Alan Murphy
Australia AU
Apr 7, 2015 April 7, 2015

Alan is a travel writer and author of over 20 Lonely Planet guidebooks, including the guides to Southern Africa and Zambia & Malawi.

Category: Alan Murphy's Column

Alan explores the cultural side of safaris. Does an immersion in African culture really rack up against lions, elephants, hippos and fast-disappearing rhino?

The answer...in short is - yes it does! That is...if you pick a good cultural safari. Now, there’s a lot of pretenders out there - safaris that simply don’t stack up: cultural and wildlife. And as for a ‘cultural safari’, that’s a term that can be used pretty loosely. But here’s one guaranteed to please, enthral and even have you put your dancing shoes on...

Tikondane - Off the Beaten Track Cultural Safaris
At Katete in eastern Zambia about 8 hours east of the capital, Lusaka, is an organisation which I simply love - Tikondane (www.tikondane.org). It’s a community centre that works with local villagers around issues of agriculture, health and education. And...realising that the Luangwa valley is merely hours away they are trying to capture some passing tourist trade.

Best of what they have to offer is a cultural safari to a local Chewa village. You begin by bouncing around in the back of an oxcart, through the bush, to a local Chewa village. On arrival you are greeted, welcomed and made to feel like an honoured guest. Then the dancing...

Chewa Dancing - The Men
The Chewa have separate male and female initiation ceremonies into adulthood for young men and women. Firstly, you witness young men pulverising the dirt in a stomping dance that sends plumes of dust into the ecstatic audience. As a visitor I was afforded the luxury of a chair and soon had young kids crawling all over me, looking for any nook or cranny to give them a bird’s eye view of the main event.  The dancers are dressed up in costumes that hide their faces but expose their legs and bodies....thank goodness as they must work up a sweat...

Then it was off  to a local hut where a friendly Chewa family had made dinner and it was an absolute treat! All vegetarian but plenty of tasty dishes, and bring an appetite as there’s plenty of it!

Chewa Dancing - The Women
Next up is the women’s initiation - this takes place in a small hut away from prying male eyes. However, visitors are considered to be special guests and are allowed into the hut. Intense drumming ignites the women’s dancing which involves a lot of shaking, stamping and gyrating as well as yells and screams. It is mesmerising stuff.

Lastly, and perhaps the highlight of the night, an oxcart ride back to Tikondane, underneath the stars. It’s stark, beautiful, a wonderful way to experience the African bush - quite unique. If you’re in eastern Zambia, don’t miss it!