It has always been acknowledged that a people without culture are like a tree without roots. The Chewas cannot agree more.
They all thronged their cultural heritage place. They came from Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia and other non-Chewa tribes; also found their way to Mkaika in Zomba to pay homage to Kalonga Gawa Undi.
Clad in the red cloth, mbumba of Undi could not hold their bated breathes as they danced, raising clouds of dust to demonstrate their happiness and respect for the Chief.
Gule wa mkulu, chididi, chimtali, mganda and chisamba characterized the festival. But Malawian Chadzunda won the hearts of everyone as it danced to the throbbing drums, blowing dust into the air. Hand clapping, laughter and chanting wowed spectators at the 2015, Kulamba Ceremony held on August 29.
This is because Undi means, “one who hold together the culture and its people,” says Senior Chief Lukwa, adding Kalonga wants to see his people dining and dancing together.
Kulamba is a Chewa Ceremony in which Chewa Chiefs honour Kalonga Gawa Undi, who is also known as Kamphambe or Mwini.
During the ceremony, the chiefs brief the King on the situations in their chiefdoms highlighting major issues and developments.
Lukwa told this reporter that Kalonga which means Kulonga, thus to install or enthrone a chief is derived from the original Chewa word. Kalonga distributed land in his empire to various chiefs whom he installed and such chiefs became custodians of those lands.
“The Kulamba ceremony is a major uniting factor among the Chewa of today. And the government of Malawi is grateful for such a well organised function that will bring us together as neighbours,” said Minister of Sports and Culture Grace Chiumia, who represented the Malawi government at the function.
During this ceremony, Chewas from Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia show their unity under their king, Kalonga Gawa Undi.
Assorted material and monetary gifts are presented to the king.
Kulamba is believed to have been started by Kalonga Mazizi who led the Chewa out of Congo to Malawi in search of a more peaceful environment in the 15th century.
They were fleeing from the brutality of King Mutanyamvi who started grabbing land and animals from his subjects to enrich himself.
“Our forefathers firstly arrived in Malawi in about 1200 at Mankhamba in Salima when the whole area of Nyasaland, Mozambique and Northern Rhodesia was under the Maravi Kingdom,” says Lukwa adding Malawi has 138 Chewa Chiefs.
Still following Kulamba, the Chewa moved to Maano in the Mbazi Mountain of Mozambique before they finally settled at Mkaika in Zambia in 1921. Zambia has 38 Chewa chiefs.
However, the Chewa met another cultural set back when, in 1934, the British colonial authorities banned the Kulamba ceremony. These missionaries viewed the ceremony as a pagan practice, which promoted immorality and was a barrier to their objectives of converting the Chewa people to Christianity.
But Chief Lukwa advanced another reason: “The colonial powers felt intimidated by the Kulamba ceremony as it had the potential of eroding their control over the Chewa people.”
But the ceremony remained banned for 15 years.
Mwini Gawa Undi Chibvunga IV revived the ceremony in 1984.
The ceremony is held annually on the last Saturday of August at Mkaika in Katete District of Zambia at which the Chewa chiefs and their people from Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia and beyond meet.
Mkaika is now the official Chewa traditional headquarters.
Mozambican provincial director for education Zoze Mike said he was happy with the continued cultural preservation by the Chewa king.
“It is encouraging to see people from the three countries coming together in the spirit of culture. We pledge to work with you in your endeavors to bring Chewas together so that we continue living in harmony as neighbours,” he said.
In his message, Kalonga Gawa Undi asked Chewas to respect religion and other tribes and to promote peace and love.
“Let us remain united as Chewas; gule wamkulu is a cultural practice and not a religion. At the same time, let us send our children, both girls and boys, to school,” advised Kalonga.
Kalonga Gawa Undi Mkhomo IV is a unique character when it comes to upholding cultural values.
The current Undi is number 26 in the successional sequence of Chewa kings. Different from other kings, he does not shake a hand unless he offers the hand himself. One is not even allowed to pat or touch him in any way.
It is a cultural routine that if you want to speak to the Kalonga, you attract his attention by clapping your hands and loudly speaking the words “yoo! Gawa”
Most of the times when in audience with Kalonga Gawa Undi, one sits on the floor unless Kalonga himself offers a chair. But if you are a Chewa, you are to insist sitting on the floor despite the chief offering you a chair.
Chief Lukwa says this is a sign of respect.
“You are not even allowed to cross legs if sitting on the chair. Brushing shoulders with Kamphambe is a total departure from our culture,” he says.