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  Safeguarding Makishi Masquerade in Zambia.


This project has been designed to ensure the safeguarding and promotion of the Makishi Masquerade of this cultural expression, which was proclaimed a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by the Director General of UNESCO in November 2005.

 The Makishi masquerade is performed at the beginning, during and at the end of the Mukanda, an initiation ritual for boys, which is practiced by the Mukanda – Makishi Practicing Communities in Zambia. Usually, the young boys live for one to three months at a bush camp away from their villages to be taught practical survival-skills as well as knowledge about nature, religion, social practices and values. At the end of this initiation period, the boys are reintegrated into the community, and the Makishi masquerade, a dance involving pantomime-like artistry is performed for them.

 The project seeks to provide sustainable foundations for the transmission of skills to the younger generations and to promote awareness of the value and of the importance to safeguard this cultural expression among the Mukanda - Makishi Practicing Communities. Therefore, the action plan includes capacity building for Zambian staff in the field of research and project management, advanced training workshops for dancers, training of teachers, documentation of knowledge and skills of Makishi masters to prevent its loss, improvement of expertise and facilities, and increasing public awareness through a national information campaign.

The Makishi masquerades with their colorful costumes are not only a representation of the ancestral forces brought to life from the spirit world; they are in essence, powerful metaphors for manifesting many aspects and culture of the Mukanda – Makishi practicing Communities. The music and dance and the fine art work in the costume design and mask making are among the living testimonies of Zambia’s Oral and Intangible Heritage.

Usually at the beginning of the dry season, the boys leave their homes and live for one to three months in an isolated bush camp. This separation from the outside world marks their symbolic death as children. The Mukanda involves the circumcision of the initiates, tests of courage and lessons on their future role as men and husbands. Each initiate is assigned a specific masked character, which remains with him throughout the entire process. The Limpumpu (Lichazi Likishi) represents a powerful and wealthy man with spiritual influence; the Linyampa (Mbunda Likishi)  is the “lord” of the Mukanda and protective spirit with supernatural abilities; Mwana Pwevo (Luvale Likishi) is a female character representing the ideal woman and is responsible for the musical accompaniment of the rituals and dances and the Utenu (Chokwe Likishi), although vicious is a disciplinarian. The Makishi is another masked character, representing the spirit of a deceased ancestor who returns to the world of the living to assist the boys. The completion of the Mukanda is celebrated with a graduation ceremony. The entire village attends the Makishi dance and pantomime- like performance until the graduates re-emerge from the camp to be reintegrated with their communities as adult men.

The Mukanda has an educational function of transmitting practical survival-skills as well as knowledge about nature, sexuality, religious beliefs and the social values of the community. In former times, it took place over a period of several months. Today, it is often reduced to one month in order to adapt to the school calendar.

The graduates from such a Mukanda become the trainers for the next generation of initiates and Makishi practitioners. In this manner, customs, beliefs and norms are passed on from one generation to another. There are no major differences in the practice of Makishi and Mukanda between rural and urban areas. However, in rural areas a cluster of 10-15 villages may come together and organize one joint mukanda, whilst in urban areas initiates are drawn from residents from different compounds or townships of a city to one Mukanda. In a year there are up to 50 Mikanda throughout Zambia to cater for all the Mukanda Makishi Practicing Communities.

     Zambezi is the district where most Luvale communities live but Mize is the capital and chief’s residence. It is here where the Likumbi Lya Mize Ceremony is held during the last week of August in each calendar year.

    Kabompo is the district where most Mbunda communities live in North Western Province but Manyinga is the capital and their Senior Chief’s residence.  It is here where Lukwakwa Ceremony is held during October in each calendar year.

    Kabompo is the district where most Luchazi communities live but Chikenge is the capital and chief’s residence.  It is here where the Chivweka Ceremony is held during July in each calendar year.  

