Take a right at the end of my street, cross Dr. Aggrey Road on to the adjoining street, walk on and take the second left and there lies a little village. But this is no ordinary village, it’s somewhat peculiar as it sits middle of a vibrant neighbourhood. Enclosed by a wire fence and wooden poles, it’s surrounded by high rise flats, plenty houses and a dual carriage way. There’s also a filling station, several car washes and a church close by so you can imagine the energy.
Like any other village, Kabwata Cultural Village has round huts with thatched roofs, over forty of them. But this is no ordinary village,the huts here are not made of mortar and sticks but burnt bricks and instead of clay floors the floors are concrete. Most of the huts are coloured white and a few others orange, the huts sport an elevated doorstep decorated with red oxide.You can also spot a satellite dish here and a light bulb there, thanks to some unorthodox cabling.
The inhabitants in this village are not huntsmen,farmers or food gatherers and they’re definitely not pastoralists.They’re are all craftsmen, manual artists and everything in between.Any day of the week you’ll find the men seated on stools they themselves have made hacking, chopping, cutting and hammering wood and ivory into different shapes. A wide range of well-polished carvings and figurines of birds, animals or people are the end result.
Using disposable materials the ladies make colourful baskets, fabrics and handbags.Fancy jewellery can be made from copper wire, cloth or bottle tops. Other items made include elaborate masks, drums, kitchen utensils and paintings. Besides doing their chores and going to school outside the little village, the kids also try their hand at craftsmanship.
This village was created somewhere in the 1930’s and 40’s to serve as temporary housing for an increasing labour force of servants in colonial times. In 1974, government decided to preserve the village as areas all around were being restructured. Artists from all over the country were brought to settle here in a bid to conserve the country’s traditional culture. You guessed it, no ordinary village.
From its peculiar location, history and impressive merchandise, Kabwata Cultural Village is a hotspot for both international and local tourist. Many visitors walk through the tiny village every day but numbers tend to swell quite amazingly on public holidays and on Sundays when there is a display of traditional dances in the central arena. I remember going to watch the dancers as a kid of several occasions.
The extraordinary thing about this experience is that there is no entry charge. You’re free to look around and admire the elaborate pieces on display and when you find what you like, it’s time to put your bargaining skills to use.But don’t be alarmed, the artefacts here are quite affordable. You’ll get a better deal here than on the street for the same products. Once you’ve thrown your items in the bag and your wallet consents you can visit Tigwilizane restaurant, a much larger open air hut that serves a selection of traditional Zambian dishes over some lively Zambian tunes.
But the single most interesting thing about this place, the one thing I don’t hear enough when people market this place as a must see tourist attraction is the shared sense of goodwill. I could feel the togetherness as I speak to the craftsmen working on wood sharing a tin of traditional brew. I’m offered a taste but humbly decline, saying I’m on duty hehe. As I talk to the women, several of them look at each other and laugh uproariously when I ask if they ever consider leaving the village. “Our lives are bound to this place, we’re right where we should be”, one of the elderly women responds.
Speaking to the village chairperson Mubita Lubasi, he informs me that the village people try their best to reconcile modern customs with tradition. He explains to me how the sense of community manifests itself when village folk support each other on an emotional and financial level whenever there’s a bereavement or marriage ceremony. He adds, “we share each other’s pain and joy the best we can.”
With those words, I say my goodbyes and walk back home sinking in my thoughts, thinking to myself how there’s a whole different world right in my backyard. A world I’ve been aware of since I was a kid but never dared to venture into. Five minutes later, I’m home. I throw my bag on the bed, get my PC and start putting my thoughts in words.
*Images courtesy of tripadvisor.com and greatmirror.com