Lozi - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The Lozi are primarily monotheistic, but they retain a number of beliefs about spirits and other supernatural beings. Elaborate rituals and offerings are focused on the burial sites of former kings and chief princesses. Priests mediate between the Lozi and the spirits of their former rulers. There is a different set of beliefs and practices concerning commoner ancestors, and rituals concerning these spirits takes place on an individual level. Sorcery, divination, exorcism, and the use of amulets are all elements in the Lozi religious system.

Ceremonies. The Lozi ceremonial calendar is largely defined by the state of the flood. The two great national events of the year are the moves of the king between his home on the plain at the time of rising flood, and his eventual return after the flood waters fall. The initial move is made following the appearance of the new moon and after sacrifices are made at all the royal graves. Amid the booming of the royal drums, the king, traveling on the royal barge and accompanied by the princes and councilors of his court, proceeds to one of his capitals located on high land above the floodplain. This procession is followed by the migration of the commoners in their dugout canoes. As the flood recedes, the king is enjoined by the royal drummers to move back to the plain so that the people can return to their normal economic pursuits. At this time, the king makes his return journey along a canal dug by one of his predecessors. This trip is accompanied with far less ceremony than the original voyage entailed. Upon the return of the king to his capital, much dancing, especially of the ngomalume (royal dance) variety, takes place.


Arts. Lozi artistic expression includes ironic folktales, maxims, and songs about people, objects, and places, all of which are rich in historical allusion and proverbial wisdom. There is a band of musicians within the king's court; they sing as well as play musical instruments. These musicians perform on state occasions, or otherwise at the king's command. The instruments used by this band include a wide variety of drums (kettle, friction, small tube-shaped drums, and war drums), marimbas, the kangomhbro or zanza (ten pieces of metal fixed around a plate of hardwood on an empty calabash), various stringed instruments made of the ribs of fan palms, iron bells, rattles, and pipes of ivory, wood, or reeds.

Medicine. Diviners usually dance to work themselves into a frenzy and into a state of spirit possession to cure their patients. According to the Lozi, almost all disease is caused by sorcery. To combat these diseases, a witch doctor ( naka ) is called in to perform rites of exorcism over the patient. The naka, who possesses real if limited medical knowledge, may be a member of the local community or may be invited from a neighboring village or from an outside tribe. The diseases treated by exorcism are psychic disorders that are usually attributed to possession by a malevolent spirit. These disorders are called maimbwe, liyala, macoba, and kayongo. The method of curing involves exorcistic dancing combined with the inhalation of the vapor from boiling concoctions of bark, roots, and leaves. There are also a number of less common curing ceremonies, such as the one performed when a child becomes possessed by a hunter ancestor.

Death and Afterlife. At the point of death, the individuals eyes and mouth are kept open. When death occurs, the body is flexed so that the knees come up under the chin. The body is then removed from the hut through a special opening cut in the side of the dwelling for this purpose. As the body is taken to the cemetery for burial, spells are scattered on the road to prevent the return of the ghost to haunt the village. Men dig the grave while women stand around the grave site and check to see if the grave is deep enough. Men are buried facing east, whereas women face the west. When the grave is ready, two relatives of the deceased climb into the grave to receive the body. The personal possessions of the deceased are then placed around the corpse. Relatives kneeling around the open grave then gently push dirt into the hole, while those within place dirt around the body. The grave is then completely filled. On top of the grave are placed a broken anthill and a wooden plate or some other object that has been broken with an axe stroke (dead like its owner), in the belief that they will accompany the individual to the other world. The grave of a person of status, which is situated to the side of the commoner s cemetery, is surrounded by a circular barrier of grass and branches. After returning to the village the people mourn for several days. As a sign of grief, the kin of the deceased wear their skin cloaks inside out. The hut of the deceased is pulled down, the roof being placed near the grave, while the remaining possessions of the dead person are burned so that nothing will attract the ghost back to the village. Sons and brothers of the deceased build miniature shelters in their courtyards, bearing the name of the dead, in which the spirit may come and find protection. At times of sickness or disaster, the kin of the deceased go to these shelters to worship and seek the spirit's aid.

The funeral rites for a king are far more elaborate. Before his death, each king selects or builds a village in which he will be buried, peopling it with councilors, priests, and other personnel. At his death, the king is buried in a huge grave at this site. This is then surrounded by a fence of pointed stakes and the markings of royalty erected around the location. Trees, obtained from the bush, are planted at the royal grave so that from a distance the site stands out distinctly on the flat plain. The Lozi believe that these royal graves are infused with great supernatural power, affecting the lives not only of the royal heirs but of all the inhabitants of Loziland. Each grave has its resident priest, who makes offerings at the site. The royal ancestors are believed to act as intermediaries between Nyambe (the supreme god) and man.

At death, the spirit of the deceased goes to a "halfway house" on the way to the spirit world. Here the deceased, if a man who has the appropriate tribal marks ( matumbekela ) on his arms and holes in his ears, is received by Nyambe, or if a woman, by Nasilele (Nyambe's wife), and then placed on the road to the spirit world proper. If matumbekela and holes through the ears were lacking, the man was given flies for food and not welcomed; he was put on a road that meandered and became narrower and narrower until it ended in a desert where the man would die of hunger and thirst.


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