THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: Majestic Litunga, Brilliant Peter Jones, Kupuwana, Maoma Drums and other talking points from Litunga’s 2019 Royal Visit to Livingstone

25 September 2019
[MAIN] His Majesty The Litunga, King of Barotseland, Imwiko II, on his 2019 Royal visit to the Tourist City of Livingstone to officially grace the 5th Zambezi International Regatta held on 14th September 2019 at the invitation of Zambia Tourism Agency Chairman, Peter Jones [INSET-LEFT] and the Livingstone Sports Festival on the Sidelines of 2019 Southern Province Investment and Tourism Exposition - CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE



With His Majesty, The Litunga, King of Barotseland now back from what many agree was a splendid and spectacular historic royal visit to the tourist city of Livingstone, some were, however, unamused that Barotseland Post did not highlight the alleged flouting of some core cultural values of Barotseland!

“How can your publication (Barotseland Post) flatter Lubosi with such praise about his magnificence when you know very well that he is breaking cultural norms daily, uncharacteristic of the King of Barotseland?

“What is ‘Kupuwana Ceremony’ and how could you even think of using such a term for what Lubosi just did in Livingstone?” retorted one unhappy reader of our article on the royal visit, introducing herself as an angry and disappointed royalist and member of the extended royal family, who also went on to say she had since lost confidence in Barotseland Post, claiming further that she previously believed the publication would always defend Barotseland. She was now accusing the publication of apparently condoning and promoting Imwiko II and the Barotse Royal Establishment (BRE) in their gross violations of the long-established cultural traditions.

However, after a long discourse with her explaining that, as a publication, it was within our mandate to document and report on all major events taking place in Barotseland, factually and objectively for posterity, the complainant was pacified by further assurances that the Editorial team would write a commentary to include her actual concerns, among others.

The Barotseland Post believes that future generations will need to have an accurate record of what the Kingdom of Barotseland is currently passing through, and so yes, sometimes we must merely record and report on Barotseland events without putting in our biased opinions on the happenings.

However, we also agreed with the angry royalist that there were a lot of talking points that must be dealt with to offer a more comprehensive historical narrative, as history must always be recorded comprehensively, whether we liked it or not!

So, in this narrative, we wish to look at the ‘elephant in the room’. Yes, the great black elephant of Barotseland (Litunga) who entered the Mosi-oa-tunya park (Livingstone) as he strolled the great length of his Kingdom (Barotseland)!


The 2019 Livingstone royal visit by His Majesty was such a historic event that could not go without objective documentation because very rarely has the King of Barotseland ever travelled outside or within the Kingdom in such a ceremonious manner, and thanks to the brilliance of Peter Jones and his partners, Imwiko II was able to retrace his forefathers’ footsteps.

It must be clarified that Imwiko II’s recent visit is only the third visit any reigning King of Barotseland had undertaken in such a ceremonious fashion – travelling with a flotilla of his royal barges. While Barotse Kings have visited Livingstone on more than three occasions in history, only on three such occasions has any King travelled with a flotilla of their royal barges.

Lewanika I alone, for instance, is documented to have passed through or gone to Livingstone at least twice on royal duty or as he went overseas to and from Europe in the early 1900s. However, the first King to have travelled to Livingstone with a flotilla of his royal barges, is Lewanika’s son, Yeta III, in 1925 to meet a foreign dignitary, the Prince of Wales, and later Yeta III's own brother, Litunga Imwiko I, in 1947 to meet with King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of the British Empire.


The ‘elephant in the room’ is a popular English metaphorical idiom which means an important and obvious topic, which everyone present is aware of, but none wishes to discuss, as such discussion is generally considered to be uncomfortable.

Firstly, His Majesty’s 2019 royal visit to the tourist city of Livingstone proved beyond any reasonable doubt that the Litunga of Barotseland, particularly Imwiko II, is very majestic and magnificent in grace, stature and demeanour. So much so that it would be ridiculous for anyone in Zambia and the world to continue to look down on him as a mere ‘chief’, whether paramount or anything else, just because his Kingdom, Barotseland, shares state sovereignty with the unitary state of Zambia - a republic!

The term 'Chief' is considered very demeaning when used on the Litunga because Barotseland does not have such a term, and more importantly because Zambia only uses it to reduce and derogate the stature of the monarch of Barotseland - the same way the colonial British government did.

The term Litunga or King must be used instead when referring to the Barotse monarch!

The Litunga is so majestic and so regal that no one in his royal presence would think of him as anything less than what he truly is – a reigning monarch, and particularly, Imwiko II could stand majestically tall in the presence of any world leader on earth today!

All the media in Zambia and Barotseland were right in addressing him by his appropriate title ‘His Majesty’ and not 'His Royal Highness' during the entire royal visit because that is the correct title and decorum befitting the Litunga of Barotseland! He is King over the actual territory and Kingdom of Barotseland! He reigns over all the people, land and natural resources in the Kingdom of Barotseland to this day! The title, 'His Royal Highness' is reserved for Princes and Princesses or other 'chiefly' offices in Barotseland other than that of the Litunga.

