The Shimunenga Cattle Drive of The Ila People

Shimunenga cattle drive is practiced by the Ila people of Namwala in southern province. This tradition is practiced in memory of mourning of Shimunenga.

Who Was Shimunenga?

Shimunenga was a warrior. He was a brave man. As a young man, Shimunenga was chased from his place called Busanga by his elder brother Moomba as he showed no respect for him. He settled at a place called Kaane. Shimunenga was refused to have access to water where his brother lived. He decided to take his cattle to Kafue.

While there he went to Mbala, in Mumbwa district to look for a witchdoctor who could help him fight his elder brother Moomba.


In order to defeat his brother, the witchdoctor told him to kill his sister’s three-month old child and pound it in a mortar and pestle. His sister Nachilongwe agreed.

The War

As a result of the medicine, Shimunenga was encouraged to fight the war and he won! Now Shimunenga wanted to get rid of the witchdoctor (known as Munga’nga). Shimunenga did not want the witchdoctor to give the same medicine to his brother. He went to the Lubunda people at Kafue River for help. They prepared a big canoe and made a hole in it. The hole was covered with mud. 

While on the river the witchdoctor (Mung’anga) was accompanied by a group of men who opened the hole and ensured that the witchdoctor died on the river.

After the war, Shimunenga went to Chief Mungaila and the village headmen for reconciliation. An agreement was made that when he died, the people of Maala should mourn him by brining cattle. Since then it is a tradition to mourn Shimunenga this way.

The Shimunenga Cattle Drive Ceremony

The traditional ceremony is held on the Kafue Flats in Namwala district of Southern Province. The ceremony expresses the people's devotion to their divine ancestors.

The date of the ceremony is set by headman Amos Kande who is the current headman of the Shimunenga. The ceremony is held on a weekend of a full moon and when the first rains have fallen.

The Shimunenga cattle drive lasts for three days. It starts on Friday, which is a women’s day. On this day the women sing songs and dance. The men drink beer as they watch the cattle arrive.

The men’s day is the second day. On this day the women dress in masalu and throw sticks, which symbolise throwing spears at Shimunenga’s brother Moomba. The women dance the kukonkobela, making music with sticks beaten on cow yokes or pounding sticks. Other traditional dances performed on this day include inkazo and mpango. Appreciation gifts are given to dancers. During this time, people move to the chief’s palace for speeches and praise songs. This is a time for songs and games.

The third day is the day for display of cattle at Nalubwee Lubwe. The cattle drive takes place on the fringes of the Kafue plain in headman Shiinge’s area. The first head belongs to the chief and his family. The second herd belongs to headman Chaambwe, the guardian of Shimunenga. 

During the Shimunenga Cattle Drive ceremony the people always utter the words, Cholwe or  oli Cholwe, meaning luck or he was lucky. 

They site six reasons why they think Shimunega was lucky…

  1. Mung’anga accepted to assist him 
  2. He defeated Moomba
  3. The sister agreed to kill the child
  4. The Lubunda people agreed to kill the witchdoctor
  5. Shimunenga and Chief Mungaila reconciled
  6. When he died the people of Maala agreed to honour his memory

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