By Henry Kanyanta Sosala
I decided to look at the behavioural characteristics of various tribes in order to ascertain the impact they have had on the copper-belt social system. Reverend Clement Doke, an acknowledged expert in Lamba language and customs noted in The Lamba of Zambia: A Study of Cultures and Beliefs:
‘’The language is remarkably rich in folklore, in proverbs, and they take a great delight in talking. Practically, every Lamba is a born orator, unafraid to voice his views, no matter what size the assembly may be.’’
And hence the saying: ‘’Balatana umuntu inshima ifyebo tabatanapo.’’ Meaning that though you do not have food to offer to a visitor, but comforting words will do wonders.
W.V. Brelsford, a colonial District Officer and a social anthropologist who served in various parts of this country wrote in ‘’Tribes of Zambia’’ that the Lozi displayed qualities of statesmanship, while the Bemba displayed warlike qualities. And of the former, in the book, ‘’Gods and Rituals,’’ Max Gluckman submitted a paper from his book ‘’Rituals of Rebellion’’ and in explaining the near absence of rituals of rebellion among the Lozi, Dr. Gluckman asserted that their government organization provided elaborately for the release of tensions between various components of the state.
W.V. Brelsford went on ‘’….the Bemba extended their empire by raiding and fighting. The Lunda especially those of the Luapula extended their sway on a sort of commonwealth system by embracing other people to their culture. The Lozi by a combination of fighting followed by the installation of Lozi chiefs over those areas.’’ The Ngoni are runaway refugees from Shaka battles under the leadership of Zwangendaba who has been described as ‘’capable in command of commissariat as he was a general of strategy.’’
It must also be noted that their tribal-cousins, the Bemba also ran away from the authority of Mwatiamvu and may be that is why they are both inclined to violence and other illegitimate activities. And as Dr. Audrey Richards expressed a notion in a Mbeni verse sung by the Bemba Dance Society:
Filuti aleipusha muno Luanshya, munange umushobo
Number one ba Bemba
Number two ba Ngoni, aba bantu ni basaini ofu.
The Compound Manager asks: show me the tribe here in Luanshya
In Luanshya show me the tribe
Number one — Bemba
Number two —Ngoni: these people are ‘’sign off’’ (i.e., are absolutely fearless).
Brelsford described an averted encounter which could have changed the history of this country:
‘’The Ngoni were returning from Tanganyika southwards via Luangwa valley and the Bemba were pushing southwards and eastwards into the valley. Chitimukulu Kanyanta often used to relate how he had raided as far as Broken Hill (now Kabwe) in his youth. The Lozi were raiding and collecting tributes westwards as far as Mumbwa. Although these movements were slow, it seems probable that had not Rhodes been given a Charter over this area, it could have only been a matter of a short time before the Bemba, the Lozi and the Ngoni met in massive combat somewhere along what is now the railway strip.’’
There could certainly have been ‘’kafwafwa.’’ However, one thing is clear because when you look at the mountain ranges and terrains when travelling to Chipata it is a clear indication that the Ngoni fled for their lives and I suppose many of their frightened warriors died on the way.
The Social Landscape
What is note-worthy is that copper-belt life yields many instances of harmonious co-operation between members of different tribes and cultures in the most diverse activities.Various tribal norms and customs are constantly getting in each other’s way and individuals are constantly being institutionally required to do conflicting things. However, in the main, these conflicting elements do not hinder the effective working urban system as a whole. They do not lead to a breaking down of the system because they operate within it and thus deep understanding of the copper-belt social process requires a formulation in which inconsistency and disharmony are recognized not only as an integral part of the nascent social system, but also an important source of its dynamism.
In this sense the nascent social system of the town provides an example of an ‘’open system.’’ Here skepticism, far from presenting a challenge to the system of various tribal beliefs, actually operates to support them.
‘’The concept of ‘tribalism’ has two distinct points of reference. On one hand, its application is intra-tribal and refers to the persistence of, or continued attachment to tribal customs. On the other, it refers to the persistence of loyalty and values, which stem from a particular form of social organization, and which operate today within a social system much wider than that of a tribe. These two aspects must be carefully distinguished, since it is clear that there may be ‘revolutionary changes in custom’ while the tribe itself remains an important category of interaction within a wider social system. It is in the second sense that I speak of ‘tribalism’ on the copper-belt.’’
