Monday, September 22, 2008

Kulambo Festival and a Broken Down Bus

A couple of days on buses across the south of Zambia. Hour after hour of flat countryside littered with little huts made of mud brick and thatched roof. Dry land covered in scorched grass and many a leafless tree – the dry season. Every so often a large tree with striking purple blossom. Like no tree I have seen before they have intrigued me and I am failing to find more about them though I check with every other taxi driver I have met since.
A night in Lusaka (Zambian capital) was not much to talk of. Quite a dirty town with a couple of strange soviet style sky-scrapers. To people's credit they were generally friendly and surprisingly not over-hassling – this is no India.

Streets kids of the capital A Soviet gift?
Then an “8 hour” bus ride that turned into something like twice that. Waiting for hours before it even turned up and then breaking down a bit after dark in twisty road territory on the Mozambique border. It is clear from everyone that driving at night in these parts in no way a clever idea. A comment from a hostel worker that they would not take that road at night even if someone paid them made that clear. We had little choice at this point. Good did though come from a few hours by the road in the bundu. While a whole range of people bashed and poked around in the electronics without too much luck, a local guy told us about a tribal festival going on just up the road the next day.
Cool kids in Chipata


So after sleeping in the bus for a few hours, we dumped our stuff and were in a taxi with 2 pac blaring at 150km an hour – they like to drive a little too fast here for my liking. After the minor inconvenience of a flat at such speed, we entered the throw of people congregating to celebrate various chiefs of the Chewa tribe giving patronage to the grand chief. Groups had come from as far afield as Angola, Mozambigue and Malawi to strut their funky dances in front of the big guy.

With thousands watching, different groups would present dancers dressed in a huge variety of costume strung together from bits of cloth and other mischellanae (God knows how to spell that word). Some clearly represented animals. Two people together creating a rhythmic bull. Crows fighting with jackals. Loads of mad stuff. While the dancers stamped their feet, jigged and threw themselves about, kinsman and women would clap and cheer. Old men in cheetah atire carrying spears. Older ladies wrapped in beautiful coloured cloth. Further out still the dignatories in their tents forming an arc - Presidents et al - of whose speeches I shall not bore you, let us just say they had a laborious nature. On each end of the arc and completing a circle were the thrawl of other spectators. People from near and far. Excited. Piled on top of collapsing thatched roofs and trucks for a better view. Then beyond this a huge impromptu market that stretched out with all its bric brack and food.

The stand-in President of Zambia has his say
Kulambo unleashed:

The climax of the festival came with the last dance. Before the sedantry big chief- sitting on his throne - 2 dancers climbed up a shere pole, across and up a rope line connected to a nearby tree, performing acrobatics as they went. The crowd went wild. The atmosphere was electric. And quick as ended. As we departed the road was lined with chewa people heading back to their dislocated homelands. Placed found for them by their chief and for which reason they have given homage.
A fascinating experience. Before we knew it we were once again speeding along the highway to 2 pac, on towards the legendary game park of South Luangwa. To lions and zebras. Hippos and impala. Undoubtedly one of my favourite places on earth!
The Chief departs

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