Why Do Litungas (Kings) of Barotseland Wear British Admirals or Military Uniforms?

Why Do Litungas (Kings) of Barotseland Wear British Admirals or Military Uniforms?

By / Monarch / Sunday, 21 April 2013 18:11

It is not un common to hear this question asked with many devoid of knowledge about Barotse history wrongly alleging the practice is an overtone of “colonialism” , and un African and can’t possibly be a part of the Lozi culture, or even some lately mocking that perhaps Litunga is a “Michael Jackson” wanna be.

Not very long ago even the Zambian head of state Mr. Michael Sata was publicly quoted mocking the Litunga’s attire as a “fake” British colonial uniform – amazingly as he made these remarks he himself was clad in a western style ‘colonial’ suit and tie!

To somewhat provide some answers to this question allow me to first clear some misconceptions:

Firstly it is not a “fake”  but an original admiral’s uniform because to this day every successive Litunga gets his own uniform tailor made from the United Kingdom, and I will try to explain why the United Kingdom later in the article. So it is not one century old uniform fitting all. It can also not at all be an imitation or an inspiration from Michael Jackson because this tradition is centuries old, meaning it existed many years before Michael Jackson was even conceived, late alone his parents.

Secondly and more importantly, Yes this is, without doubt, a part of and has been a part of the Lozi culture for centuries now. It is important to note that all earthly cultures are a mixture of other cultures. Even languages, English is mixture of German and other languages. Even the whole Zambia uses English as our national language and English is part of our culture because language is one of the main things of any culture. And we got English from our colonial master and English today is our culture. The Litunga's uniform is part of Lozi culture and not British anymore. You cannot call English as French simply because some English words are borrowed from French in their exact way. The fact that the Barotse King uses British uniform should tell you Zambian culture and the Lozi culture in particular and the British culture interact.

Thirdly this practice is not and has never been an overtone of “colonialism” because those familiar with the history of the Barotse will agree that Barotseland was never conquered militarily or colonized but voluntarily acquired a “protectorate” status of the United Kingdom by mutual negotiation and through “Treaties”, meaning the two agreed and signed to further each other’s interest as partners or friends.

How did The Admiral’s Uniform come about?

Lubosi Lewanika

Research indicates that the first Litunga to have worn the Admiral’s uniform may be King Lubosi Lewanika I whose 1848 – 1916 rule was interrupted by a coup d’état in 1884, which he reclaimed in 1885. He is the King who first set up the Barotse Native Police in 1893. In his reign he was accorded the honour of attending the coronation Ceremonies of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra at Westminster Abbey in London in 1902. He was decorated with the medals of King Edward VII in 1902, and King George V in 1911. The Admiral Uniform may have been given to him as an honour and recognition of his “Royalty”. This King was acknowledged worldwide even by foreign press in the United Kingdom as well as the USA as having been a “Great African King” – a subject for another time. More of his pictures can be found here: http://barotseland.info/Lewanika_I.htm

King Mwanawina III

His son after him, King Litia Yeta III (CBE), who ruled from 1916 to 1945 had the Admiral Uniform because he also “earned” it through his military service on the side of the British in world wars (before he ascended to the throne in 1916). He was officially bestowed with the title of the Commander of the British Empire (CBE), c. 01st January, 1946. He also was accorded the honor of attending the Coronation Ceremony of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth at Westminster Abbey in London in 1937. More of his pictures can be found here: http://barotseland.info/Yeta_III.htm

From then on every Litunga has had an Admiral’s Uniform specially made for them. Because of space and time we can’t show you all pictures.

Why Wear The Admirals Uniform?

Like stated above the admiral’s uniform is now a Lozi culture fused in through our interaction with other cultures, in this case the culture of the United Kingdom. I hope every reader appreciates that culture is dynamic and that usually is a collection of that culture’s interaction with nature, itself and other cultures. A further example is that Zambia has a culture of Nshima (maize meal) as our staple food and yet there is nothing “African” about Maize because as a crop it was introduced on the continent by the Portuguese?

So to understand the meaning of the Admiral’s Uniform let us refer to the meaning the people who “Dressed” the Litunga must have attached to the Uniform below:

Why Do British Royals Wear Military Uniforms?

