Cultural tourism in South Luangwa
Though wildlife is often the main draw of the Luangwa Valley, increasing numbers of visitors are enjoying meeting the local people and learning more of their traditional lifestyles. Cultural tourism is gradually taking off. currently this has two main points of focus:Nsendamila Cultural Village
Very close to the hub of the Mfuwe area, Nsendamila Village is easily found by turning left towards Kapani and Nkwali just before the Mfuwe Bridge. Then it is off the road, shortly on the left.
This has been built by the local communities, with the backing of various charities and NGOs, with traditional rondavels laid out to demonstrate a local village's way of life. In theory, it includes a traditional healer, a blacksmith, and examples of traditional food and drink and how these are prepared. A local person should be available to show you around, and it was intended to double up as a craft centre and a focal point for traditional dancing.
However, when I last visited, nothing was happening here. I fear that it may be sliding into disuse, which is not uncommon for NGO-funded tourism projects which have developed with minimal reference to the travel industry. It's certainly notable that a brief web search on 'Nsendamila' produces a few references to academic papers on responsible tourism, but little more. (In sharp contrast to Kawaza Village, below.)Kawaza Village
This is very different from Nsendamila, and was an initiative suggested to a village by one of the main safari companies (Robin Pope Safaris); the practicalities were then jointly developed between the company and the village. Now Kawaza is an efficient and viable small business for the village which involves visitors staying either for an afternoon, or (much better) overnight in the village. Here they can spend time with people from this Kunda community and learn more of their daily ways of living, traditions and culture.
It started as an effort to end the villagers' feeling of exclusion. Some of the communities around Mfuwe felt that a lot of overseas visitors arrive and leave, but without ever having any meaningful form of social contact with them. They also wished to get involved in tourism, to raise funds for the local school and to support vulnerable members of their community (orphans and the elderly). Kawaza is a real village and visitors are encouraged to participate in its normal everyday life – to help the women cook nshima and relish, to visit the local traditional healer, to tend the crops, or visit the local school, church or clinic. Villagers will tailor-make an agenda to suit your interests and time.
Kawaza Village has long had an association with Robin Pope Safaris, not least because the headman of Kawaza is the father of Webby Njobvu, who is the foreman of RPS's mobile team and has been with the company for about 18 years. Eventually, after many discussions, the villagers put up a handful of rondavels built just for visitors. These are small, clean, round huts of traditional design with thatched roofs. Then, with help from Jo Pope, a Danish aid fund and others, the village bought a few utensils for visitors. Advance payment for a booking by a group of Scandinavian visitors helped them to buy items like mattresses and mosquito nets.
Now there are nine huts for visitors, some with beds raised off the ground and mattresses, others without. All have spotlessly clean sheets and mosquito nets. There are several separate longdrop toilets and rondavels for bathing (using a large tin bath and a scoop for the water). The food is grown locally and prepared in the village – including tasty cassava eaten for breakfast, with coffee, tea and milk.
A committee of villagers runs the scheme and David Mwewa, the headmaster of the adjacent school, is secretary of the project. He explained to me that the village's objectives were 'to provide an authentic Zambian experience and raise money for the community'. For the visitor, this means that the village's earnings from their stay help the village, while Kawaza offers a fascinating and genuinely moving insight into another culture.
Activities are really just taking part in whatever is going on when you are there, and whatever you are interested in. That might mean going into the bush to the village's plots of arable land, collecting local plants and herbs, preparing the food, or even going to help teach a class at the school. Depending on the time of year, you will even be allowed to see some (though not all) of the initiation ceremonies for the young people. Men attend only the men's ceremonies and women only the women's, as you'd expect.
Of special interest, usually arranged on request, would be a visit to a traditional healer, or a local clinic, or a meeting with the area's senior chief Nsefu – the paramount chief of the six local chiefs. In the evening, the community's elders tell traditional stories or sing songs around the campfire.
The effects of this on the community are gradually showing. Some of the villagers are learning more English in order to communicate better with visitors. David commented, 'When the visitors first came the villagers could not imagine dancing together with a white person or eating together. But when guests come to the village they are instructed to join in all the activities… when they see the villagers putting up a roof they join them… it's fantastic. The visitors like it that way.'
Further, the school is benefiting very directly, as a proportion of the money paid automatically goes straight into school funds. The school's five-year plan now includes building more staff housing and making sports facilities for the children, as well as getting solar lighting units and buying a few radio-cassette machines.
If you've never really tried to put yourself in a totally different culture, then you must spend a night here. It'll make you think about your own culture as much as Kawaza's, and you'll remember it long after you've forgotten the animals.