Zambia’s contemporary culture is a blend of values, norms, material and spiritual traditions of more than 70 ethnically diverse people. Most of the tribes of Zambia moved into the area in a series of migratory waves a few centuries ago. They grew in numbers and many travelled in search of establishing new kingdoms, farming land and pastures. Quiet beauty, bustle, bounding life or brimming joy characterise many aspects of music and dance in Zambia. Emphasis varies from breathless acrobatic spectacle amid propulsive drumming to fine subtleties of sound and movement.
Many traditional instruments are still played throughout the country, although the desire for western instruments increases. The more common ones are the hand piano, a small instrument with iron keys mounted on a rectangular box and plucked by both thumbs. Or the silimba, a xylophone type instrument with a range of flat wooden keys mounted over gourds. The most common of course is the drum and drumming plays an important part of rituals, ceremonies, celebrations and community communication.
Zambia’s diverse cultures bring with them a wide variety of traditional skills. Crafts can be found in great variety if not in abundance and among them is some of the finest basketry in Africa.
Nature & Climate
The general height of the land gives Zambia a more pleasant climate than that experienced in most tropical countries. There are three seasons – cool and dry from May to August, hot and dry from September to November, and warm and wet from December to April. Only in the Valleys of the Zambezi and Luangwa is there excessive heat, particularly in October and, in the wet season, a high humidity. In the warm wet season, frequent heavy showers and thunderstorms occur, followed by spells of bright sunshine.
Plants grow profusely and rivers and streams fill up almost overnight. During the cool dry season, night frosts may occur in places sheltered from the wind. The countryside dries up gradually and grass fires, fanned by high winds are a feature of this time of the year. In depressions, frost can occur on cloudless nights. Temperatures rise high during the hot, dry season but new leaves appear on the trees before the start of the rains and new grass brightens the countryside. The main growing period of woody vegetation is between August and November.
Time & Date: GMT +2
Currency: Zambian kwacha
All media and business is in English and the majority of Zambians speak it reasonably well. Only in very rural areas would there be any problems communicating in English. Bemba is the most commonly spoken African language in Zambia. In the past it was largely confined to the Copperbelt province since the Bemba people originally came down from the Congo. More recently, with the easy movement of people throughout Zambia, the language has taken on more popular appeal and is probably the most commonly spoken language in the Capital City, Lusaka.
In the Luangwa Valley and the Eastern Province of Zambia, the language is Nyanja. This literally means “language of the lake” and originated from the shores of Lake Malawi to the East. Nyanja is still the language spoken across all of Malawi and this bond, coupled with many traditional beliefs and practices, ties the Kunda tribe of the Luangwa Valley more closely with their neighbours than with many other people living within Zambia.
Other commonly spoken languages in Zambia are Tonga, Lozi, Tumbuka, Nsenga, Lunda and Luvale.
Food & Drinks:
Zambia’s native cuisine is based on nshima, a cooked porridge made from ground maize. (In Zimbabwe this is sadza, in South Africa mealie-pap.) This is usually made thin, perhaps with sugar, for breakfast, then eaten thicker – the consistency of mashed potatoes – for lunch and dinner. For these main meals it will normally be accompanied by some tasty relish, perhaps made of meat and tomatoes, or dried fish.
You should taste this at some stage when visiting. Safari camps will often prepare it if requested, and it is always available in small restaurants in the towns. Often these will have only three items on the menu: nshima and chicken; nshima and meat; and nshima and fish – and they can be very good.
Camps, hotels and lodges that cater to overseas visitors will serve a very international fare, and the quality of food prepared in the most remote bushcamps amazes visitors. Coming to Zambia on safari your biggest problem with food is likely to be the temptation to eat too much.
If you are driving yourself around and plan to cook, then get most of your supplies in Lusaka or the larger towns. Shoprite stores have revolutionised what’s available, and really have all that you will need. Away from Shoprite, in the smaller towns, availability is limited to products which are popular locally. These include bread, flour, rice, soups and various tinned vegetables, meats, and fish. This is fine for nutrition, but you may get bored with the selection in a week or two.
When buying your travel insurance, always check the small print – some policies specifically exclude ‘dangerous activities’, which could be anything from scuba diving to horse riding. You should check whether the medical coverage is on a pay first, claim later basis and, more importantly, ensure that your medical coverage includes the cost of medical evacuation.
Visas for most countries can be obtained on arrival. Please speak to your local travel agent to find out the latest information.
Kenneth kaunda international airport – lusaka
Harry mwanga nkumbula international airport – livingstone
Simon mwansa kapwepwe international airport – ndola
Mfuwe international airport – mfuwe
Currency: Zambian kwacha
Population: 16.59 million
Official languages: English