CHIPATA, Zambia, Traditional leaders and residents of Chipata town in eastern Zambia on Saturday celebrated in pomp and splendour the Ncwala ceremony to mark the first harvests of the season.

The town, situated about 564 kilometres from Lusaka, the country’s capital, was swarmed by tourists who had come to witness one of the country’s top traditional ceremonies.

This year’s celebration, whose theme is “Unity and Tolerance”, coincided with President Edgar Lungu’s declaration of the town as a city on Friday.

The ceremony is commemorated by the Ngoni people based in Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi and South Africa.

The celebrations, led by Paramount Chief of Mpezeni, were characterized by celebrants adorned in leopard skins, wielding spears, clubs, shields and eagle feathers.

According to local traditions, when the crops ripen in February, the first fruits are given to Paramount Chief Mpezeni as a sacramental meal and thanksgiving to God and the ancestors, which is the essence of the ceremony.

The fresh fruits are given to him at his palace, Luangeni, situated south-east of the city, three days before the main event held at an open area called Mutenguleni.

Then the chief moves from his palace to a small one called Ephendukeni, three days before the main event. The procession to the small palace is spectacular, accompanied by a huge convoy of vehicles and escorted by Impis (warriors) clad in their traditional animal skin attire who run alongside the vehicle carrying the chief.

During the ceremony, the paramount chief, together with his invited guests including the Zambian leader were treated to a traditional dance.

The event was characterised by the Ngoma dances, where the dancers artistically stomp the ground while waving their clubs.

The ceremony culminated when one of the Ngoni warriors spears a black bull to death, while another slits its throat and collects the blood for the paramount chief to drink.

According to local people, the killing and drinking of blood signal that people should now start eating the produce from their fields.

“Ncwala is a very big ceremony for the Ngoni people because it brings us together and it also signals that we are now ready to consume the produce from our fields,” Jonathan Jere, a local businessman told Xinhua.

Kalume Zulu, a local leader, argued that the holding of the ceremony each year is vital to preserving the tradition of the Ngoni people.

“This ceremony makes us keep the tradition of our forefathers and helps the new generation know where they came from,” he added.

In his remarks, Lungu thanked the paramount chief and his people for sticking to their cultures by commemorating the ceremony each year.

This year’s celebration marked the 36th edition since it was revived in 1982. The Ngoni people are descendants of the Zulu people of South Africa who settled in Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique after fleeing from wars.