The Makishi , Likumbi Lya Mize And Mukanda

The Makishi are the main attraction at Likumbi lya Mize, a Luvale traditional ceremony of the north-western province of Zambia. This cultural activity also encompasses the Chokwe, Luchazi and the Mbunda tribes, who together with the Luvale make up the Vaka Chiyama Cha Mukwamayi communities.

The singular for Makish is Likishi. Well, you may be wondering; who are the Makishi?

Why The Makishi?

According to Luvale folklore, Makishi represent the spirit of deceased ancestors who returns to the world of the living. They act as a link between the living and the dead. Traditionally, it is believed that they emerge from the graveyard.

Their emergence signifies the end of Mukanda, an initiation ritual for boys between the ages of eight and twelve, at which they are taught lessons about life and adulthood in seclusion at a bush camp.

The graduates together with the Makishi, all proceed to the celebrations at the Likumbi Lya Mize in the main arena where the people eagerly await the arrival of the Makishi.


The end of the Mukanda is celebrated with a graduation ceremony called Chilende. The graduation of the initiates, who are known as Tundanji, calls for a big celebration at which the Makishi is at his best until the graduates re-emerge from the camp and are reintegrated as adult men back into society.

When the Makishi, with his mask and full costume, dances with the backing music from drummers and singers, it is something for your eyes to feast on.

Different Types of Makishi

If you look closely at the Makishi mask, you will find that it is shaped in a form of animal or human figure. In fact, the Makishi assumes different personalities; each one has got a certain character and role he plays in society. They have got different functions; they teach lessons in sexuality, religious beliefs, hunting and dancing. They also teach moral lessons, survival skills and bravery. 

The list of the Makishi is almost endless; 

  • Mupala:  The father of all Makishi. He is an aggressive character. He is the one who carries the children to the circumciser.
  • Chikuza: He teaches the initiates how to do the kuhunga dance.
  • Utenu: He protects the camp and initiates.
  • Chileya Chamukanda: He plays the role of a fool.  He entertains the crowd outside the mukanda camp.
  • Kayipu: This is the king of the Makishi. He is the biggest and most majestic of all the Makishi.
  • Chikishikishi: He has a function of disciplining. He is supposed to get rid of the evil elements of society.
  • Chizaluke: He plays the role of a teacher.
  • Ndondo: He writhes around in pain. He represents someone who has just  been poisoned because of stubbornness.

In fact the list goes on and on…

The Makishi are closely linked to Luvale culture and in recognition of their artistic and educational roles, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared the Makishi a master piece of oral and intangible heritage of humanity in 2005.

Next time you happen to be at Likumbi Lya Mize, just wait for the gallant entry of the Makishi!

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