An amalgam of traditions, norms, and values of a diverse people from over seventy ethnic groups make up the Zambian culture. The South African country derives its name from the Zambezi River, which forms Victoria Falls (a major tourist attraction), flows into Lake Kariba and on to the Indian Ocean. As a landlocked nation, Zambia has a small population of about thirteen million, while most of its vast land is sporadically populated with a craggy topography.

The country’s diverse culture is a fascinating tale that dates back to the colonial era, when independent states came together to trade slaves, ivory and copper, in exchange for salt, jewelry, and textiles. Brought together by trade, these ethnically diverse people integrated their cultures and traditions. Although to some extent the aboriginal values and customs have been watered down by westernization, most of them have been carried on from one generation to another, making Zambia home to some of the unrivaled cultures in Africa.

Music and Dance

Culture is so critical that Zambia’s post-independence development was quite dependent on it, like in many other African countries, in building a unique identity for the nation and its people. The establishment of cultural villages and private museums went a long way in endorsing the mien of arts. Part of the expression is through music and dance, which embodies the beauty and spectacle of life in Zambia, from the intricacies of the talking drums to the Kamangu drum used to announce the beginning of Malaila traditional ceremony.

zambia dance

The sound of the drums is customarily a call for song and dance. With the accompaniment of other traditional instruments, which despite rivalry from western ones have stood the test of time, the dance is imperative in socially bringing the people of Zambia together as one in the spirit of Africanism.

Communication

While English is the official language in Zambia, the country boasts over seventy-two local parlances with Bemba being the most spoken by more than two million Zambians in Lusaka and across the Copperbelt. Other languages include Nyanja/Chewa which is spoken across the country; Lozi, spoken along the Zambezi; and Tonga which is common in the south, while Lunda, Kaonde, and Luvale are spoken in the west.

Greetings are considered customary in the Zambian culture, expected before the start of any conversation. The greetings are then followed by an inquiry on the other’s wellbeing after which the parties indulge in their tête-à-tête. Proverbial communication is common even in the education system of Zambia as maxims are considered part of the oral tradition.

Food

zambian food
Zambia’s main staple food is nshima, made of cornmeal (maize). The cornmeal is cooked in boiling water and mixed to make a thick paste which is served with ndiwo (relish). The food is traditionally eaten using hands. Breakfast is commonly buns served with tea or porridge. Plenty of food and traditionally brewed beer is served in ceremonies such as weddings and funerals, a factor used to bring together members of the community.

Marriage

One of the most thrilling discussions of any culture, marriage is considered sacred in Zambia not only religiously but also traditionally. In line with this, traditions do not allow people to marry outside their tribe, but a marriage union within a clan is considered taboo.

When a couple decides to marry, the groom is accompanied by a negotiator to meet with the potential bride’s family in a bid to get to know them and negotiate for a lobola (dowry). The lobola comprises of cattle or other livestock, which is seen as recompense to the family for the lost services of the woman. While Christian weddings have become common in Zambia, traditional religious wedding customs are still largely practiced in both cities and rural areas, varying from the different tribes.

Such a rich and unsurpassed culture could be the game changer for the undeveloped tourism sector, which accounts for less than three percent of Zambia’s GDP. If well nurtured, the cultural perspective has the capability of increasing tenfold the visitor numbers in Zambia that remain steadily at approximately half a million per year.

Apart from the regal Victoria Falls, Zambia offers a natural taste of life with innumerable pristine resources. Offering and sharing its consummate indigenous culture is a huge step towards awakening the sleeping giant that is Zambia’s tourism sector.

Credit: Josephine Wawira, Jovago