Art and Initiation in Western Zambia

by Manuel Jordán
Musical Instrument Museum (formerly Birmingham Museum of Art)

Nkunka (young woman’s initiation hut), Luvale (Lwena) peoples, Kambeu Village, Zambia, 1991. Photo by Manuel Jordán.


Young Luvale women undergo a period of initiation around the time they reach puberty. Their mothers, grandmothers, and other sisters educate them about the roles they are to fulfill as adults once they graduate from mwali or mwadi (the initiation camp). During the initiation, the initiates are secluded in a camp right outside their villages where they receive most of their instructions. A nkunka (small round or conical hut) is built within the village as an evening shelter where initiates can sleep. Nkunka is also the local name for a cocoon, and the hut, like the cocoon, is perceived as a place of transformation. After a period of initiation that may last a few weeks, female initiates are ready to be married and bear children.