The Chokwe, Luchazi, Luvale and Mbunda, who practice the Mukanda and Makishi Masquerade are involved in the safeguarding project. Currently the Mukanda Makishi practicing Communities are comprised of 600,000 persons living mostly in North  Western and Western Provinces and while a small number of them have migrated to other provinces and towns in Zambia, one still finds a good number of them dancing and practicing Makishi.

 The formal and informal education system

 Many Zambians are facing difficulties in meeting the basic education requirements for their children, because of the economic hardships coupled with unemployment and general poverty. Most of the infrastructure is very poor, making the provision of quality education extremely difficult. Learning and teaching materials are scarce and there is a migration of teachers, mainly due to poor working conditions. The Mukanda initiation school may be considered as complementary to formal education. Schoolteachers who teach in public schools in the North - Western and Western Provinces are often times themselves from the Mukanda – Makishi Practicing Communities, who have undergone Makishi and Mukanda initiation rituals.

 Since 2000, the government of Zambia has embarked on the liberalization of the education system to allow more participation of all stakeholders in the financing and administration of education. A decentralized system of management has been put into place: decision-making power has been handed out from the national to the local levels such as districts and schools to expand educational facilities, especially for primary education, as well as improving the quality of education.

The government liberalized the provision of learning and teaching materials (such as textbooks, tools and equipment) as well as the establishment of learning institutions. Furthermore, although they must respect the government's educational policy, private organizations, individuals, religious bodies and local communities now have the right to establish and control their own schools. One major feature of the decentralization has been the establishment of Education Management Boards, through which decision-making power has devolved to the local level and the appointment of Provincial Education Officer and District Education Officers, who ensure that schools have adequate provisions and are functioning properly.

The project activities related to transmission through formal education will concentrate on primary school education level, which lasts seven years and is divided into two sections: lower (Grades I-IV), 7-10 years, and upper (Grades V-VII) 11-13 years.


Threats to the viability of the Makishi Masquerade

Urbanization and continued tribal migrations across the country have redefined the social and cultural life of modern Chokwe, Luchazi, Luvale and Mbunda societies. This has in turn led to difficulties in organizing and administering of both the Mukanda and the Makishi.

  • The Makishi craftsmen and costume makers are migrating to cities to look for jobs resulting in the loss of human resources that facilitate the hosting of Makishi-Mukanda in the communities.
  • Urbanization causing professional Makishi to perform for monetary gains.
  • Makishi paraded during political meetings and social gatherings
  • The cosmopolitan structures of communities of urban areas had a negative impact on the values and respect attached to Mukanda and Makishi
  • Misuse of forest resources including raw materials, in the construction of Makishi figures and costumes The current Copyright Law does not cater for the protection and safeguarding of intangible heritage culture.
  • Westernization and Christianity have impacted negatively on the practices of the Mukanda-Makishi, which were considered as ‘sinful’ practices for a long time.
  • The money economy has generated alarming poverty levels in the communities where Makishi and Mukanda are practiced.

Another factor that is greatly impacting on the Makishi masquerade is the change in the political and social structures of traditional society. The power and authority of traditional rulers has diminished considerably since independence, while the establishment of rural towns and municipal councils has led to political and cultural pressure from both governmental and non-governmental bodies. This has influenced the character and practice of Makishi. The tradition is now also practiced by other cultural groups, especially those found in urban areas, which have formed their own dancing clubs and societies. This has led to the distortion of the role and function of Makishi.


  • The overall objectives of this project is to preserve the Makishi Masquerade and Mukanda initiation rituals and to provide capacity building to Makishi practicing communities and stakeholders involved in order to ensure the sustainability of the safeguarding activities.

The specific objectives include:

  • To empower the Mukanda - Makishi Practicing Communities to protect their cultural heritage
  • To strengthen the administrative and management structures to safeguard intangible heritage
  • To put in place legislative measurers for safeguarding the Makishi
  • To promote awareness among young people through information dissemination and education
  • To serve as a pilot-project for future safeguarding projects related to intangible cultural heritage

More Information.................


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His Majesty King Mbandu IV,
João Pedro Mussole
of The Mbunda People
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