The Kuomboka Ceremony

The Kuomboka ceremony takes its name from ‘Kuomboka’, a Lozi word that literally means ‘to move out of the water’. As the plains around Mongu flood, the Lozi king travels in a large barge, called the Nalikwanda, from his dry season palace in Lealui to his rainy season palace in Limulunga.

The ceremony, which has a rich historical background dating back over 300 years, is announced by the beating of traditional drums. With the imposing Nalikwanda (the king’s boat) gently making its way out of the plains, steered on by colourfully attired boatmen and songs of jubilation and drumming running away with the wind, it’s hard not to get excited about this special event.

Legends of Kuomboka

“There’s never a good story without the slight blend of fiction and drama. We were pleased to discover that the Kuomboka ceremony of the Lozi people has just the right mix. We know the Kuomboka is known to have come about due to the flooding of the Zambezi plains which forced the Lozi king (the Litunga) to move his people and his belongings to higher grounds every rainy season. Thus the term Kuomboka literally means “to move out of the water”.

But there’s more! Legends say that before the time of the first known male chief Mboo, there came a great flood called Meyi-a-Lungwangwa meaning “the waters that swallowed everything.” The vast plain was covered in the deluge, all animals died and every farm was swept away.

People were afraid to escape the flood in their little dugout canoes. So it was that the high god, Nyambe, ordered a man called Nakambela to build the first great canoe, Nalikwanda, which means “for the people,” to escape the flood. Thus the start of what is known today as the Kuomboka ceremony.

Another interesting story surrounding the Kuomboka is about the Litunga himself. The Litunga begins the day each year in a traditional dress, but during the journey changes into the full uniform of a British admiral. This uniform is known to have been presented to the Litunga by King Edward VII, in 1902, in recognition of treaties signed between the Lozi people and Queen Victoria. The tradition has been passed down from one Litunga to the next.

Each Litunga has his own tailor-made uniform sent from the UK. The last legend relates to the ceremony finale as the royal watery procession arrives in Limulunga. It is rumoured that every time the Nalikwanda takes the bend that leads up to the harbour of the dry plains, it always rains! Apparently this is because the Lozi king is said to have great mythical powers.

The ceremony usually takes place at the end of March or the beginning of April with the final date, which is kept secret until the last moment, being decided by the Barotse Royal establishment.”