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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 September, 2003, 07:00 GMT 08:00 UK
Paying homage to an Angolan king

By Zoe Eisenstein

Angola's traditional leaders do not have much power these days in the realm of official politics.

King Ekuikui the 4th of Bailundo
Anyone is allowed to approach the king

But they are still considered to be extremely significant as community leaders and many Angolans, particularly in rural areas, turn to them in times of trouble.

One of the country's most important traditional leaders today is King Ekuikui IV of Bailundo, a city in central Huambo province.

The man who is also described as "the King of Kings", because he is the highest ranking traditional leader in the region, is a key figure for Angola's Ovimbundu ethnic group and Bailundo is their spiritual homeland.

Whisky for king

Cockerels, cigarettes, whisky and wine are the offerings visitors must take to the King of Bailundo - if they want an invitation to his royal court.

I'm happy to do that [pay homage] in the kingdom of my own ethnic group
Sousa Jamba

I joined Sousa Jamba, an Ovimbundu and an Angolan, to pay our respects and we were able to negotiate a good price for two cockerels at Bailundo's main market.

"We should have brought him some tobacco," worries Mr Jamba.

Going to the king's court is very important to Mr Jamba, who has just returned to his native Angola after 27 years living in exile in London.


Mr Jamba says he has travelled around Africa, and paid homage to the Buganda kingdom in Uganda and other kingdoms in West Africa but is happy to be doing so before his own king.

King's burial place
The kingdom was untouched by the 30 year-long civilian war

"I respect him as much as an English person would give respect to the royal family," he says.

The king's court is just a short drive away from the town centre.

We are welcomed by a crowd of people who are ululating and singing praises for the king.

King Ekuikui leads us through the calm of Mbala Kingdom under the cool shade of trees.

It seems to have been untouched by the civil war that raged across Angola for nearly three decades.

Speaking in Umbundu language through my interpreter, Mr Jamba, the King, who is accompanied by several men, explains that they [men] all play important roles in his kingdom.

"Nobody here has just walked in from the street - these are people from within the court and each figure here has got a function that he plays within the court," he says.

He introduces me to "the secretary of the trial", who he says takes notes at any trials that are conducted and collects fines. Cases vary from adultery to theft, he tells me.


"If the king dies he has the duty of calling all the other minor kingdoms or families within the lineage so they can have elections to choose another one and in the absence of the king there are some issues he will deal with promptly," the king said.

King Ekuikui the 4th of Bailundo [r] with Sousa Jamba [l]
Mr Jamba says the visit to the King was a 'religious experience'
I am also introduced to the firekeeper of the kingdom, whose post was once very important.

The king says that this man is still responsible for ensuring the kingdom has access to fire.

For Mr Jamba, one of the strengths of the kingdom is that rules are not rigid so they have been able to change with the times.

"It is very interesting - this is a very peaceful place, very spiritual, very serene," he says.

Although we are surrounded by some banana plantations and trees, he tells me that he feels deeply connected to his past.

"In a way it's almost like a religious experience because this is connecting my ethnic group... to history," Mr Jamba explains.

It is time to leave King Ekuikui's court but the he invites Mr Jamba to come back soon - and if he gives him plenty of notice and brings a bigger offering, he is even promised a dance!

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