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Photo: Travel PR.
The Kuomboka, celebrated at this time of year if the conditions are right, marks the arrival of the wet season in Zambia. (The elephant’s ears are removable.)

According to my little book of holidays, a celebration called Kuomboka should take place in Zambia today to mark the change of seasons. Several websites, however, say the date is flexible.

GoWhereWhen, which says that coronavirus is an issue this year, describes the event: “This annual procession marks the transition of the Litunga (king) from his summer to winter residence, which is located on higher ground, away from the seasonal flood plains. This ceremony dates back more than 300 years when the Lozi people broke away from the great Lunda Empire to come and settle in the upper regions of the Zambezi.” 

Wikipedia adds, “Kuomboka is a word in the Lozi language; it literally means ‘to get out of water.’ In today’s Zambia it is applied to a traditional ceremony that takes place at the end of the rain season, when the upper Zambezi River floods the plains of the Western Province. …

“Historians claim that before the time of the first known male Lozi chief Mboo, there came a great flood called Meyi-a-Lungwangwa meaning ‘the waters that swallowed everything.’ The vast plain was covered in the deluge, all animals died and every farm was swept away.

“People were afraid to escape the flood in their little dugout canoes. So it was that the high god, Nyambe, ordered a man called Nakambela to build the first great canoe, Nalikwanda, which means ‘for the people,’ to escape the flood. Thus the start of what is known today as the Kuomboka ceremony.

“The ceremony is preceded by heavy drumming of the royal Maoma drums, which echoes around the royal capital the day before Kuomboka, announcing the event. … The ceremony begins with two white scout canoes that are sent to check the depth of the water and for the presence of any enemies. Once the scouts signal the ‘all clear,’ the journey to the highland begins. … The journey to Limulunga normally takes about 6–8 hours. Drums beat throughout to coordinate and energise those paddling the barge. …

“On the barge is a replica of a huge black elephant, the ears of which can be moved from inside the barge. There is also a fire on board, the smoke from which tells the people that the king is alive and well. The Nalikwanda is large enough to carry his possessions, his attendants, his musicians, his 100 paddlers. It is considered a great honour to be one of the hundred or so paddlers on the nalikwanda and each paddler wears a headdress of a scarlet beret with a piece of a lion’s mane and a knee-length skirt of animal skins.

“For his wife there is a second barge. This one has a huge cattle egret (Nalwange) on top. The wings move like the ears of the elephant, up and down.”

Lonely Planet points out that the dates are not fixed: “They’re dependent on the rains. In fact, the Kuomboka does not happen every year and is not infrequently cancelled because of insufficient flood waters; the 2012 ceremony was called off because it’s against Lozi tradition to hold the Kuomboka under a full moon.”

More at GoWhereWhen, here, at Wikipedia, here, and at Lonely Planet, here.

Photo: Dietmar Hatzenbichler
Legend has it that an African god told a man called Nakambela to build a great canoe to escape the floods. The boat was called Nalikwanda.

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Although I didn’t get to see it in person, I was excited to learn from Timmons Roberts by way of Erik that the indigenous Hawaiian canoe Hōkūleʻa was making a stop in Rhode Island.

Lars Trodson writes at the Block Island Times, “The island welcomed the crew of the Polynesian catamaran Hōkūle‘a [June 21] at a ceremony held at the Block Island Maritime Center in New Harbor. The crew was greeted with songs sung by the students from the Block Island School, as well as greetings and tribal gifts from Loren Spears, an educator and former Council Member of the Narragansett Tribe of Rhode Island. Capt. Kalepa Baybayan of the Hōkūle‘a also offered brief remarks.

“The Hōkūle‘a is traveling around the world to teach about ocean conservation. ‘We live on a blue planet,’said capt. Baybayan. ‘Without the blue there would be no green.’ …

“Block Island is the Hōkūle‘a’s  only stop in Rhode Island.”

From the Hōkūleʻa website: “Our Polynesian voyaging canoes, Hōkūleʻa and Hikianalia, are traveling over 60,000 nautical miles around the earth, bringing people around the world together to set a course for a sustainable future.

“We are sailing like our ancestors have for a thousand years—using wayfinding. On board, there is no compass, sextant, or cellphone, watch, or GPS for direction. In wayfinding, the sun, moon, and stars are a map that surrounds the navigators. When clouds and storms make it impossible to see that map, wave patterns, currents, and animal behavior give a navigator directional clues to find tiny islands in the vast ocean. …

“Everyone can be the navigator our earth needs. Every person on earth can help navigate us to a healthy future where our Island Earth is safe and thriving again. …

“We are asking kids, families, governments, communities, and businesses to share how they mālama honua—take care of our Island Earth.  Please visit our Mālama Honua map, and help us grow the movement by adding stories of hope that can inspire and educate us all. …

“Hōkūleʻa, our Star of Gladness, began as a dream of reviving the legacy of exploration, courage, and ingenuity that brought the first Polynesians to the archipelago of Hawaiʻi. The canoes that brought the first Hawaiians to their island home had disappeared from earth. Cultural extinction felt dangerously close to many Hawaiians when artist Herb Kane dreamed of rebuilding a double-hulled sailing canoe similar to the ones that his ancestors sailed.

“Though more than 600 years had passed since the last of these canoes had been seen, this dream brought together people of diverse backgrounds and professions. Since she was first built and launched in the 1970s, Hōkūle’a continues to bring people together from all walks of life. She is more than a voyaging canoe—she represents the common desire shared by the people of Hawaii, the Pacific, and the World to protect our most cherished values and places from disappearing.”

Lots more at www-dot-hokulea-dot-com.

Photo: Block Island Times

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A few recent shots. The beautiful Zakim Bridge, late summer flower in the Greenway, water bugs on the Sudbury River, four scenes from Boston’s North End (which can still feel a bit like stepping into Italy), mysterious “pasta” along the railroad track, and my selfie shadow.

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Who can resist a playful idea, especially one that comes from civil engineers, a cohort perhaps given too little credit for creativity.

Corey Kilgannon writes in the NY Times, that a beloved pastime among civil engineers is racing concrete canoes.

“It might sound like an idea that would go over like the proverbial lead balloon, but in September, a group of engineering students at City College of New York began meeting and devising a way to build a concrete canoe.

“ ‘When I heard that, my response was like: “What? A boat made of concrete?” ‘ said Dr. Friso Postma, an expert paddler from Brooklyn, who had not heard of such a thing until he was asked to coach the team this spring, once the canoe was finished.

“Team members reassured him that while they were building the canoe over the winter, in a workshop at City College, they had made certain that the vessel would float. After all, they told Mr. Postma, the primary rule in concrete canoe competitions — yes, there are such events — is paddling a boat that does not sink.

“They also told him that concrete canoeing has a rich tradition among civil engineers, and at City College, whose teams go back to at least the 1970s.

“ ‘It’s a huge thing within the civil engineering program,’ said Juan-Carlos Quintana, 29, a team member. ‘We take it very seriously.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Kirsten Luce for the New York Times
Esther Dornhelm, left, and Fidan Mamedova practice at Paerdegat Basin in Brooklyn for this weekend’s national concrete canoe championships.

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