Home away from home! An hour has not passed since my arrival and I am swamped with
merchants, vendors, runners and people selling their
wares. Hundreds of masks, statues and beautiful treasures
are spread out on the ground around us.
Bargaining, haggling, raised voices, entreaties to
the gods! Yeah, it was good to be back. My heart was
pumping and my head reeling with the overload of
sensations. This is the part of Africa I so ravenously
my first week purchasing, meeting up with old friends,
organizing transport, food, rations, and of course, gifts
for our friends out in the bush.
hit the road folks!
and the orphans
of the Chesire Community Center is always my first
stop when venturing out towards the Zambezi. It has become
a pilgrimage for me. The excitement and pleasure that the
young children show when I get there, is beyond words.
I gave my customary food supplies, gifts, and
donations to Rita, the head of the home (thanks to all of
you!), and then watched as the children plunged with
enthusiasm into the bags of clothing, choosing, and
putting on their new found treasures. Alas, the news that
some of the young children succumbed to their illness
saddened me immensely. Rita assured me that they had been
cared for with love and dignity until the end.
several days in the region, getting reacquainted with some
old friends, traveling the surrounding areas, purchasing
lots of great items. Leaving Kaoma and heading towards
Mongu, I stumbled across Kapalu and Kalelwa, masked
ancestral guardians, roaming the streets collecting
contributions for the Mukanda camps of the region.
They looked at me knowingly, and the air
around me sizzled with the feeling that this trip would be
an extraordinary one.
and Kalelwa - the beginning of an extraordinary
Chivanda village I met up with Ackson Lumbala, the Chikenzi
(mukanda doctor), and Benny Muyobo, a good friend who is an
elder of the village hosting this years Mukanda camp. I was in for a surprise!
They felt it was time for me to stay in the mukanda camp and not in
the nearby village as I have always done in the past. This
was extraordinary as it is nearly impossible for a
“foreigner” and especially a white man, to stay in the
camp. My repeated journeys to the region and contact with
them over the years had finally come to fruition. The only prerequisite
was that I had learn the Tusoma signs and symbols of the
more about them here). In
preparation to enter the mukanda enclosure, I agreed
to undergo a
cleansing ritual and a tattooing with magical ingredients.
It was my way of showing respect to my hosts, for taking me
in and accepting me as one of their own.
the left -The Chikenzi (circumcision doctor), myself
and Benny Muyobo.
next morning I was given a potion of roots, bitter and vile.
As the day progressed violent cramps took hold of me with
sweating and vomiting soon to follow. I alternated between
a semi hallucinatory state, with the world around me
coming alive and whispering ancestral secrets and a state of
despair, with my rushing off into the bush to relieve
put myself completely in the hands of my hosts!
God for Isaka, my companion through the ordeal, who
guided me and assured me many a time I would not die
Once done, I was escorted
back to the village and fed a chicken and corn meal. I was taught the symbols of the
camp, which I went over several times until I fell into a
fitful sleep. At daybreak we awoke to a beautiful sunny day
and of course the inevitable tattooing session. Here I was
given the name "Chindele Mbunda" which means white
Mbunda (because of my large cheeks). What an honor!
incisions are made beneath my navel and a medicinal
paste is rubbed into the wounds.
three incisions are made on my lower back. The paste
with incantations while it's applied are supposed to
give me positive power.
"energized", we made our way to the
mukanda enclosure where we would be staying. I have
been in mukanda camps before, but never overnight.
This was going to be a real treat.
mother of all ancestral Likishi stands in the
walking around the enclosure, lost in a daydream of wonder,
scrutinizing all the masks and symbols around the camp, the
drums started beating loudly. I looked around startled
and was beckoned to the edge of a crowd that was
forming in one end of the enclosure. My head started reeling
when I finally saw what the commotion was about. There in
front of me was a naked man held down tightly by two men.
He was being circumcised! I couldn't believe it! It took all
my will power to watch and record this surreal scene.
stood there watching in total amazement and disbelief!
excruciating minutes it was over. I sat down to catch my
breath and was given katsasu (millet beer). The man who was circumcised
smiled weekly and seemed thankful it was over. I soon found
out that he was a Lozi man who had married a Lovale woman
and to fit into the community had decided to undergo the
view the whole circumcision and read more it here.
