The Block

Made by Cecilia Mulenga, this block features as its base a vibrant example of one of Zambia’s traditional arts, chitenges, which are lengths of colourful, printed cloth. Created in a variety of geometric designs or with specific patterns identifying the wearers to their community, multi-purpose chitenges are typically worn by Zambian women as wraparound skirts over their regular clothes. They are also used as baby carriers, coverings, decorations and as gifts.

The cut-out centre reveals an embroidered village scene in which two women dressed in traditional attire perform ritual tasks along the riverbank. One supports a pot of water upon her head. The other, pestle in hand, stands over her mortar pounding dried white maize kernels into a fine meal, which will be used to prepare nshima, the country’s staple food. Nshima, which is eaten at least twice a day, is the focus of many Zambian rituals, expressions, customs, beliefs and songs. For most people it is their principal food. Combined with soup, stew or a sauce called ndiwo, it constitutes a full and complete meal.

Flickr - ggallice - Nsima ^ chambo
Lady of Zambia Makes Nshima
Making nshima
Village along Great East road - Zambia
A traditional village
Playing the silimba

Cultural Profile

Zambia, shaped like a giant butterfly, is a landlocked country in south-central Africa. Formerly known as Northern Rhodesia, it is the source of two of the continent’s largest rivers, the Congo and the Zambezi from which the country derives its name. The latter river runs through two of Zambia’s most spectacular features, the magnificent Victoria Falls and Lake Kariba. The Falls, known locally as Mosi-oa-tunya or ‘the smoke that thunders’, has the world’s largest curtain of water and is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The Lake, created by the Kariba Dam, was built for hydroelectricity. It is one of the world’s largest man-made lakes. Zambia is also home to two of Africa’s largest wildlife sanctuaries, the Luangwa and Kafue national parks. It is one of the world’s leading exporters of roses, and its copper mines are among the world’s richest. The diverse population is comprised of over 70 different ethnic groups who speak as many languages and dialects. Tonga, Bemba, Nyanja, and Lozi are the main ones although English is the official language.

Zambians are known for their friendliness and courtesy. Because gifts represent a sign of honour, friendship or gratitude, gift giving is an important ritual. Family and tribe are at the core of the culture. Helping family members is viewed as one of life’s foremost responsibilities. Dance serves not only as a means of entertainment, but as a form of communication that recreates historical events and strengthens spiritual beliefs. It also is part of initiation rites which is another significant part of Zambian life. Drums, such as the maoma, amangu friction drums, and kachacha drum chimes, are the main instruments used to accompany dances. Other traditional instruments include the mbira, or thumb piano, and the silimba, a type of xylophone. Musical groups similar to Western rock ‘n roll groups are also popular all over the country, the difference being that the musicians usually make their own guitars and drums with whatever materials they have on hand. The country’s strong oral history and literary traditions includes myths, fables and proverbs passed down through the generations.

Traditional arts are increasingly being taught to children in school, contributing to their preservation. They include Tonga woven baskets, pottery which is generally made by women, and wood carvings which are usually made by men.

Zambians began settling in Canada in small numbers during the 1960s. Many gravitated to Ontario and have contributed to the Canadian fabric through such areas as education and art. The 2011 census indicates there are over 1,400 Zambians currently living here.

Sponsor: Brenda Watts in honour of Donald Banda | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons