Inventorying of proverbs of the Lala community of Luano District of Zambia

Dates of implementation
22/09/2016 - 29/09/2017
Department of Arts and Culture of the Ministry of Tourism and Arts, Zambia
Main project page


  • Identify custodians and practitioners of the proverbs of the Lala community in the Luano District of Zambia.
  • Undertake a community-based inventory.
  • Promote use of the proverbs in school clubs and the informal education system.



The Lala people of Luano District migrated in the 18th century from present-day Democratic Republic of Congo to their current settlements in Zambia. Their oral expressions, particularly proverbs used to informally educate community members and settle disputes, are increasingly threatened by a formal education system that has not integrated local intangible cultural heritage (ICH) into its curriculum. As a result, students may not be exposed to the proverbs or learn the indigenous value systems that this tradition helps transmit. Furthermore, a lack of resources and a complicated socio-political landscape have prevented the government from carrying out an inventory of indigenous oral expressions across the country. This project supported a community-based inventorying of Lala proverbs aimed at integrating them into the education system, and more broadly, contributing to an ICH inventory at the national level.

Inventory activities

The project began with a preparatory meeting in which 13 people were selected to serve on a multi-sectoral steering committee representing government agencies, NGOs and traditional communities. Twenty cultural practitioners were identified by three custodians from different communities. The group of practitioners was gender balanced, ranging in age from twenty-six to seventy-three, and included different specialties relative to the contexts in which proverbs are used (e.g. healers, marriage counsellors, artists, performers and leaders). The practitioners attended a training in which they learned about the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and gained hands-on experience in how to inventory proverbs, including how to use digital recording equipment, how to obtain consent and how to interpret, translate, and transcribe the questionnaire.

The cultural practitioners carried out their inventory over five days, immediately followed by another five days of transcription and translation work. Thirty-one proverbs were identified and documented, and the inventory files were submitted to the ministry for publication. The resulting booklet, ‘Proverbs of the Lala’ serves as a reference for community members.

Outreach and educational activities

The project team reached out to ten existing school culture clubs and established five new ones to encourage participation in safeguarding and educational activities (e.g. traditional games and quizzes). Working with school culture clubs also helped to integrate proverbs and other Lala ICH into the formal education system, providing an important context for transmission while validating the ICH as significant sources of knowledge.

A meeting held with four traditional leaders to discuss the threats to their ICH, and a larger community meeting with forty-four participants reiterated the need for informal transmission of the proverbs. The community gathering sparked enthusiasm and passion, with members voicing their desire to establish a communal Insaka (traditional hut and gathering place) to be used for transmitting their ICH skills and knowledge to younger generations.

At the close of the project, the community formed an ICH committee to follow up on the safeguarding efforts. Additional groups were established among local practitioners in specialty areas such as healing, marriage counselling, art and music to facilitate communication and monitoring by government culture officers.


  • Twenty custodians and cultural practitioners of Lala proverbs were identified and trained in inventory methods.
  • A community-based inventory gathered thirty-one proverbs from five different locales.
  • Five new school culture clubs were established and ten existing ones encouraged to participate in ICH safeguarding and educational activities.
  • A community meeting was held to encourage informal education and oral expression transmission around evening fires.


Wilmur Simatimbe, Cultural Officer, Department of Arts and Culture

Project Successes in the District Schools

“Following the successful completion of the project, some of the schools have revamped their cultural activities. The district has undertaken various activities such as debates, quiz, poems, reading and storytelling competitions. Besides the usual club meetings, inter-school competitions have been organized on certain days such as International Mother Tongue Day and World Day for Cultural Diversity.”

“The project has seen some cultural activities being incorporated in the National Schools Arts Association of Zambia at district festivals such as debates in local languages. A good number of schools have also heightened their participation in the performing arts. Most of the schools have formed dancing groups both for entertainment as well as in appreciation of their heritage.”

Community Engagement during the Project

“During the project, a meeting for community members to promote the use of proverbs was held in Ching’ombe. Prior to this, the team had a meeting with three traditional leaders in the area where the importance of safeguarding their ICH was discussed. The community greatly appreciated the idea of safeguarding ICH such as proverbs, which they agreed to reinforce through the use of traditional huts commonly known as ‘Insaka.’ These places are important loci of nonformal education such as traditional marriage counselling and informal education during evening fires and labor activities.”

The meeting stressed the importance of ICH to community members:

  • ICH promotes identity - it is one of the ways that people use to identify themselves.
  • ICH improves their social economic status in the community.
  • Socially, ICH is useful in molding and regulating the behavior of the children and the community. Various standards and rules of the community are passed on to the next generations orally during evening stories around the fire, at in Insaka during work.

“The community proposed several ways of safeguarding their ICH; such as, through writing, traditional ceremonies, the creation of community-based cultural groups, and holding meetings in Insaka. They resolved that the traditional counselling in the Insaka among men was going to be revamped as it provided a platform for the exchange of ideas. One of the traditional leaders appealed to the community that the team were only present to remind them of their neglected duties and that the cultural heritage to be safeguarded was theirs. He also challenged them to start the evening story times in the area as people were too busy with their daily activities during the day to focus on teaching unless through apprenticeship. The women were also challenged to take up the counselling issues seriously.”

For the full testimonial of Mr Wilmur Simatimbe please read the following document: English

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