Celebrated by the Luvale people of far West of Zambia near the Zambezi town, The Likumbi Lya mize festival is named after the Mize after the early Luvale capital which is usually celebrated for several days in July or August. The Ceremony provides an ideal opportunity to see Zambia’s famed Makishi dancers.
The Makishi (Likishi singular) are masked characters each with its own distinctive dancing styles, from the graceful to the funny and gymnastic. Most characters are from Luvale folklore but some are based on modern day situations.
Some characters include, Munguli the hyena, Ngaji, an elephant dancer who, with his beautifully woven costume, is considered to be the most beautiful of the makishi. There is also Likishi lya Mwana-pwebo, a crowd puller and perhaps the best known Likishi. Dressed like a girl, he dances on a string tied between two poles.
It is believed that as he is dancing on the string the spirit of his wife is with him. This is why his wife never looks up at her husband performing the dance. Only once he has safely back on the ground will she go to meet her husband, at which point her spirit is thought to return to her.
All makishi are dressed in flamboyant masks and costumes, which show off the unique Luvale mask-making. Women and children are told by their menfolk that makishi are in fact the world of the dead.
Praise singers reciting the history of the tribe and Luvale royalty offer the Luvale a chance to reaffirm social ties and their loyalty to the tribe’s paramount chief.
The people get a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of their chief, who is elaborately clad in colorful robes, wearing his Muchama crown and carrying a fly whisk. The Luvale are one of the peoples who migrated from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Traditionally, they were fishermen and hunters but also they became one the first Zambian people to establish trade links with non-Africans. By the eighteenth century, they were trading with Portuguese and Brazilian traders to the West in Angola.