(Please note that some images are graphic and not for
of the afternoon was spent drinking more katsasu and having
a merry old time. Night fell quickly and the roaring fire
danced and leapt on the leafy enclosure walls. A young
attendant closed the gates to the mukanda camp, sealing us
from the outside world.
gates of the enclosure are shut for the night.
young initiates sit around the fire warming
is starting to get to me!
was aloud with sound and laughter. Sporadic song would break out
suddenly, one unified voice letting the village know all is
well with the young boys. Lying there, I looked
over at Nyasemi standing proud and tall in her corner. In the flickering
light of the fire she seemed so larger than life and I could
have sworn I saw Mupala, Chikunza, Katatola, and myriads of ancestral
Likishi swarming out of her and
dancing in the tree tops to the rhythm of the flames. Smiling
down on me they let me know that I was good hands.
over a week coming and going from the mukanda camp,
roving the surrounding region to do my purchasing. It
allowed me to see more of the life of the camp, see how
masks were made, watch the young boys learning to dance, and
have some insightful conversations with the elders. (This
will all be incorporated into our story of the Mukanda
ritual). It was a melancholic day when I finally left,
heading for the Zambezi and Angola.
the Zambezi on a pontoon. Fabulous!
the way to the borders of Angola to meet up with some of my
regular vendors, I stopped in the village of Kalabo.
There I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Chief
Mundu, the Mbunda Chief, who agreed to see me.
To enter the Royal Compound and ask for permission to
be seen, we had to do a special clapping session with heads
bowed and knelt on the ground.
the royal compound of Chief Mundu.
Mundu, a stoic and proud man.
Mundu "rules" Kalabo. He heard about my adventures
in the Mukanda camps, and was pleased at my interest. He
believes strongly in tradition, and stated that he would
encourage circumcision and the mukanda camps as long as
possible. He feels that the world tends to view Africa as a
poor continent, dying of disease and aids and overlooks the
proud traditions that are still present. Although western
technological influences are slowly infiltrating into the
western regions of Zambia, he feels strongly that this
region will remain steeped in its traditions. It was a very
spent a few more days traveling in the region before heading
back to Lusaka and a much needed rest before heading to the
southern Democratic Republic of Congo.
much for foresight. Here I was in the Dem. Republic of Congo
during the elections. Posters were everywhere and
people were excited at the prospect of choosing their own
government. Yet an underlying current of tension and
fear was present as everyone readily knew that the situation
could easily degenerate into chaos. It is a a crazy place,
where logic is thrown on its head and you have to let the
madness take hold of you. It will eat you alive if you
don't! Trains were not running, soldiers were
everywhere and movement to the interior was quite difficult.
We lived through blackouts and under armed guard, with the
fear of "piage" (siege) on the night of the preliminary
election results. I still managed to get some beautiful
pieces. The electrifying energy had me pumped to the point
that my visa had expired and I let it ride.
I came across the
organization of Centre de Reveil. It is a center which
is run by the church and the larger community with the aim
of assisting those in need - orphans, war victims, aids
victims, and the physically handicapped. It became apparent
that this center needed assistance and we vowed to help (Read
my return to Zambia,
I was stopped at the border, and my expired visa and camera
were enough for the guards to throw me in a cell and accuse
me of spying. Hours of pleading, negotiating, feeling
totally helpless and at their mercy. It took a bit of arm
twisting, but finally they accepted to take the money I had in my possession
and let me go. As I left I humbly thanked Vincent,
the leader of the guards and shook his hand. He smiled, gave
me his cellular number and told me to look him up next time I come to the
Congo! This, dear
friends, is the madness of Africa.
lunacy of packing the container and getting ready for
shipping engulfed my last week. It was only on my last night
before my journey back home to Canada, sitting around the
camp fire that I managed to relax. I reflected back on my
trip and realized that Africa has shown me many of her
faces. She had
summoned and reincarnated her spirit beings in her Mukanda camps. I
drank her potions and had her scars on me.
She had shared her knowledge and culture with me. She
also showed me her corruptness and instilled fear in me.
She showed me how fickle life can be. She humbled me! Raising my beer to the moon I
drank to her health and to the next time we would meet.
more pictures of the trip