Saturday, June 15, 2024

First Historic Intellectual Discourse

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I was anxious, worried, expectant, curious, excited, nervous, rushing and apprehensive. I had no control of the mix of emotions. The taxi drove from Lusaka for 74 Kms along the paved Great East Road beyond the town of Chongwe to the small Mwacilele Shopping Center. He turned right on to the gravel road toward Mwachalimba. After 2 kms he turned right onto a rugged road that has never been graded. The car encountered deep chasms, trenches, gullies, and sharp rocks in the tiny road and the experience of the driver with rural roads was crucial for safe navigation. We finally arrived at the small red brick caretaker dwelling. I was probably late. I quickly paid the taxi driver and he made a U-turn to return to Lusaka.

Hoisting my heavy backpack, I began my brisk walk into a narrow well foot-trodden bush path with grass, trees, and shrubs on both sides. After a 3-minute walk, the path suddenly opened to a wide space in the Savannah bush wilderness which had five spectacular huts in a straight line stretching into the far distance. In front of the third hut were a small group of people and in front of it a mphungu round structure. My heart beat increased, my knees shook with excitement, and expectations as I was walking toward the mphungu.

Mwizenge Sustainable Model Village

 

Mphungu

The cite before my eyes overwhelmed me as I tried hard to suppress the feeling. Seated on the floor around the inside edges of the mphungu floor building were 20 contented people who were completing eating their delicious breakfast of sweet potatoes and tea. I stood at the mphungu entrance mesmerized. I sat down on the edge of the wall. This was the first discourse meeting of the Africa Tomorrow Indaba WhatsApp Group. The peculiar location is the Mwizenge Sustainable Model Village which is the brain child of Emeritus Professor Mwizenge Tembo. The group’s desire to conduct a discourse of ideas at a rural secluded village-like location intersected with Professor Tembo’s desire to pursue indigenous Zambian/African intellectual ideas, culture and technology.

What is most intriguing about this meeting is not only it’s an unusual location but it helps sometimes to define what something is not. This may give the readers a better perspective of why this meeting was not held at a five-star hotel on Cairo Road in Lusaka. It is hardly because of poverty.

Preparing for the Meeting

In preparation and planning for this Africa Tomorrow Indaba discourse, the group had no title for the meeting, it was not the traditional workshop or seminar. It did not have the President of Zambia, or a high-status figure, director of an institution, an expert to first address the assembled. There were no chairs to sit on, chairperson, moderator. There were no scheduled programs of activities. There were no PowerPoint presentations or lectures planned. The only things that were planned were the logistics for transportation and food. There was no concern that every participant should have 5 Ph. Ds. This was all deliberately unplanned. We wanted participants who were all intellectuals in their own right to come up or get the opportunity to both participate in something novel in which the group might germinate truly new and fresh perspectives and ideas.

Discourse Objectives

The objective of the discourse was however the most serious and had the highest intentions in many Zambian generations. Can a group of highly intellectual Zambians meet in a traditional village environment in the middle of the Savannah wilderness and carry on a high stake but meaningful exchange in the discourse of ideas that have to uniquely deal with African history going back from antiquity all the way to contemporary Zambia/Africa of 2024? What will Zambia/Africa and Zambia look like tomorrow or in the year 3,000 in terms of intellectual culture, technology, the status and the integrity of the African in the global world of dominant ideas, technology, and cultures?

I suggested that everyone introduce themselves very briefly. After all, twenty participants had introduced themselves, personalities quickly emerged. Individuals picked up and expressed ideas, added, and critiqued many. The one idea moved to a new idea. There was passion, excitement, raising of voices, shaking of heads in strong disapproval and nodding of heads in agreement when necessary. There was plenty of laughter. Why did we hold the meeting at this village? What is the purpose? Why not hold the meeting at a modern sparkling lodge complete with Wi-Fi?

Purpose of Model Village

I briefly told the gathering who were all sitting in a circle that the line of 5 huts were lined up in a straight line from north to south representing our history on our vast continent when for thousands of years all Zambians and Africans continuously migrated north and south. The back windows of all huts were located with the back facing the east which is the sunrise. The front doors faced west representing sunsets. Most construction material was from the 50 Hectares of wilderness which the host has declared a forest conservation reserve with the cutting of trees and burning of charcoal not allowed which depletes trees.

