Traditions and Weddings: Chilanga Mulilo

Hey everyone! Today, it is my pleasure to tell you about one of Zambia’s traditional pre-wedding ceremonies following today’s prompt, “Share about one cultural aspect from your country or community.”

Chilanga Mulilo is a Bemba word that directly translates to “showing the fire“. It is a pre-marriage ceremony usually practiced by the Bemba speaking people of Zambia. I am not Bemba but, I have had the privilege of attending quite a few of these ceremonies. By quite a few, I mean 3. The one I vividly remember was for my uncle and it was held at my parents house so all I’ll explain today is based on what was seen there.

The day of the Chilanga Mulilo is a happy day for both families. Everyone wakes up early in the morning to clean the house and prepare for everyone who will be coming to attend the event. Plates, cups and everything that will be used for eating are kept nearby because you know you are about to feast!

The bride-to-be’s family prepares many different foods and traditional drinks which are then taken to the groom. The ceremony is held to show the groom what type of food he is likely to eat in is new home and is also an invitation to the groom to dine with the family because traditionally, the groom can’t just have meals with the bride’s family at any time, during courtship.

So, when the foods have been prepared and are ready to be taken, the bride’s family starts off with group of people singing at the back of an open van sometimes accompanied by the beating of a drum. Each person holding plates with different foods in it. I remember at my uncle’s chilanga mulilo we knew the bride’s family had arrived because we could hear them outside singing, “Ichilanga mulilo twaleta.” This directly translates to “we have brought the showing of the fire” but really is them saying, “we are here.” My aunt, in response to their chorus said out loud, “Ichilanga mulilo mwachelwa” (“you are late“) and we all laughed because we really had been waiting for a long time.

As the bride’s family approaches the door of the house, they are led by a matron who leads them in song. When they reach the door, they stop and wait for money to be given to them (by the groom’s family) before they can proceed. This goes on for some time. Every few steps, they stop and wait for money. It’s interesting to see. When they are satisfied with the money, collected they place their plates on the floor and again, before the food is revealed, they collect money from the groom.

The plates come wrapped with cloth (usually white cloth). The biggest pot is untied by the matron using her teeth as people sing traditional songs in the background. The different foods are then shown to the groom one by one by the matron and a brief explanation of what each dish is is given. When that is done, the bride’s family leaves. The groom and his family are then left to enjoy the food that has been prepared. The foods basically include so many different vegetables like Lumanda (my fave), sweet potatoes cooked in so many different ways, chicken, nshima etc.

Chilanga mulilo caterers., chalala rockfield plot no 21938, Lusaka ...
Picture from google

The beauty about this is not only family is in attendance but the grooms friends and neighbours too. There is always a lot of food and many variations of one type of food. It’s such an interesting part of Zambian culture. It took us days to finish the food even after many people had packed some food to take home in lunch boxes that were never returned.

When the pots and other dishes are being returned to the brides family, they cannot and must not be returned empty so usually money is put in the pots and then sent back to them.

It’s all fun and games until everyone leaves and you have to clean the house and wash the dishes. Kitchen duty during such an event is a lot of work. Will I have a chilanga mulilo when getting married? Probably not because I am not Bemba but I am definitely looking forward to attending many more.

I wish I could tell you what goes on at the bride’s family home as they prepare the food because I have heard a lot goes into it. Maybe next time I will be on the bride’s side and I’ll be sure to document and share that here.

Stay safe. Black lives matter. Stop sexual abuse.

Thanks for reading! I’ll be back tomorrow.


Wonani Xx

9 thoughts on “Traditions and Weddings: Chilanga Mulilo

  1. I’ve only attended one chilanga mulilo. It was interesting. So many different foods. I tried out so many things I had a tummy ache the next day lol


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