There is a saying among the Luvale people in Zambia: “We went as makishi, we return as humans.”
Canoeing on the Zambezi, I feel something quite the opposite. It is a human, mere human, who embarks on the adventure and a makishi who returns – sociable, ambiguous, aggressive and royal.
The Makishi are the masquerade characters of the Luvale, Chokwe, Luchazi and Mbunda people in the northwestern and western provinces of Zambia, best known for their arresting performances during male initiations (mukanda ).
The masked makishi men represent the spirits of the ancestors who have returned to the land of the living to guide and protect the boys and their village during the initiation.
Above: extract from Zambian Proverbs, by Nyambe Sumbwa
In the first few oar strokes on a canoe trip down the Zambezi with Royal Chundu Guides, Calvin and Moses, I feel anything but royal. I feel human, very human – mortal, vulnerable, on edge. Of course, there genuinely is no need for this. The guides know exactly which routes in the river to navigate in order to bypass the odd pod of hippo. These are routes they have travelled for most of their lives. Besides, what would life be, what would Africa be, without a little thumping of the heart?
On the canoe journey lodge-ward, after a rest and picnic lunch on the riverbank, the nerves have washed away and been replaced by a sense of triumph and pride, that feeling all daring adventures evoke once accomplished. I paddle faster, I search the waters near and far, hoping to spot that which lives beneath. I wish the river would continue on and on and on… I feel, dare I say, like the makishi of the proverb. Unshakable, proud and immortal like the spirits of the ancestors they represent. Sans costume.
Make time for this adventure during your stay, if not to test the makishi in you, then for these five reasons…
1. The View
of the great Zambezi and the two countries it divides – Zambia and Zimbabwe
2. A Picnic of Pimm’s and Persian Rugs
3. The Company
from Guides, Calvin and Moses, to Chef Kabunda and his team
4. The Action
5. (And, contrastingly) The Stillness
on 15 kilometres of private Zambezi…