Easter in Zambia: We color the eggs, we did not let go of the couple

Photo: Zuzana Mukumayi Archives

I spent my first African Easter in Uganda, a small cross expertly woven from a piece of palm leaf etched in my memory. This fragile cross was given to me by my Italian colleagues on the Sunday in May. It was then that I discovered that our Czech May Sunday was actually Palm Sunday.

In Zambia, Palm Sunday is celebrated in the same way, people go to church, each with their own palm branch, which the priest or pastor blesses, and after mass a procession leaves the church. Believers distribute to passersby pieces of branches that represent the same branches that people spread over the earth when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, symbolizing the coming of peace.

Zambian Easter

Photo: Zuzana Mukumayi Archives

Like in the Czech Republic, Zambia has a public holiday on Good Friday and Easter Monday, but you won’t find our Czech traditions here. That is, excluding Czech-Zambian households.

Zambia describes itself as a Christian nation, so for Zambians and the most religious Zambians, celebrating Easter is a visit to church. Nothing special happens in the villages except Easter mass, Western traditions seep into the towns, mostly in the form of chocolate eggs and bunnies, which you can buy in the supermarket for, I would say exaggeratedly , non-Christian prices. Due to Britain’s colonial past, egg hunts are also sometimes organised.

Imperfectly colored eggs are saved by stickers from the Czech Republic, or hand-crocheted Easter shirts or chicks, which have accumulated over the years from my mother's former Czech colleague.  |  Photo: Zuzana Mukumayi Archives

In Zambia, every holiday occasion is usually used to organize a braii or barbecue. No matter if it’s Easter, Christmas, Independence Day, Labor Day or the Zambian alternative of our July holidays on the first Monday of Monday and Tuesday, it’s always a good time to call the friends and family, buy meat, drink, organize music and enjoy the day properly. I think it’s pretty accurate to say that more people celebrate Easter with a barbecue than go to church.

We haven’t dealt with Easter before

Easter eggs with the Tembo family.  |  Photo: Private archives of Kamila Hejlík Tembo

There are several Czech-Zambian couples in Zambia, the vast majority of whom are Czech women who have married Zambian men. Kamila and Tereza are all similar about Easter celebrations. We celebrate mainly because of our children. Before, we didn’t organize Easter at all, it was just two extra days off, and the long weekend was the perfect time to plan a trip.

I spent my first Zambian Easter in Solwezi, northwest Zambia, about an hour and a half from the refugee camp where I was working. My best friend just left and I spent Easter alone. My Easter time was to visit the monument in the local nature reserve, where I enjoyed the beauty of nature and flora.

Easter eggs with the Tembo family Photo: Kamila Hejlík Tembo Private Archives

Of course, I speak from the perspective of a Czech woman who comes from a non-Christian family and religious traditions like going to church have never been followed. Easter for me was coloring eggs, making sandwiches, trying to escape blows, shots of plum brandy (not for me, but the gentlemen who were arriving) and above all two days of rest additional.

Czech Easter for our children

Egg coloring is not easy and the result is far from perfect.  |  Photo: Zuzana Mukumayi Archives

Not only did I share my vision for Easter in Zambia, but I also approached Kamila and Tereza, who also live here. Each of us lives in a different part of the country, but our approach to Easter, including the experience of Easter in Zambia, is very similar. We celebrate Easter the Czech way and none of our families celebrate Easter in church, even though our partners are Christians.

I would rate the Czech Easter celebration in Zambia with three expressions: freedom, creativity and originality. The advantage of living abroad is that we can choose the customs or traditions that we want to keep. Without the influence of extended family and society, we truly have more freedom in creating “traditional” Easters. In Zambia, therefore, we don’t teach our men to knit and walk around, but we color eggs and make Easter decorations.

Easter eggs, bunnies and palm trees Photo: Zuzana Mukumayi Archives

Egg coloring may seem trivial, but nothing is so simple if you are on another continent a few thousand kilometers from the Czech Republic. First, it is relatively difficult to obtain white eggs, which are common in the Czech Republic, while in Zambia they are rare. Locals do not want to buy light eggs as they consider them to be of poor quality. Onion peeling is out of the question and light colors don’t work very well. We also failed to print petals and flowers, but as they say, it’s a joy of the process, not the result.

Tereza had a very similar experience: “I tried to color the eggs with the only food coloring I could find at home. My mother noted it on the messenger as “good for these conditions” and my daughter Rozárka liked the green eggs very much. The others household members were afraid to eat them.”

Rozárka and our green Easter eggs Photo: Private Archives of Tereza Kauma

Kamila has chosen another alternative, and that is painting painted puffed eggs, which is a great art activity for kids, by the way. And there are still few leisure activities in Zambia, so any “new” is welcome. “The tradition of painting eggs in our household has taken over because we have a predominance of women. Me, our two daughters and my niece. We didn’t allow our husband the traditional pompadour.” Kamila laughs.

Easter eggs with the Tembo family.  |  Photo: Private archives of Kamila Hejlík Tembo

And it is in the preparation of Easter eggs and Easter decorations in general that creativity and originality come into play. I remember that as part of the mini preparation for my first Zambian Easter, I hooked about four puffed eggs painted with markers on my clothes in my round house, which I borrowed from the office. And with the Temb family, you can find some very interesting egg designs.

In my case, preparations for Easter are an interesting logistical exercise, colors for eggs or various other typical Czech decorations cannot be bought here. The supply chain usually consists of our Czech grandmother buying colors, stickers, ornaments, sending them to us during the year, and using them at Easter one year later.

Easter eggs with the Tembo family.  Little Kamilka paints an Easter egg.  |  Photo: Private archives of Kamila Hejlík Tembo

Tereza put the British tradition of Easter egg hunts into practice last year. “Last year everything went well at Easter, all the kids were home including the neighbours. I bought candies and balloons and had our own egg hunt. The balloons were supposed to symbolize the eggs, and sweets and gifts were hidden from each of them. All the children searched together and then they shared gifts.”

Zambian-Czech Easter is a peaceful holiday. Two days of rest, beautiful weather, the joy of children coloring and painting eggs, the wonder of other Zambians and Zambians in front of our Czech traditions and beautiful egg creations (the advantage is that they don’t have nothing to compare!) and the certainty that no one will kick us out of bed in the morning, they are a guarantee of family well-being.

The imperfectly colored eggs are saved by stickers from the Czech Republic, or hand-crocheted Easter shirts or chicks, which have accumulated over the years from my mother's former Czech colleague.  |  Photo: Zuzana Mukumayi Archives

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