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“At 23:56 on 23rd October 1963, Zambians rose in reverence of the Union Jack, the de facto national flag of the United Kingdom, for the last time as it lowered, signifying the end of British rule in Zambia.”

― Precious Mwansa-Chisa

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The Bemba people`s traditional ceremony, the Ukusefya Pa Ng`wena or the festival of the crocodile, is undoubtedly one of the biggest and best-known cultural festivals in Zambia.

The ceremony, which takes place annually in August in Mungwi district of Northern Province, is a colourful and exciting event that draws thousands of people from across the country and visitors alike. The ceremony is a magnet for people who want to have a rich, cultural experience in Zambia. It offers visitors an opportunity to see something they typically don’t witness in other parts of the world.

The ceremony is an honorary celebration of a great day in Bemba history.

Part of the Ngoni entourage that often  graces the celebrations  as the Bemba  traditional cousins
Part of the Ngoni entourage that often graces the celebrations as the Bemba traditional cousins

The Bembas trace their origins from the Kola region (modern-day Angola). During their migration into Zambia, during the 17th century, they crossed the Luapula and the Chambeshi rivers. Upon reaching the banks of the Milando River, they discovered a dead crocodile, and since the Bembas belong to the crocodile clan (Abena Ng`wena), the discovery was taken as a sign from their ancestors. A village which was named, Ng`wena village was set up at the spot where the crocodile was discovered. It earmarked Bemba land.

Every year, the crocodile skin donned leader of the Bemba people, The Chitimukulu calls his subjects to the original Ng`wena village to celebrate the formation of the Bemba kingdom. The ceremony is an enactment of the Bembas migration from the Kola region to Ng`wena village.

The chief and the Benalubemba following proceedings

There is a massive trench surrounding Ng`wena village. The trench was meant to protect the Bembas from the neighbouring warring tribe, the Ngonis. It is said that they filled the trench with poison tipped arrows before covering it with tree branches, and when the Ngonis rushed across it, they fell to their deaths in the trench. More recently, grass thatched huts have been erected within the area surrounding the trench, and the huts act as accommodation for people attending the Ukusefya Pang`wena ceremony. As part of the yearly re-enactment, a group of Ngoni warriors take to the stage to perform a traditional dance.

Part of the highlight of the ceremony is when the traditional bark dressed Bemba loyalists hoist the Chitimukulu on a special seat attached to a paper-mache crocodile. It attracts a lot of ululations and whistling. Overall, the ceremony offers visitors an opportunity to see Bemba culture action. The festival of the crocodile, is defintely a must see. The ceremony is set to take place on the 17th of August, 2018.

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