A Deep Gorge Typically With A River Flowing Through It Zambian Cultural Heritage – The Traditional Lwiindi Rain Ceremony of the Toka-Leya

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Zambian Cultural Heritage – The Traditional Lwiindi Rain Ceremony of the Toka-Leya

There are many long-established traditional ceremonies in Zambia, and a ceremony of the Toka-Leya people of Zambia is described here. Its main purpose is to attract rain after a long dry season. Lwiindi means ‘harvest gratitude’. Zambia goes through a long dry season from April to October, and by the end of the dry season, the land is parched, rivers and lakes dry up, and people and animals have to travel long distances for water.

Living so close to Victoria Falls, the Toka-Leya understand the waterfall better than most and also respect it. They created numerous shrines for various purposes, including prayer and sacrifices stemming from their belief that various spirits resided around the area of ​​the falls.

The area where the Lwiindi ceremony is performed is very drought prone and therefore this ceremony is performed just before the rain that would otherwise be expected each year to ensure its timely and much needed arrival. Young men aged about seventeen under the rule of Chief Mukuni are expected to prove that they are real men and ready for their marital responsibilities by participating in this adventurous rain-making custom.

A few days before the ritual, local beer is brewed and visitors begin to gather in the village and the excitement begins. On the day of the ceremony, traditional hymns are sung to the Toka-Leya ancestors of whom the people believe their chief, Chief Mukuni, is the living representative. The ceremony begins with a 40 km walk from the village of Mukuni towards Victoria Falls. Upon arrival, the young men smear themselves with white clay from the river bed and do this to show the spirits their purity. They also use fresh green leaves to complete the ritual costume.

Now people have to collect water from a sacred site deep in the gorge in what is known as the ‘boiling pot’ (because of the angry and turbulent eddies below Victoria Falls). After this dangerous escapade, the water is very carefully carried to the water shrine on the way to Mukuni village and here they imitate the falling rain by pouring water over the roof of the sacred hut. A group of respected young men who have now proven their virility and are seen to be ready for marriage return to the village where they are met by beautiful and eager young village girls. Historically, girls would take this opportunity to choose the husband of their choice, but times have moved on somewhat!

Although the concept of rituals, ceremonies, costumes and prayers to the spirits may seem a bit far-fetched to some, witnesses to this ceremony will tell you that it always rains an hour after these sacred rituals. It is recorded that even when the rest of Livingstone (the area around Victoria Falls) is completely dry due to months without rain, the vicinity of Tok-Leya where the Lwiindi ceremony took place was blessed with a much needed and refreshing shower.

This article is inspired by the book ‘Ceremony! Celebrating Zambia’s Cultural Heritage’. It is a fantastic and visually pleasing book that I would encourage you to get. I got mine from ZAIN in Lusaka, Zambia. It is issued by Celtel Zambia PLC and Seka. Original photo, Francois d’Elbee. Coordinating author, Tamara Guhrs. Editor, Mulunga Kapwepwe. Contributing authors, Akashambatwa Mbikusita-Lewanika, Prof Mapopa Mtonga, Mulenga Kapwepwe, Isaac Smogy Kapinga, Miranda Guhrs, Msatero Tembo, Matiya Ngalande and Joseph Chikuta.

Zambia encourages people to attend its cultural ceremonies.

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