Tuesday, 16 September 2014

VF Traveller: Tonga Music Festival

VF Traveller takes Village Flute beyond Bangladesh and out into the world. Here, aspiring and established writers and photographers can present a village that is special to them, in their language, from their perspective, from their neck of the woods...


Featured village: Chikuni, Zambia. 
By Charles Mafa.

Audience gathered for the Tonga Music Festival 2014. Chikuni, Zambia.

I have been to Chikuni in Monze town, south of Zambia’s capital, on several occasions, but my recent trip to the Tonga Musical Festival stands out in more ways than one. I came face to face with the richness of Tonga culture. Even so, as someone reminded me this was “just the tip of the iceberg.” There is much to the Tonga tradition.

True to his words, this was just a musical festival – a platform to share the Tonga cultural heritage through music and dance. But as noted by Hans Christian Anderson “where words fail, music speaks”.

On a Friday, the first day of the musical festival, Tonga patriots and others begin to assemble for the two-day annual musical festival. Individuals from the Tonga ethnic group and others gathered beneath the grey heavens to partake in the music and dance that define them as a people. One by one, individuals and groups take to the podium to participate in the music concert.

When it is time for veteran Patrick Haampongo to perform, with his Kalumbu, (a traditional musical instrument made of a stick attached to a calabash) he plays it with such energy, inter-spacing its sound with his voice. Kalumbu is not just played for fun. In the past it was played by a young man who wanted to get married.

“When a young man is about to get married he has to play Kalumbu the whole night and the parents will ask him the following morning, have you seen someone?” says Jyde Hamoonga, one of the event organisers. “If he says no, then they will take it upon themselves to find someone for him.”

Women singing at the Tonga Music Festival 2014. Chikuni, Zambia.

Later a group of women play what is known as bukonkoolo. Sitting in a semi-circle, they are beating two pounding sticks. This kind of music is usually played indoors during funerals to comfort the widow. For men, during the time of mourning, they tend to use poetry. They will not wail like the women but would rather play the namalwa – the poetry drum. They will be lamenting the loss of the beloved one as the poetry is performed.

Even the attire for each performance is different. The girls are wearing necklaces made of beads around their necks and on top of their vests as they perform ciyayaale. This tune is normally sung in the morning by girls who are in seclusion, training for the Nkolola initiation ceremony. The dance performed by girls who have come of age involves movement of the legs as a way of flexing the muscles.    

Music and poetry very much form a part of the Tonga tradition. Through this annual music festival, the Tonga people are exploring the museum of their past and reconnecting it with the present. Amidst shouts of Nkosaadi - meaning concert, several hundred guests dance and jiggle, voices blending and sentiments united. This fourteenth anniversary of one of the country’s largest cultural events demonstrates the spirit of harmony and joyfulness in those who call this land home.

Says one event organiser: “This is a combination of poetry and traditional music. It speaks of the Tonga people’s livelihood from birth to death. You have got songs, tradition and culture that is used at specific times.”

The Tonga Musical Festival is a brainchild of Chikuni Community Radio, with the primary aim of promoting a sense of belonging and cultural identity amongst the Tonga speaking people. The festival is not only for the old, it facilitates the passing down of traditions by the older generation to the young ones. The family-oriented event is a delightful coming together of all ages of the Tonga people with a wide diversity of traditions. The carnival has since been formalised into this annual event that attracts people from far and wide.

The Tonga people of Zambia and Zimbabwe (also called 'Batonga') are a Bantu ethnic group of southern Zambia and neighbouring northern Zimbabwe, and to a lesser extent, Mozambique. 

They are related to the Batoka who are part of the Tokaleya people in the same area, and also to the Tonga people of Malawi. 

In southern Zambia the Tonga are patrons of the Kafue Twa. The Twa people from the Kafue Wetlands of Zambia are one of several fishing and hunter gatherer castes living in a patron-client relationship with farming Bantu peoples like the Tonga, across central and southern Africa. 

An old man playing a traditional instrument at the festival.

Some of the key traditional tribal practices
In traditional Tongaland there were strict preparations undertaken by boys and girls who were coming of age and reaching sexual maturity. These traditional preparations were done in private by the tribal clan and these were the methods through which boys and girls were taught about sex and relationships.

Gobelo was a short preparation undertaken by boys to explain to them the roles, duties and rights in marriage.

Nkolola is a much longer preparation period, of a few months, undertaken by girls to teach them how to satisfy their husband sexually and their role in marriage. Nkolola literally means, “in the hut”, which is where girls are taken for these preparations. On completion, girls’ new sexual “maturity” is celebrated with an Nkolola ceremony involving the wider community.

Over the last few decades this kind of traditional preparation has been decreasing and Gobelo, for boys, has nearly died out. Because talking about sex and relationships is completely culturally inappropriate outside of Gobelo and Nkolola, the decline in these traditional preparations have left a gap in young people’s education which is having an impact on cultural attitudes and expectations of sex and relationships.

With no culturally appropriate alternatives, young people are left to form their ideas about sex and relationships from the media: from television and more recently, videos and DVDs, and through access to pornography. What these portray about sex and relationships is not an accurate or helpful and only serves to fuel myths, misconceptions and attitudes that promote unrealistic expectations of sex, promiscuity and ultimately lead to unfulfilling sexual relationships. 

The Tonga Musical Festival is a platform for older people to try and help the young generation to connect with the past through traditional music. The event which is in its fourteenth year was started in the year 2000 by a local community radio station.

Performing on stage at the Tonga Music Festival 2014.

About the author & photographer: Charles Mafa is an award-winning investigative journalist from Zambia who generously granted his time to Village Flute. You can visit his personal blog site and his other blog.

"I would like to help people to know what their rights are - to investigate shortfalls and fill the accountability gap that exists between commitments and actions by those who govern us." 

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