Zambia’s Kuomboka Ceremony

Every year towards the end of the rainy season when the upper Zambezi River floods its banks (anytime between February and May), the Lozi people of Zambia begin a spectacular ceremonial procession to higher ground.

Video © Charl Pauw, Open Africa. Open Africa works with communities to establish off-the-beaten-track, self-drive travel routes in a network supported by local enterprises. The travel routes are then marketed through www.openafrica.org, connecting communities to travellers. 

In the Silozi language of Zambia Kuomboka means ‘to get out of water’, and escape the inundated Barotse flood plains. The event is signalled by heavy drumming resounding from the royal household and warning the state to pack their belongings, pile into hundreds of dugout canoes (mokoros) and leave en mass.

The King’s barge is painted black and white like Zambia’s coat of arms and it carries a huge replica of an elephant, the Queen’s royal barge is mounted with a pelican bird. Royal paddlers are dressed in animal skins and red berets, regalia that is in part a legacy of the British Empire. The ceremony dates back to over 300 years ago and is now a celebrated cultural event welcoming visitors from far and wide.

Top Tip: March is the best time to sight abundant wildlife and birdlife near the swollen Luangwa River. April until the end of May is the best time to visit Zambia’s Bangweulu Swamps for the elusive shoebill stork, black lechwe and innumerable waterbirds.

Travel info

When: Every year towards the end of the rainy season (which could be anytime between February and May)
Where: The fleet paddles from Leauli, the capital of the Lozi Kingdom to Limulunga, the summer or flood time capital, western Zambia.
Contact: The Zambia Tourism Board, email ztb@zambiatourism.org.zm, web www.zambiatourism.com. Open Africa Barotse Trail, web. www.openafrica.org

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I’m Holly - born and raised in the rural British Counties, my mother began life on a sugar farm in Zululand. After reading Anthropology at university in London, working for a political activist filmmaker in India, and doing a short stint under the bright lights of Bollywood – I decided it was time to return to the motherland. To earn a crust in the name of wanderlust, I finished up a post grad in media and hotfooted around South Africa as a freelance travel journalist.

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