|PASALA - Project for the Advanced Study of Art and Life in Africa and The University of Iowa Diplomacy in Motion: |
Makishi as Political Harmony in Barotseland Karen Milbourne
In 1982, Victor Turner wrote "perhaps only celebration can adequately understand celebration, but language can give an approximate rendering of it and some semantic perspective on its products . . ."(1) I think that celebration can be applied as a methodology. In the study of performance or pageantry, choices are made, and these decisions are the substance of a productive process. However, I believe that all too often scholars have equated change with deterioration. Celebration has proved useful in my own research, where beliefs in "purity" and "tradition" have set the tone for what little material there is. Celebration places change within the positive context of creativity.
I look to the performance of makishi masks, the cultural property of Mbunda peoples, in Lozi celebrations to demonstrate the means by which the arts are used to publicly display political cohesion. Mbunda, Lozi and nearly two dozen other groups, each defined by language, have settled along the Zambezi River in Zambia's Western Province, historically known as Barotseland.
I arrived in Limulunga, the flood-time capitol of the Lozi royalty, on June 30th, 1996, after thirty hours by bus on what I came to call, the "not-road." June 30th and the first two days of July are national holidays in Zambia, and in Limulunga they are filled with such festivities as a ten kilometer marathon and music and dance performances