I would like to borrow from some work done by Julie Bosman on the subject in an article she wrote in April 11, 2002 to the Explainer – Slate Magazine answering a similar question which became very popular after it was noticed that during the Queen Mother’s funeral all the British Royals were clad in the Admiral or military uniforms.

Prince Charles wore the dress uniform of a rear admiral, Prince Andrew the uniform of a royal naval commander, and even Princess Anne the trousers of a rear admiral. So why do British royals wear military uniforms?

According to Julie, Frequently, the royals earn their uniforms the hard way. Both Prince Charles and Prince Andrew, for example, had long careers in the military. Prince Andrew retired from active service in 2001 after serving as an officer in the royal navy for over 20 years, earning the title of commander in the process (Kind of like King Litia Yeta III (CBE) of Barotseland.) Prince Charles served as an air vice marshal in the royal air force and rear admiral in the navy, retiring in 1976 after seven years of active service.

Other times, royals collect military ranks and uniforms as honorifics. Princess Anne didn't serve in the military, but she can wear military trousers because she is an honorary rear admiral. In addition to his earned military ranks, Prince Charles is the honorary colonel in chief of 17 regiments of the armed services.

Custom holds that those royals who don't hold a military rank wear standard mourning garb at state funerals. Prince Edward, who served only briefly in the military and holds no important earned or honorary rank, wore a long black morning coat to his grandmother's funeral.

Royals have donned military dress at state occasions since the 19th century. Princess Anne's military trousers were a departure from the norm, however. Though the queen mum's funeral marked the second time Princess Anne has made the feminist gesture, she reportedly is the first royal woman to wear military attire in public since Queen Elizabeth I—in 1588. For that occasion, in which the queen rallied British troops at Tilbury to battle the Spanish, she wore a suit of armor.

Bonus Explainer: The queen mother married into the monarchy and took on the title of queen. Her daughter Queen Elizabeth's husband married into the monarchy, yet holds the title of prince. So why isn't Prince Philip King Philip?

The husband of a female monarch is not recognized with special status, rank, or privileges, though they customarily act as major players in the royal family. Historians aren't sure why the practice started, but they trace it back to Queen Anne, who reigned from 1702 to 1714. The wife of a reigning king, like the queen mother, is given the title of "queen consort." The queen mum's daughter Elizabeth II, a queen by birthright, holds the title of "queen regnant." (The foregoing is posting by Julie Bosman done in April of 2002 and the actual accolades of the royals mentioned may have since changed. )

From the foregoing, it is clear that when the British honored or gave the Litunga of Barotseland they meant it as an honour and an acknowledgment of His royalty. As a Royal they may have accepted that he should be given Royal attire in accordance with their tradition. This I believe is the very reason people like Michael Jackson felt they should also were similar Uniforms to look like “Royalty” since he crowned himself as the ‘King’ of ‘POP’ Music. Elvis Presley, the ‘King’ of ‘Rock’ music, had similar attire.

So whether we appreciate it or not, this Lozi culture will and must continue because it speaks of the journeys and interaction of the Lozi people and their past kings. This history is so rich that you will find it even curricula of the best of academic institutions such as Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard, etc.

Zambians and Barotse people in particular must appreciate and value this history so rich that the world could see the value of teaching their people about.

Lozis should not feel any pressure, whether through scorn or otherwise, to try to deny their heritage. Like all cultures, they should embrace their uniqueness and teach it to their offspring so that through knowledge we can all become better.

Those who feel the need to mock other people’s cultures must be encouraged to focus on their own cultures and make them better. Sometimes focusing on speaking bad about others is a sign that one does not feel good about themselves in the first place, and so they seek self esteem making others feel bad.

We also appeal to all our  traditional authorities to be more revealing and educate us of our centuries old traditions so that we don’t feel lost or be swallowed up by other cultures, but that we will know how to assert ourselves in the global world without necessarily being pressured to abandon our cultures for the sake of ‘fitting’ in with what others seek to prescribe for us.

This article is written by a Lozi who felt the need to share knowledge.

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