Zambian Cultural Heritage – The Traditional Lwiindi Rain Ceremony of the Toka-Leya

There are many long-established traditional ceremonies in Zambia and described here is a ceremony of the Toka-Leya people in Zambia. Its main purpose is to attract the rain after a long dry season. Lwiindi means ‘thanksgiving of the harvests’. Zambia experiences a long dry season from April through to October and by the end of the dry season the land is parched, rivers and lakes are drying up and people and animals must travel long distances for water.

Living so close to the Victoria Falls the Toka-Leya understand the waterfall better than most and they respect it too. They have created a number of shrines for different purposes including prayer and sacrifice stemming from their belief that various spirits live around the falls area.

The area in which the Lwiindi ceremony is performed is highly prone to drought and so this ceremony is performed just before the rains would normally be expected every year to ensure its timely and much needed arrival. Young men around the age of seventeen under Chief Mukuni’s rule are expected to prove they are real men and ready for their marital responsibilities by taking part in this adventurous rain inducing custom.

Days before the ritual local beer is brewed and visitors begin to congregate in the village and the excitement brews. On the day of the ceremony traditional hymns are sung to the Toka-Leya ancestors whom the people believe their chief, Chief Mukuni, is a living representative. The ceremony begins with a 40km walk away from the Mukuni Village and towards the Victoria Falls. On arrival the young men smear themselves with white clay from the river bed and they do this to demonstrate their purity to the spirits. They also use fresh green leaves to complete the ritual costume.

Now the men must collect water from a sacred site deep within the gorge in what is known as the ‘boiling pot’ (due to its angry and tumultuous swirling below the Victoria Falls). After this dangerous escapade, the water is very carefully carried to a water shrine on the road to Mukuni Village and here they imitate rain falling by pouring water over the roof of a sacred hut. The group of revered young men who have now proved their manliness and are seen to be ready for marriage return to the village where they are met by the beautiful and eager young girls of the village. Historically the girls would have used this opportunity to select a husband of choice but times have moved on somewhat!

Though to some the concept of rituals, ceremonies, costumes and prayers to spirits may seem a little farfetched, witnesses of this ceremony will tell you that it always rains within an hour of these sacred rituals. It has been reported that even when the rest of Livingstone (the area surrounding the Victoria Falls) is completely dry from months without rain, the vicinity of the Toka -Leya where the Lwiindi ceremony has taken place is blessed with a much needed and refreshing downpour.

This article is inspired by the book ‘Ceremony! Celebrating Zambia’s Cultural Heritage’. It’s fabulous and a visually pleasing book which I would encourage you to get. I got mine from ZAIN in Lusaka, Zambia. It is published by Celtel Zambia PLC and Seka. Original photography, Francois d’Elbee. Coordinating author, Tamara Guhrs. Editor, Mulunga Kapwepwe. Contributing authors, Akashambatwa Mbikusita-Lewanika, Prof Mapopa Mtonga, Mulenga Kapwepwe, Isaac Smogy Kapinga, Miranda Guhrs, Msatero Tembo, Matiya Ngalande and Joseph Chikuta.

Zambia enourages people to witness its cultural ceremonies.

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