Christine Glidden - Project Manager
Stephanie Truesdale - Distribution Manager
Roberto Montoya - Business Planner & Videographer
The Bemba People are a tribe of 6M members who live in the Northern Province of Zambia. The King or His Royal Highness, Chitimukulu (Paramount King) Kanyantata-manga II is the life-long leader of this, the largest tribe in Zambia and holds great sway in national government.
He and his delegation had visited the US as the guests of Women To Be in May, 2018. WTB had been planning a kit distribution for summer 2018 and the King suggested August as the Annual Ceremony celebrating the tribe and its history would be held August 11.
Stephanie, Roberto, and I arrived in Kasama, the central town of Bemba Land ready to participate in the Ceremony and reestablish our relationship with His Royal Highness. Despite the fact that he normally spends the day before the Ceremony in quiet reflection with advisors, he invited us to his royal palace for a meeting. The palace is an older two-story 2-3000sq ft residence.
HRH greeted us with a enormous smile, quickly relieved us from our ‘bowing’ position, welcomed us to sit and then, accepted some small gifts from us. We were especially careful to include chocolates, a favorite of his family. And I had presented a necklace and earring set of white stones and NM turquoise for his wife.
The next day at the Ceremony, it was difficult to say how many Bembans were in attendance. However, many had come from from away by foot, traveling many days to get here. The ‘here’ was the site of the original founding of the tribe several hundred of years ago. There were hundreds of small stalls of vendors selling food, clothes, supplies, and trinkets amid the dust and dirt of the area and roads. We were brought in by vehicle.
People were milling about showing interest in our diversity and clothes. We bought a few things through negotiation, spoke haltingly with passersby, and walked to the ‘stadium’ where the actual ceremony would take place. We passed a ditch that had been dug hundreds of years ago when the Bemba People were at war with the local tribes for ownership of the land. The Bemba tribespeople used the ditch as a means of surprising and slowing the enemy and they had also hidden the King in an attached tunnel.
We made our way to the site of the Ceremony. The stadium is a four- sided affair of concrete seating surfaces. One side is covered against the elements and it was to this section that we were shown. We were led up the stairs to the top and it was here that we sat on velvet chairs with our names affixed. Clearly, we were honored guests.
Roberto had been asked by the King to video document the Ceremony and so he spent much time out in the crowd filming all the action. It was a huge undertaking, but with his professional experience, he positioned himself and his equipment to get the best views and record the entire day.
On the large central stage in the center of the stadium, the entertainment began. For the most part it consisted of dance groups from the lessor tribes. Loud drums, bells, animal furs, whistles and men and mostly women who danced and danced as we’d never seen before. These women undulated and shook every part of the bodies with both grace and sometimes frenzy. They mesmerized us with their impressive talent and energy.
After an hour or so, things settled down and the King entered the arena on a catafalque held on the shoulders of his male subjects. The entourage slowly made its way around the perimeter of the central stage three times being led by singers and dancers from the various tribes and clans. In his golden robes, he was solemn as he was paraded around. He never smiled or greeted anyone, but did casually wave the small ceremonial instrument he held in his hand, not at anyone, but simply to acknowledge the crowd in general.
On the final turn, he was let down and he entered a small wooden structure with a grass-matted roof where his wife had been waiting for him. The buffalo hide that had been a gift from the Sandia Pueblo from NM was laid at his feet. Then, upon close inspection, I came to realize that the King’s wife (not a queen) honored us by wearing the jewelry set we had given her the day before. What a thrill to see that!
The Ceremony continued with more dancing and drums and then later with a acting out of the history of the Bemba People. We were able to move around at will and so we all took photos and video, stretched our legs. Then, started the speechmaking. Major kings and lessor kings either spoke in honor of the Chitimukulu or had a spokesman do so. It was all in the Bemba language. At various points in time, some of the attendees walked onto the stage to make a donation as I had or the join the dancing as Stephanie did. Keep in mind that we were the only white people in this arena of 1500-2000 people. When we did anything, it drew attention. When Stephanie joined the dancing in her long skirt , she caused quite a stir. People were surprised and delighted by the her ability.
By hour three, I decided to casually check the program. What I saw, startled me. My name as one of the speakers! Quickly, I sorted through my mind who my audience was and what they wanted to hear. I knew I’d only have a few minutes to honor the King and get my message across. One of my hosts told me that probably 80% of the audience spoke english, but that if I wanted, the speech could be translated.
A few minutes later, my name was called. I made my way to the microphone. I praised the kindness and wisdom of the King explaining that few men sympathized with the menstrual challenges of women and girls. The Chitimukulu was a visionary leader who was determined to see that women are as productive as possible and that girls stay in school. Periodically, I stopped to allow the translation. I spoke a bit more about WTB and its partnership with the King and at one point received some spontaneous applause. People really understood this project and wanted it.
As the day came to a close, we headed back to the car to start the chaotic journey to the exit. From there, we had been invited to the lunch hosted by the King, given under large tents for probably 150-200 people. I was invited to sit at the head table with the King and his dignitaries. The food was excellent if not all familiar to us. However, we avoided the fried worms.