Sunday, September 22, 5pm
This illustrated anthropological lecture by anthropologist Thomas Miller focuses on the role of water in a particular history through the lenses of ritual, politics, symbolism and music.
In western Zambia, the Lozi of the Barotse floodplain practice “transhumance,” a distinct migratory way of life. During the rainy season, when the Zambezi River inundates their homes and leaves their fields underwater, the people migrate to seasonal quarters in the hill country. Every year the royal barge of the paramount chief, who according to Lozi tradition has divine spiritual and moral authority over nature, leads the people to higher ground in a ceremony called Kuomboka (“Getting out of the water”).
When European powers fought for control of Africa, King Lewanika I incorporated the pomp and regalia of the royal British navy into the political theater of the Kuomboka ritual to show his sovereignty over the land. Since independence, the performance of Kuomboka remains a metaphor of Lozi resistance against the claims of the nationalist state.
Newspaper articles, music videos, and Internet comment threads show the pressure is increasing; earlier this year, Lozi rebels loyal to Lewanika’s descendants formed the independent Barotseland nation, and the life-giving floodwaters ominously failed to rise.
Tom Miller, a Brooklyn-based anthropologist, media artist, and author, is Professor of Liberal Arts at Berkeley College and Adjunct Instructor at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU. A member of the Ethnographic Terminalia collective and Proteus Gowanus collaborator, he has been a guest curator at the American Museum of Natural History, Anchorage Museum of History and Art, Linden State Museum of Ethnology, and Proteus Gowanus (Secret Wars, 2013).
These programs are supported in part by public funds from the
New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.