Ngoni chiefs from Mzimba were on Sunday briefly detained at Songwe Border Post in Karonga for possessing and wearing ivory bangles and headgears made of animal skins.
The Ngoni leaders—Senior Chief Mpherembe and Senior Chief Mtwalo, including members of Mzimba Heritage Association—were travelling to Songea in Tanzania for the Maji Maji Rebellion Commemoration.
However, the journey was interrupted for some minutes as the entourage was summoned to the Parks and Wildlife offices for interrogation.
The wildlife officials feared that the cultural custodians’ display of wildlife materials could promote poaching and endanger life of animals.
However, after several calls to the parks and wildlife headquarters, the entourage was released on confirmation that they are cultural preservatives.
In an interview, Mzimba Heritage Association secretary Aupson Thole said animal skins and ivory bangles will remain the identity of the ngoni from Mzimba even if it is outlawed to wear them.
“It’s true that our chiefs and some of our members had headgear made of animal skins and we were held for some minutes. But as Ngonis we cannot be identified without animal skins, and it’s something that we have inherited. So, we explained to them and they understood us,” he said.
The case presents the dilemma of wildlife preservation and cultural promotion without endangering lives of animals.
However, Thole said the Ngonis are committed to wildlife preservation and that they discourage poaching by using animal skins from tamed livestock.
“We buy these products from South Africa. Most of them are well-treated goatskins. So, we understand how best to preserve wildlife through our culture.
“However, we know very well that we cannot live without animal skins. That is a very big culture to us. But one thing people should understand is that Ngonis are not poachers. What we have, like the ivory bangles, is inherited from our forefathers,” said Thole.
The delegates travelled about 1 000 kilometres from Mzimba to Songea for the commemoration which took place on Monday and Tuesday.
The Maji Maji commemoration is done in memory of the mass killings of the Ngonis in Tanzania during the struggle for independence and cultural nationalism against Germany.
On Saturday, the Mzimba ngonis, led by Inkosi ya Makhosi M’mbelwa V, were also in attendance of the Incwala Cultural Festival of the Ngoni in Zambia which celebrates the first harvests of the year.