Currently, his kingdom lies in the west of Zambia, politically designated as the Western Province of Zambia, but that entire territory is still his kingdom and he has legitimate exclusive dominion over it!

And because many in Zambia are uncomfortable with this obvious truth, we present it as the first elephant in the room!

Was the Litunga hired to display his Kuomboka craft as an entertainer at the Southern EXPO?

The Litunga was invited to grace the official opening of the 5th Zambezi International Regatta held at the Zambezi Boat Club in conjunction with the Livingstone Sports Festival which was taking place on the sidelines of the Southern Province Investment and Tourism Exposition. His invitation was to retrace history as many other Kings of Barotseland had been to that same boat club in times past. In fact, the Zambezi Boat Club was first officially graced by Lewanika I, King of Barotseland, at its opening in 1905.

In 1905, when the Zambezi Boat Club was officially opened and the first regatta performed, coinciding with the construction of the greater city of Livingstone, it was Lewanika I, King of Barotseland, who was on hand to commission both the construction of the city and to open the boat club.

In 1925, Yeta III, King of Barotseland, visited the same Zambezi Boat Club to meet a foreign dignitary, the Prince of Wales. For this royal visit, Yeta III literally travelled with a flotilla of his royal barges from Lealui, while another King of Barotseland, Imwiko I, the current King’s own father, similarly came to this very boat club to meet with King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1947.

Knowing this, Peter Jones and his partners decided that this history must be revisited. They, therefore, decided to solicit for the royal gracing of the 5th Zambezi International Regatta by the current reigning King of Barotseland. Accordingly, Peter and the Livingstone Sports Festival must be commended for revitalizing this rich Barotse history, without which gesture many in Zambia and Barotseland would never have known it existed.

Of course, we know that the 2019 royal visit was categorised under tourism, encompassing culture, history and sports, on the sidelines of the Southern Province Investment and Tourism EXPO - where Peter Jones was also co-organiser, as Chairman of the Zambia Tourism Agency at the time!


We must agree, the term ‘Kupuwana’ was unknown even to most Barotse people, let alone as a ceremony! Why call the Litunga’s procession Kupuwana? Is it even right to call it that?

Well, the Barotse Royal Establishment (BRE) is in charge of cultural and traditional matters in Barotseland, and it is they who gave the Litunga’s display of royal barges in Livingstone on the 13th of September 2019 both its name and its meaning - not Barotseland Post.

In clarifying insinuations that the Litunga had been ‘hired’ to carry out a Kuomboka or a mini-Kuomboka at the South EXPO, the BRE said that the Litunga would merely perform a Kupuwana 'ceremony', not Kuomboka and that alternative royal barges such as the Indila would be used instead of the Nalikwanda which is prominent in the Kuomboka procession.

While Kuomboka is the annual voyage of the King of Barotseland from his flooded royal palace of Lealui to the highland royal palace of Limulunga, with the mini-Kuomboka being the less-in-grandeur version of Kuomboka conducted when the floodwater levels are too low for a full Kuomboka, Kupuwana, they explained, would be any other water trip that the Litunga undertakes in his royal boats from one spot to another.

Later, however, the BRE extended the term Kupuwana to also mean the playful display of royal barges for entertainment and a demonstration of skill by the royal paddlers most likely because the term ‘ku puwana’ or ‘ku pufwana’ also means to swim or wade playfully in the water, lake or river.

It is this extended explanation that has incensed some royalists who feel that it was wrong for the BRE to try to name the Litunga’s procession in Livingstone as a ‘Kupuwana ceremony’, as such ceremony had never been heard of before!

“The problem is that the word Kupuwana,” one protested, “literally means ‘to walk or wade through a small lake or small river to the other side’ – the lake or river must only be about knee-deep, and this term could apply to both the wading of humans and animals!

“However, the question we have is, could you apply the same common term to His Majesty, knowing that the Litunga does not share common national terms with everybody!”

“Imwiko never had Kupuwana, or whatever, but he was on a mere royal visit. He chose to paddle the notila (a royal barge) all the way down. So, those saying Imwiko had Kupuwana are far from the truth!

“Kupuwana is the wrong term, why didn’t they (BRE) just say the Litunga would grace the regatta and that along with it the BRE would display the royal barges to spice-up the event or just take a regatta team from the royal palaces to compete with the visiting teams?” protested the incensed royalist who also condemned the sounding of the Maoma royal drums in Livingstone.

For those without knowledge of the culture of Barotseland, the common events that humans or animals undertake in day to day life actually have separate terminologies when undertaken by the King of Barotseland.

For instance, the king does not walk, swim, sleep, eat, fall sick or die. All these normal life activities must take on special majestic names and terminologies when the King of Barotseland is involved. ‘Ku zamaya’ (to walk) would be ‘Kutamboka’ (walking majestically) when undertaken by the king.

