for renaming the Great East Road at the next Cabinet meeting.
“I totally agree with you Inkhosi Yamakhosi on all the issues you have raised. On the renaming of the Great East Road, consider it done, for I feel the name Umodzi will mean a lot compared to the current name, hence I will raise it with my colleagues in the next cabinet meeting,” he added.
And different sponsors weighed in to give their impression on the importance of sponsoring such an event, and Greenfield commodities manager Austin Munyama pledged his organisations continued support revamping the agriculture sector in the country.
“We value such events, because they create a platform for us to interact with our farmers and get firsthand information on the performance sector and their expectations, “stated Mr Munyama.
The N’cwala ends with a killing of a black bull as and the paramount chief drinking its blood, while its liver is roasted and shared among the guests. – ZANIS