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The Villager Zed Shop – Preserving culture and conserving wildlife

Not too long ago, spotting a Lozi man or woman proudly donning their iconic ivory bangles (Litowu in Lozi) was not uncommon. In fact, you could easily identify a Lozi just by looking at their wrist. In Lozi tradition, the bangles are not just ornamental, they are symbolic and are typically given to children at different points in life such as at birth or at puberty.

However, a chain of arrests of Zambians outside the country for wearing these iconic bangles shone a spotlight on this tradition. In 2014 a Zambian woman was arrested in Ethiopia for being in possession of three hand bracelets made of ivory, while another Zambian female was arrested in 2019 by Kenyan authorities at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi for wearing an ivory bangle. Many others were arrested locally for the same reason.

It was around this time that the Zambian Government and the Zambia Wildlife Authority, now Department of National Parks and Wildlife – DNPW, started urging Zambians to get permits for their ivory ornaments. To legally own an ivory bangle, one needs to obtain a certificate of ownership after showing proof of legal acquisition of the bangles or provide a sworn affidavit to indicate that the bangles were acquired before the ban on ivory trade in Zambia and were gifted to them.

In addition, a CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) pre- convention certificate is an important requirement that would allow one to carry their ornament without the risk of being arrested for illegal possession of ivory outside Zambia. The illegal use of ivory in Zambia for this and other purposes threatens our population of elephants, who’s numbers have reduced significantly over recent decades. Its estimated that poachers have killed more than 90 percent of Zambia’s elephants since the 1950s.

For many Lozis and others who owned or desired to own an ivory bangle, the process and risks involved were more than they could bare, so they gave up the idea of wearing ivory bangles entirely.

However, there is a young couple in Lusaka that will not let this ancient Lozi tradition die. Their solution? They opened a shop in Kamwala last year, The Villager Zed Shop, which sells traditional artifacts including some high-quality replica bangles made from alternative, legal materials like plastic, granite and powdered cow horn.

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Mr. Munyinda Nambula and his wife started selling replica bangles as a way of preserving culture while preserving nature and wildlife.

“These bangles are our identity as lozis as they symbolize royalty and authority, so we figured we could preserve this important aspect of our culture by providing an alternative that is closer to the real one.” The bangles are made from high quality materials to make them virtually indistinguishable from those made from real elephant ivory and are legal and sustainable. As a result, the replica and original bangles are remarkably close in weight and strength. The replicas are certainly not a cheap knockoff.

Mr. Nambula explained that cheap plastic bangles would not settle well with many people because they will not feel they are wearing something that is their identity.

For Mr. Nambula, selling replica bangles, which he distributes to customers within and outside Lusaka, is   about more than just preserving Lozi culture. It is his contribution to protecting Zambia’s magnificent wildlife, as he is particularly big on conserving elephants. “We need to protect our wildlife so that in future when we teach our children about elephants and their significance in our culture, we can actually take them to national parks within our country to see these majestic animals for themselves.  He adds, “It would be sad for us to lose all our wildlife to poaching, so that they only remain in zoos outside Africa.”

As more Zambians agree that now is the time to act against poaching and to rethink cultural practices that threaten wildlife, they are open to the idea of switching to quality alternative products that are environmentally friendly.

“Since we opened our shop, I have noticed increased demand for the bangles, and people now prefer the replicas to the original. They want to be able to practice their culture and get back their identity by acquiring bangles that will not put them at loggerheads with the authorities, says 34-year-old Nambula.He adds, “They want something they can wear daily and cross borders with, without worrying about possible arrests.

Indeed, it is better to adorn oneself with a quality replica that you can be proud of and that guarantees peace of mind, than to own an original ivory bangle, which came from an illegally killed elephant, that you will be too scared to wear publicly. This ensures that culture is preserved, and that only elephants wear real ivory, because only elephants need ivory.

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