At the closing ceremonies of the 1964 Olympics, the newly independent nation of Zambia—under a symbolic new flag—made its debut.
Question: Which country that didn’t even exist when the 1964 Olympics began suddenly appeared during the closing ceremonies?
The 20th century saw the sun set on a lot of the British Empire, with British colonies claiming their independence around the globe. In Africa, that often meant untangling several nations at once. The Central African Federation, an uneasy mash-up of Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia, and Nyasaland, spent the better part of two years (spanning two elections) trying to determine its future. By Christmas 1963, the federation was dissolved, and Northern Rhodesia attempted to chart a new course.
On October 10, 1964, its 13 athletes marched into the Tokyo Summer Olympics behind the blue Northern Rhodesian flag, which combined a Union jack with an African shield. While they focused on their competitions, their nation’s parliament was working to finalize true independence, including a new name and a flag reflecting African heritage instead of British influence.
Independence was formally declared at midnight on October 24—with the closing ceremony of the Olympics just hours later. But the athletes were prepared for the joyous event. When the parade of teams started, audiences witnessed the first delegation of the new nation of Zambia. This time, the beaming athletes hoisted a green banner, with an African Fish eagle soaring above black, red, and orange stripes symbolizing the nation’s resources. (Pointedly, there wasn’t a drop of blue in sight.)
The black bar was specifically intended to represent the peoples of Zambia. Despite their own diversity—native Zambians coming from 20 major tribal groups, with 72 subgroups—they were unified in their belief that British Colonial rule could not stand. It is said that Zambia is one of the few places in Africa where there is little fighting between tribes; that unity made it possible to finally reclaim their land and wave a flag they could be proud of.
How Zambia Celebrates Its Peoples
- Kuomboka, the Get Out of the Water Festival, marks the end of the rainy season, with a barge parade. The king of the Lozi people floats down the Zambezi in a barge topped by a sculpted elephant whose giant flapping ears are manipulated from inside the boat. His wife follows behind in a barge adorned with an egret, whose wings flutter the same way.
- 20,000 people join the president of Zambia in Luapula province to celebrate Mutomboko, the Lunda people’s biggest holiday. It’s a three-day whirlwind of drumming, beer-drinking, and dancing (including by members of the chief’s family) in a pageant that re-enacts the migration of the first settlers and their conquest of the region.
- The traditional harvest festival known as Ncwala in the Chipata region is a workout for the chief. After being presented with the first fruits of the harvest, he leads a 60-mile walk from his rural home to the royal palace. He is welcome by throngs of Ngoni warriors known as “hyenas,” clad in leopard skins and eagle feathers. A bull is sacrificed live for the chief, then dismembered, and consumed on the spot as the climax of his arrival ceremony.
- Zambians from all over the nation head south for the Tonga people’s Thanksgiving celebration, Lwiindi. The story goes that the first Lwiindi chief disappeared suddenly; his warriors claimed he didn’t die but simply evaporated into the sky. Ever since, the rulers have been called “Shine Chiefs,” or rain makers, so the Thanksgiving festival involves truly epic rain dances and ceremonies of gratitude for the precipitation that sustained them in the previous year.
- For three days each October, the Mbundu people welcome back the young men who have undergone initiation rites with a ritual known as Mbundu Lukwakwa. At its heart are makishi, the spirits of departed ancestors, who “rise from the grave” in the form of a masked parade of locals. Like a cross between Mardi Gras and the Mummers Parade, the costumed revelers in their colorful handmade attire make for a dizzying and dazzling spectacle.
- Not to be forgotten, girl initiates get their day at Lunda Lubanza. During Nkanga, a three-month coming of age period, the girls are isolated from the village, silent except for any instructions each may whisper to the young attendant assigned to help her. During Lunda Lubanza, their return to the community is celebrated by the arrival of the chief, who is carried in on a decorated litter, followed by crowds singing songs about how much better women are than men.
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