Business in the entire Chipata town came to a standstill on Thursday as Paramount Chief Mpezeni of the Ngoni speaking people was driven through from his Ependukeni Palace to Laweni, marking the start of the N’cwala traditional ceremony.
The procession started at about 15:00 hours as Paramount Chief Mpezeni was led by Gogo Madzimawe out of Ependukeni Palace in Feni, as he migrated to his other palace at Laweni in Mtenguleni village where he arrived around 17:15 hours.
The procession was characterized by jubilation with his subjects standing by the roadside, covering much of the 50 kilometre stretch between the two palaces amidst tight state security with backup from the Impis to ensure a smooth procession.
Much to the amazement of the local people who expected to see the Nkosi yama Nkosi as he is popularly reffered to in a porseche car waving from the rooftop, Chief Mpezeni IV opted to sit at the back of a Toyota Land Cruiser for easier visibility for the onlookers as he drove through.
Traffic police had a tough straggle in clearing the route as people flocked the roadside and some forcing their way through to the vehicle that was in a heavy convoy of over 100 cars through the procession.
Shop owners had to close up business while hundreds of school children made a chase of the convoy to catch a glimpse of the Nkosi yama nkosi through Chipata’s Central Business District and beyond.
Hundreds of his subjects gathered outside the Laweni Palace as Chief Mpezeni arrived, ahead of the climax of the ceremony today at Mtenguleni.
A search on Wikipedia reveals that the N’cwala Traditional Ceremony is held in February each year by the Ngoni people in the Chipata district and celebrates the first harvests of the year. The ceremony takes place at Mtenguleni village near Chipata.
The tradition is to celebrate the blessing received through new crops.
When the crops ripen at the end of February, the first fruits are given to Chief Mpezeni as a sacramental meal and thanksgiving to God and the ancestors. And this is the essence of the ceremony.
After the fresh fruits have been presented to the king, he takes them into his palace and prepares for the long journey from his palace in the Luangeni hill to Mtenguleni.
This is a long journey: The palace is located at about 45 kilometres in Luangeni south-east of Chipata and Mtenguleni is about 60 kilometers south-west of Chipata.
The celebrants are adorned in leopard skins, wielding spears, clubs, shields and eagle feathers.
Speeches are given. People sing and dance. The ground literally shakes with the stomping of their feet.
The ceremony climaxes when an Ngoni warrior spears a black bull to death. The bull is actually selected and killed for this occasion.
Another warrior quickly slits the throat and collects the blood which Chief Mpezeni, wearing leopard skin drinks.
Then, Ngonis with knives cut the carcass. Within a short period the animal is dissected and some parts are eaten right on the sport. Ngoni warriors who are known as hyenas eat some of the raw meat, intestines and organs.
The whole stomping and dancing and revelry making goes on for three days, starting from Luangeni and culminating at Mtenguleni!