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A day trip to Livingstone - Zambia's Art Country

As I waited my turn to receive my passport and gate pass at the Livingstone border post – I pondered on earlier discussions I had had with friends. They passionately praised and attributed their life success to the Craft Industry of Zambia. From a renowned Recruitment Consultant who recalled her days of youth crossing into Zambia to sell her father’s wooden carvings , to a self-made Tour Operator who as a boy had to accompany his mom to sell crochet doilies at the market, I grinned to myself as I remembered how the latter boasted of his "competitive edge".

As the only boy amongst a bevy of ladies, he sold more, merely as an object of fascination and amusement to tourists. I thought of Chief Munokalya Mupotola IV Siloka 111 Mukuni, the 19th Chief of the Leya. Chief Mukuni is the Tourism Ambassador of Livingstone, Zambia. As a champion of Tourism, he engaged the Zambian Government to acknowledge and develop the industry in Livingstone. He encouraged visitors to come see, feel and experience both the town’s man-made and natural attractions. Not only has Chief Mukuni participated in all activities that are unique to the Mosi-Oa-tunya, like white water rafting and bungee jumping, but he remains passionate about arts and culture and to date, presides over three annual cultural ceremonies

Hello Livingstone…

Livingstone, Zambia is approximately 20 minutes from Victoria Falls town Centre – an average 12 km between the two towns. In just over a quarter of an hour, one is transported from the realms of speaking Ndebele - the local dialect in Victoria Falls, to now hearing people converse in Nyanja, the national dialect of Zambia. The hot blue taxis are always ready to take visitors on a breezy drive into Livingstone Town along the Zambezi river, in true Mosi-oa-tunya style.

Falls Park is the first stop - just 5 minutes from the Zambian border. Weekends see the pop – up markets, with the carpark dotted with colorful tables showcasing Zambian Artwork. From vibrant chitenge [print fabric of central African origin], to elegantly polished wooden bowls and salad spoons made from wild olive wood, to the intricately twisted wire ornaments, key rings and jewelry! Animal carvings range in size from miniatures to life-size wooden and stone sculptures. Beadwork work abounds, including woven baskets.

As “Mosi-oa-tunya Way” (yes, that too is the name of the street that leads into Livingstone town from the border) continues to meander into town – one can see other individual art displays on either side of the roads. From batiks, to wicker furniture, children’s wire toys, quirky roadsides signs for various boarding houses and eateries, and more colorful chitenges blowing in the wind, there’s truly so much to capture one’s attention. This random exhibition heralds ‘’Art Country ‘’ and is a forerunner of the main dedicated crafts’ market – the Mukuni Park Curio Market.

Discover Mukuni Park Curio Market

Mukuni Park is impossible to miss as it gently rises to the left of Mosi-oa-tunya Way in the center of Livingstone Town. Comprising of over 50 uniquely adorned stalls, this street market is a firm illustration of Zambian culture. In addition to the wares at Falls Park – Mukuni Park Curio market offers so much more, as it is also a display of the various tribes of Zambia.

Artefacts and pieces are styled as per a particular tribe. Walking sticks range from knobkerries to tribal canes and ebony wood canes, to elaborately carved sticks patterned with the mythical Nyami River god. Leather goods include sandals, belts and bags. As you navigate the aisles that separate the stalls, you’ll also find jewelry made from stone, wire, cow horn and copper. Tonga stools and chairs, woven by the tonga tribe of both Zimbabwe and Zambia, together with woven baskets and wooden bowls, all have a story to tell of the different tribes found in this part of Southern Africa.

Going on safari and viewing game forms a huge part of Zambia’s tourism industry, and this is elaborately captured in the various carvings of the Big five, small five and the “cute ugly five!’’ These stone and wood carvings are found in tiny 5 cm heights to large, life size sculptures that can be shipped by arrangement with the curio sellers. An ode to the vast array of wildlife that inhabit this region, it is commonplace to see animal print work on t-shirts, caps and aprons; with some creatively painted on tin cups and plates, making them very portable souvenirs!

The beat of the African Rhythm

For tourists who yearn for an opportunity to carry with them symbols of Africa’s musical culture, vibrant yet beautiful canvases of musical instruments such as rattles, horns, xylophones and trumpets can be found hanging on almost every wall at the market. Those who love to play instruments can indulge themselves in the individually patterned drums of varied sizes or the miniature marimbas that can fit into one’s carry-on luggage!

Famous for its masked dancers, a representation of the spirit of the deceased – the Makishi Dancers or the Makishi Masquerade, as they are aptly called, are a must watch when in Livingstone. They perform clad in huge character masks that hide their identity as they fiercely dance to the drumbeat and voices of a chant master. Red, white and black stripes make up their costumes – which are embellished by chitenge, raffia and sack cloth. In the group there is always one on stilts – adding more thrill to the shows! Back at the market stalls, these exciting performers can be found portrayed as key rings, fridge magnets, hanging dolls or 30cm standalone figurines!

While each stall is exactly the same in size and dimension, they are distinctive in that each projects the unique personality of the salespeople. The tailor will not only have chitenge on display, but he will proudly showcase garments made from the same fabrics! The artist will have a collection of his own work, highlighting his distinct style. Furthermore, at Mukuni Park Curio Market – do you find an artist ready to sketch your portrait as you sit and soak in the sights and sounds of a street market!

Mukuni Park Curio Market is the heart of Livingstone as Maramba Market is the soul. This peoples’ market is located on the outskirts of Livingstone. A 10-minute ride in the famous hot blue taxis will take you to a traditional market that is the home to both fresh food and curios. From dried and smoked bream, to green vegetables, to rows and rows of different chitenges, wooden and stone sculptures, traditional artefacts and cultural attire. Surrounded by a residential area and characterized by the sounds of local music, the open market allows one to experience the people of Zambia, and the tourists in their midst.

It is said, to know a people one must know their culture, their art, customs and language. The Chief Mukuni Village Tour is a Cultural experience that takes one to a traditional Zambian homestead. This guided tour by the Chief introduces the guest to the traditional customs, beliefs and lifestyles. Visitors are taken into the traditional huts, shown the royal palace and ceremony sites. There is also an opportunity to sample traditional food and drink and buy from the craft village, all these making for great photo opportunities.

The hot blue taxi pulls up at the Livingstone Border and as the driver turns round to collect his 45 Kwacha, I watch the sunset through the window, marking the end of my day in Livingstone’s art country.

’The aim of the Nsungu Branch of the Bene Mukuni Royal Rainbow Dynasty is to continuously push boundaries of excellence by building on our rich cultural heritage. We want to build our future without neglecting our past.’’

- Chief Munokalya Mupotola IV Siloka 111 Mukuni

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