The Chewa people of Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique recently paid homage to their paramount chief, the Kalonga Gawa Undi, during the Kulamba traditional ceremony. The ceremony took place at the Chewa tribe headquarters at Mkaika in the Katete District of the Eastern Province of Zambia.

This year’s theme was “Educating a Girl Child, Ending Early Marriage”, which addresses the challenges facing girls not only from these three nations but across the continent. The fight against early marriage requires community cooperation and making it the Kulamba theme emphasised the attendees’ responsibility to enhance the education of girls in their own homes. This would help to eradicate the ways in which the education of girls is undervalued in their communities. This is in line with the advice of Chewa paramount chief, who advocates for children’s education every year. It is also a reflection of the African proverb that proclaims, “Once you have educated a woman, you have educated the nation.”

The fight against early marriage requires community cooperation.

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The paramount chief delivered his message through a representative, James Chirwa, who said, “The paramount chief is encouraging all people to send children to school, especially girls.” He announced, “The paramount chief wants the government of Zambia to construct a technical university in the Eastern Province of Zambia.” This insistence on schooling can be seen in the use of Chewa cultural practices. Chiefs in rural areas of Malawi use the famous “Gule Wamkulu” (Big Dance) to chase all children who refuse to go to school. Many students attend school out of fear of being chased and so absenteeism is reduced.

Chiefs at the Kulamba Festival. Photo: Facebook/Francewill

Gule Wamkulu is one of the various dances that are performed to entertain the masses at Kulamba. It is a Chewa masquerade dance in which the performers are believed to be spirits of the dead. It has been misrepresented as a dance of traditional African religion but at the 2017 Kulamba the paramount chief’s spokesperson said that Gule Wamkulu was not religious but “just a cultural practice” and people could choose whether to take part or not.

The Kulamba also serves key political functions. It provides an opportunity for tribal chiefs to present the Kalonga Gawa Undi with gifts and to update him on concerns and developments in their respective chiefdoms. It also promotes good relationships among the Chewa. Political leaders from the three nations joined local chiefs to celebrate and traditional leaders from other tribes were also invited as an expression of friendship extended by the Chewa.

Traditional ceremonies have a vital role in uniting people.


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Zambia’s vice president, Inonge Wina, said, “Traditional ceremonies have a vital role in uniting the people of Zambia. That’s why the government respects the preservation of many cultures in the country.” She added, “The Kulamba ceremony is an expression of cultural freedom in Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia.” Cecilia Chazama, Malawi’s Minister of Civic Education, Community Development and Culture, said, “The government of Malawi respects the Kulamba ceremony as it promotes and preserves the culture and identity of the Chewa people in the three nations.” The minister also lauded the chiefs for discouraging early marriage.

The Kulamba’s pro-development message is extended to various people from all walks of life, demonstrating how a traditional cultural ceremony can serve as a driver for positive change.