However, Professor V. Harlow wrote in ‘’Tribalism in Africa’’: ‘’We may be misled if we mistake revolutionary changes in tribal customs for decay because the potency of resurgent tribalism should not be underestimated. On the contrary, its dynamic power should be harnessed to the task of national building.’’
In fact what we now have is a new community of citizens with their own culture, their own language etc., and as David Punabantu wrote: ‘’…children were being born in towns without any knowledge of village culture. These children produced other children — compound kids and their concept of development at that time was to sell foodstuff in the streets. Thus it is not surprising that Dr. Kaunda entered a chemist with a group of school children who were learning ‘shopping values.’……these compound kids then, became compound adults and ended up, as street vendors, while others became street adults and kids as seen today.’’ (The Post [supplement] 24th November 2004)
Ichibemba is usually assumed to be the lingua franca of the copper-belt, but is the language being spoken really Ichibemba? The first ancestors of the Bemba spoke Ichiluba and as Audrey Richards noted: ‘’Luban words, no longer understood by the Bemba commoners, are still used as part of the religious ritual at the Paramount Chief’s court’’ and there is a book titled, ‘’Ichibemba cakwa Chitimukulu’’ meaning ‘’Bemba spoken at Chitimukulu’s court,’’ which is a clear indication that there is a difference with ichibemba spoken elsewhere.
The copper-belt Bemba or rather the ‘’copper-belt language’’ is a combination of all sorts of sometimes funny words, for example, a house which in chibemba is ‘’ing’anda’’ is now called ‘’bond.’’ The names have also been twisted, ‘’Musonda’’ is ‘’Muzo,’’; ‘’Mulenga’’ is ‘’Mule,’’ or ‘’Chileshe’’ is ‘’Chile.’’ This is a clear indication of divorce from the Bemba tribe since in Ichibemba alphabet we do not have ‘’Z.’’ And a group of friends of Mwemba, Mutale, Lubashi etc., can only be referred to as ‘’bene Mweemba.’’
The Impact of Traditional Norms on the Copper-belt Dwellers
It must be noted that the break of traditional practice is less radical than in the sphere like politics. Of course many of the customs and characteristic features of the indigenous system have in most cases been abandoned or have become impracticable under urban conditions. However, certain customs continue to be adhered to by the sophisticated as well as the unsophisticated, for example, they both pay bride-wealth to his parents-in-law; may be most meticulous in his observance of the in-law and other domestic taboos and may even apply customary precepts in his relation with his children and all without doing violence to his status as a university degree holder. These various activities relate to quite distinct sets of relations and do not conflict with his being sophisticated.
Professor Z. K. Mathews in ‘’The Tribal Spirit among Educated South Africans’’ noted,
‘’Even the individual who feels that for him the old political organization of the tribe does not adequately meet his needs ………..still thinks that as far as his private married life is concerned, the old code need not be entirely abandoned.’’
And that is why it is said that the urban African remains a tribesman and yet is not a tribesman.
Urban local courts were established on the copper-belt in 1938 and the court justices were then appointed by Native Authorities. The law administered in the local courts is wholly unwritten. The cases are heard in terms of the customary law of the tribes. And claims are brought before the courts and are argued by the litigants themselves in terms of the customary law of the tribes. The evidence from these courts shows that not only do the people on the copper-belt regulate much of their social behavior in terms of tribal norms and values, but that in this sphere they also respect the authority of court justices who deal in customary law.
In 1990 I wanted to find out the divorce rate on the copper-belt since it has a higher percentage of inter-tribal marriages in comparison to other provinces. I obtained divorce statistics from the Director of Local Courts for 1970 and 1980. The copper-belt Province had the highest number of divorce cases heard, but had few divorces granted, while Western Province had the highest number of divorces granted. I later learned that the court justices on the copper-belt took into account tribal incompatibility when dealing with divorces. In Bemba culture a person does not only marry a woman or a man, but marries the entire family and hence that is why when a man wants to divorce his wife, the family has the right to object or to tell the man to divorce his wife. And so when a Bemba woman gets married to another tribesman, the tribal incompatibility would arise on food management since the Bemba housewife would be preparing excess food with plenty of relish (ukutebeta) especially when the relatives of the husband visit. And that would be deemed by the husband to be wasteful. And the court justices would explain the different cultures and try to reconcile them.
