Kulamba Traditional Ceremony of The Chewa People

The Kulamba traditional ceremony is celebrated towards the end of August each year. Mkaika, the headquarters of the Chewa people comes to life.


This is the time for the Kulamba, or paying homage. All the subordinate chiefs in Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique come to Katete at Mkaika to pay their tributes and join in the celebrations with their people. 

The ceremony, held after harvest in late August, is a way of bringing together different Chewa chiefs from the three countries to present their reports of grievances to paramount chief Kalonga Gawa Undi. The name Kalonga means the one who installs subordinate chiefs. Gawa is the one who gives out land and Undi means the one who protects the subordinates. The Kalonga Gawa Undi is head of all the Chewa chiefdoms and takes care of all the installations of chiefs not only in Zambia but in Malawi and Mozambique as well. 

The ceremony was banned by the colonial masters in 1934 but paramount chief Kalonga Gawa Undi Chivunga revived the ceremony in 1984. Since then it has been an annual event. On the day of the ceremony, the centre of attraction is the main area where all the dignitaries are seated. The entrance of paramount chief Kalonga Gawa Undi into the arena signifies the start of the ceremony. Visitors from Zambia and Chewas from neighbouring Malawi and Mozambique are entertained to a variety of dances that are from three countries. 

A variety of dances like Gule Wamukulu (Nyau), Gologolo, Makanja, Muganda, Chinamwali, Chimtali (the female dance) and many others are performed during the ceremony. The Nyau or popularly known as the Gule Wamukulu among locals, is the most celebrated dance among the Chewa people. 

The Nyau dance (Gule Wamukulu) was officially recognized by UNESCO in 2006. Nyau dancers are referred to as Vilombo (animals) in Chewa, believed to emanate from dead spirits. There are a lot of Nyau dances at any ceremony. The type of the dance depends to a larger extent on the nature of the occasion. More than 30 different Nyau dances are performed at a single festival with each dancer adorning a different mask in an array of colours. 

Some of the Nyau masks are a reflection of human behaviour in true life. The people can tell the type of Nyau entertaining them through its dress or mask. Some Nyau are frightening while others are fun. 

Also part of the Kulamba ceremony is an annual initiation ceremony for the young girls who have come of age. The Anamwali or young girls have been in confinement where they have spent time being taught skills and responsibilities of womanhood. 

Kulamba traditional ceremony is proving to be a big annual event, bringing together chiefs from 137 chiefdoms in Malawi, 33 in Mozambique and 42 in Zambia. The significance of this is its ability to bring Chewa under different chiefdoms and countries to Mkaika, capital of the Chewa and palace of paramount chief Kalonga Gawa Undi, to celebrate these festivals together regardless of today’s political boundaries.

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