Mystery and heroic tales of how different traditional rulers and their royal households have led Zambia’s ethnic groupings remain one of the richest aspects about the countries culture.

What was the symbolism behind the brass helmet he was putting on and what is the history behind it? Zambia’s history text books rarely present a definitive explanation of its own rich past but here is the allegory:

The brass fireman’s helmet was presented to the 10th Mwata Kazembe, Kanyembo Ntemena in 1900 at the height of British and French advance into South-Central Africa. Ntemena assumed the brass helmet with the French inscription “Sapeurs pompiers de Paris”.

The occupation of North-Eastern Rhodesia did not happen peacefully, as local tribes resisted the British. The Ngoni of Mpezeni were defeated in 1897 after a series of battles against the British.

In 1899, the British marched into the area of the Lunda chief Mwata Kazembe. His rule had been weakened by disagreement over who succeed him. The Mwata had allegedly signed off mineral rights to the Belgiums and the French. The British decided to send The Mwata into exile, they sent him into exile, first in South Africa and later in Mauritius, by the time he returned his influence had been reduced and he had lost Katanga to the Belgium.

“Sapeurs pompiers de Paris” is a French Army unit founded in 1793 which serves as the primary fire and rescue service and is reputed to be one of the worlds most organised army fire units

The helmet serves as part of what is traditionally called the ‘Ichibangula’ or the public face of office in the Mwata Royal Household.

Thus the brass helmet is usually worn when the Mwata Kazembe receives guests at his palace and when he travels, whereas the other head gear known as the ‘Akatasa’ and ‘Amapango’ are strictly confined to the Umutomboko ceremony.

Since 1790, there have only been 19 Mwata Kazembe’s and 10 of those have worn the Brass Head gear as it has been passed on from one Mwata Kazembe down to the present one Paul Mpemba Kanyembo for the last 124 years.
Credit: Mwebantu


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