The Township Economic Philosophy
Let us now look at how the Chiluba regime comprising of the urbanists equipped with compound mentality interpreted their economic philosophy. They introduced the liberation of the economy. The promise of the privatization programme was claimed to be a constant rise in the living standards and an end to the vicious business circles. The liberation of the economy was sold to us as a science that would enable our country to achieve the ageless ambition and an ever-ascending abundance and from these triumphs would flow a more caring government and a greater individual liberty.
However, this kind of Zambia’s indigenous economic philosophy that was being proclaimed in such extravagant metaphor is the ‘’township or compound’’ economy. This is the type of economic philosophy, we usually witness in townships where if a person loses his job, he then begins to sell his household goods in order to meet his daily needs, until eventually when he has nothing to sell is driven into destitution. And everybody knows how the regime put up a grand sale of our national assets and how the proceeds were squandered in unexplained circumstances.
An American author, Alex Osborn in Applied Imagination wrote: ‘’Urban life tends to sap imaginative strength in all except the few who work in the arts and in creative phases of business and science. Most of those in routine jobs practice ingenuity far less than those who work on farms. One proof that a non-urban background is more likely to foster creativity is found in the disproportionate preponderance of country-born leaders among those listed in Who’s Who. A committee of educators recently conducted a five-year survey to determine the geographical origin and the economic backgrounds of those who had made good as creative scientists. In interpreting the committee’s findings, Newsweek editorially commented: ‘’The conclusion is that creative research is a grassroots business….it thrives where memories of frontier days still linger’.’’ (ibid. p. 47)
According to Social Watch Report 2002, Dr. Kaunda left the poverty rate at 56 percent, while Dr. Chiluba after ten years in power left the poverty rate at 80 percent. What is the use of education if it cannot work towards the betterment of our society. This bankruptcy of vision was affirmed by Chiluba himself and it was he himself who had headed a team of the supposed ‘’top-cream technocrats’’ in his government. And it was good that Dr. Chiluba himself touched on the subject that we had expected the geniuses and intellectuals of his regime to accomplish when they stepped into the corridors of power in 1991.
Dr. Chiluba said, ‘’A case has been argued that the Tigers of East Asia such as Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan with insufficient resources at independence have moved from third world to first world. Singapore did not have half of Zambia’s resources, but developed so quickly that you would wonder if this tiger was walking or flying. Zambia continues to stagnate such that not much can be talked about in terms of development.’’ (The Post 24th October 2004) (emphasis mine).
I also earnestly appeal to you youngsters, born in a non-tribal community to come on board and help to chart out the future of this nation because the current burn’t out generation seems to be living in almost Stone Age conditions where there is total lack of future-mindedness
In conclusion, I believe that through inter-tribal marriages, the new generation on the copper-belt is becoming more aware of wider political loyalties than that of the tribe and hence ‘’tribalism’’ will soon be no longer a political force. However, in the emergent social system of the copper-belt, we also have to face the challenge that tribal factor does intrude into situations where, on my analysis, it would seem to have no place. Thus we have strange paradox of ‘’tribalism’’ re-appearing in situations in which a man’s tribal affiliations would appear to be completely irrelevant. This may likely be to the fact that the copper-belt is a single field composed of different sets of social relations. We must note as well that each set enjoys a certain degree of autonomy, so that the total field appears to be characterized by contradictions and discontinuity. And the greatest problem usually emerges from those who have never lived on the copper-belt and are not therefore exposed to another social system other than their own. In Bemba it is said, ‘’Umwana ashenda atasha nyina ukunaya’’ (i.e., lack of exposure limits a person’s vision.’’
I also earnestly appeal to you youngsters, born in a non-tribal community to come on board and help to chart out the future of this nation because the current burn’t out generation seems to be living in almost Stone Age conditions where there is total lack of future-mindedness, i.e., the ability to see the present from the vantage point of the future. And where there is future-mindedness there is hope, and where there is hope, there is religion, for what is religion, but institutionalized dreams of paradise or bright future? This is the freedom to feel unencumbered by the past and more emotionally attached to things to come i.e., living the life that is always becoming and never being. We lack this mental framework and this explains why we are always desperately looking outside ourselves for ideas and visions about the future of our nation.