So, the King never walks but he ‘Walks majestically’, he never eats, ‘Kuca’, but he ‘eats majestically’ known as ‘Kukumbela’. He never swims or bathes (Kutapa) but he ‘swims or bathes majestically’ known as ‘Kuyowana’, etc. This naming culture extends to all vessels and utensils such as cutlery, clothes, beds, offices, barges, cars, aeroplanes, etc which immediately take on exclusive royal terms when used or owned by the King of Barotseland.

The Maoma Royal Drums, on the other hand, are always sounded to communicate the state of the Kingdom or the monarch at any given time. So, if the Litunga is in transit, it would be necessary to sound the Maoma at periodic times, in distinct tunes, to communicate the state of the Litunga, whether he is safe or in danger, just like the Maoma would be sounded to communicate on the state of the Kingdom or the Monarch back in the royal capital.

The Maoma Royal Drums also represent the government of Barotseland much like the national court of arms or the national flag would. If the Litunga’s flag can be raised wherever the Litunga is, most definitely the Maoma can also be carried and sounded wherever the Litunga is. The Litunga sits on the Maoma royal drum to announce the finality of an enthroned King – the presence and unity of the monarch and his monarchy. He and the Maoma represent the same thing – the Barotseland government! The Maoma announces the presence of His Majesty, the Litunga’s government. The Litunga is the head of the Barotseland monarchy, and the Maoma drum must always sound to report the state of both the monarch and his monarchy.

However, some royalists have expressed displeasure that the Maoma royal drums were carried to Livingstone, while others wondered why that should be considered erroneous because in the strict sense Livingstone is arguably part of the extended Barotseland Kingdom.

Well, we wish to emphasise that the BRE are in charge of culture and tradition in Barotseland. So, what they decided to call the Litunga's procession in Livingstone, will most likely stand until further notice. However, for harmonious co-existence, we can only advise that consultation is key under such circumstances. Therefore, we can only hope that the BRE do consult stakeholders when making such decisions that are likely to disrupt the cultural order of the Barotse nation.

What is also true in this case is that the BRE have demonstrated that culture is dynamic and that even royal etiquette is capable of reform to meet the current demands of modern society, but in so doing they must always consult widely.

Further, the BRE and the Prime Minister, Mukela Manyando, must improve on their public relations. This is clearly evident as some people felt that the Litunga was ‘hired’ by president Lungu to go and display the ‘Kuomboka ritual’ at the Southern Province Investment and Tourism EXPO for commercial gain.

However, while the 5th Zambezi international regatta was organized on the sidelines of the South EXPO, the Litunga’s specific and only royal duty was dedicated to the regatta as explained above, and His Majesty returned to his Limulunga royal capital shortly after that particular royal ceremonial assignment.

He did not stay on to fraternise with the Zambian President, Edgar Lungu, as was popularly believed through some sections of social media.

While at the Zambezi Boat Club, Imwiko II also planted a memorial tree in support of environmental conservation and unveiled a monumental plaque - next to the one unveiled by King George VI in 1947. He also attended a church service at the St. Theresa Parish of the Catholic Church on Sunday before returning to the royal capital on Monday, 16th September 2019.

No doubt, the 2019 royal visit was historic, and it gave many Barotse people something to be proud of.

Its successful undertaking has also raised questions of whether Barotse people are more attached to and more excited about their culture than the equally important and outstanding matters of Barotseland self-determination and the constant repression and suppression of their very basic human rights, such as the freedom of expression, free assembly and association they continue to experience in Zambia.

The Zambian government has often been accused of treating Barotse people with a heavy-handedness aimed at suppressing ongoing demands for Barotseland self-determination after the Lusaka government unilaterally abrogated, in 1965-1969, the pre-independence Barotseland Agreement 1964 which guaranteed Barotseland self-governance within the sovereign republic of Zambia.

Consequently, the Litunga and BRE sanctioned the historic 2012 Barotse National Council (BNC) which resolved that Barotseland would, henceforth, peacefully seek to re-establish separate sovereignty, considering that the Zambian state has repeatedly refused to honour the terms of the 1964 pre-independence treaty that conjoined Barotseland to the newly independent state of Zambia and guaranteed Barotseland autonomy within independent Zambia.

Lusaka, however, will allow none of that, choosing instead to arrest and imprison any Barotse people determined to push for the peaceful separation of Barotseland from Zambia. It is to such critical matters that many Barotse people feel the Litunga and the BRE must devote themselves and their royal time - rather than being seen to dine and wine with the Lusaka government.

Essentially, Barotseland is today experiencing forced assimilation in Zambia or sheer annexation – a black on black colonization – which would be the elephant in the room for another day!

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The Barotseland Post, also known as The Barotsepost, is an online media platform, for now, that is dedicated to reporting stories and news around Barotseland and beyond, giving exclusive coverage and access to the people and the nation of Barotseland to fully express themselves in their aspirations for self- determination.