In 1781, a year after King Mulambwa was installed; a flood sunk his Lilundu (mound) royal homestead on the Great Barotse Plain. The king was evacuated to Kashiko in Nalumino-wa-Simakumba area. After that flood, there were earthworks to raise Lilundu above usual flood water levels and the planting of all kinds of trees, as a partial flood protection measure.
However, the Ku-Omboka continued as usual, for the next ten years, before it was decided to turn it into a national pageantry.
The Ku-Omboka became a pageantry during the Barotse lunar month of Liatamanyi (March) 1792, with Mulambwa still on the throne.
The 1792 Ku-Omboka Pageantry was induced by another unusually high flooding, which sunk most of the Great Plain’s homesteads and crop fields. This resulted in an intolerably great loss of lives and serious economic and social crisis. The crisis was addressed by a politically mobilized broad social response.
The response utilized the cultural artistry and science of boat making, water craft, and the supportive skill of rhythmic paddling to the beat of motivational state war drums, Maoma. The royal barge for this first pageantry of a Ku-Omboka, in 1792, in addition to being a Nalikwanda, became known as ‘Njonjolo Mbumwaci wato mungamba’ and ‘Njonjolo mukulu ku wato’, all of which refers to its grand size.
In 1792, on account of the unusually high flood, the destination for evacuation went beyond the margins of the plain to the fringes of the forest lands, for the first time.
This witnessed the movement of the king from Lilundu to ‘Mipulanga’, meaning gum trees. This area is now a favourite venue for modern political rallies and sports activities.
In 1793, the king was evacuated to even higher ground to the vicinities of the Kanyonyo area of modern Mongu Township.
As on the occasions of the immediate previous Ku-Omboka, the king’s party was welcomed in festive fashion, with much drumming, singing, and dancing, as has become tradition ever since.
Under the reign of King Lewanika the First, the Ku-Omboka Pageantry became even more formalised and elaborated, exciting part of the Barotse royal and social calendar.
Under Yeta the Third, the Ku-Omboka procession started landing at Limulunga, where it continues to land.
The Ku-Omboka Pageantry has been growing ever since and now attracts an ever-increasing number of people from within and outside Barotseland and Africa. It is now the greatest global tourist attraction this part of the world, perhaps only second to the Mosi-Oa-Tunya Falls.
It is certainly the earliest, most authentic, least uninterrupted, most media covered, and best known among Central Africa’s traditional customs and practices. But no one can fully grasp it, without personally eye witnessing and participating on the scene.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article contains extracts from the book ‘FREEDOM PARK Inaugural Memorial Lecture on KING LEWANIKA I OF BAROTSELAND 1842 – 1916 A LEGACY OF INDIGENOUS AFRICAN NATIONALISM’ written and Edited by Akashambatwa Mbikusita-Lewanika available in popular book stores and online stores.
COVER PICTURE: The Nalikwanda Royal Barge as captured in the 2017 Kuomboka Pageantry