History of /Zambia Africa

According to Khapoya (2012), after early humans lived and migrated in small bands as hunters and gatherers and larger communities for thousands of years, the Egyptian civilization was created. The arguments as to whether Egypt had white or black people may be irrelevant. Seligman and the Hamitic hypothesis reflects European racist ideology directed at us Zambians and Africans. The dubious Hamitic hypothesis argued that African Egyptians in the north were olive skinned and those further south towards the equator were darker skinned. This argument is one of the numerous racist myths about Africans and Europeans injecting phony intellectual debates. Cheikh Anta Diop debunks some of these myths.

Zambian/African History

The Egyptian civilization occurred for 2,010 or more than two thousand years from 3100 B.C.E to 1090 B.C.E. This was about 760 years before the ancient Greeks. The great Ancient Egyptian Civilization which Africans established was 2,460 years before the very young European Industrial Revolution which was from 1801 to 1899 which was for only a hundred years. The Egyptian Civilization lasted to 1090 B.C.E which was over 3,114 years ago.

According to Zinn (2015), one of the most devastating for Africans was the enslaving and uprooting of 10 to 20 million Africans to North America, the Caribbean Islands, and South America. Europeans singles out black Africans for enslaving and anti-black racism not because black Africans were naturally inferior to white Europeans, but because the brutally enslaved Africans provided cheap labor for the large European slave plantations that provided massive amounts of cheap cotton for the European Industrial Revolution. European colonization of the African continent from 1885 to 1960 was also devastating for Zambian/African intellectual ideas, culture, and indigenous technology.

Intellectual Ideas

Numerous Zambian/African intellectual ideas and movements have flourished on the African continent for centuries. In the same way numerous intellectual ideas continued to be smoothly injected with smooth transitions in the discourse group on that day of our lord 11 May 2024. At one point, the problems of colorism in Zambian society emerged from one of the women. I was stunned because I thought colorism in 2024 only existed in American society among blacks and elsewhere in the world. I suddenly remembered that in 1967 at the age of 13 when I lived around Chipata in the Eastern Province, the whole of Zambia objected to young women wearing miniskirts which were too revealing and unZambian or against African culture. Some women used ambi cosmetic cream to lighten or make their faces light or browner. This was objected to and some United National Independence Party (UNIP) youth harassed women who broke these customs. The use of ambi for women to brown their skin was one of the racist European impacts of colonization around the world.

Colorism Among Zambian Women

I simply sat back and listened because the Zambian women were debating and intellectually wrestling with colorism among some Zambian young women with some men here and there interjecting certain points. I told them I wrote a long paper: “Beautiful Women in African Societies” that addressed the problem because Europeans in the 1700s introduced the racist idea that white women and white beauty is the highest standard and Zambian and African women with the darkest skin color were the ugliest. “Eurocentric Destruction of Indigenous Conceptions: the Secret Rediscovery of the Beautiful Woman in African Societies”. My paper strongly debunks that notion. The group said they would read the paper. People told folk tales and other stories.

As we talked and talked, lunch was served. We lost consciousness of the time until at some point someone from the food preparers reminded us that the nshima would get cold. We stopped and ate the most delicious nshima with the famous village chicken, chikanda cooked with nthendelo or freshly made peanut powder, fresh rape, dried vegetables with peanuts powder, fresh pumpkin leaves or Chiwawa vegetables cooked with peanut powder. We also had munkoyo.

After lunch everyone was too full to just sit and continue the discourse.

Traditional Dance Drumming

Three drums were brought out and we played drums for the vimbuza spiritual possession dance of the Tumbuka people. A few people were good at drumming and many tried to play. We talked about the significance of traditional Zambian dances. I wanted to show the group the mtowa tree which I mention in the paper “Beautiful Women in African Societies”.. The whole group walked to the tree as it was right there on the edge of the village a few meters away. Mr. Phiri collected the roots and bark of the mlaza tree or mzakaka which is commonly used for treating a variety of body ailments. Everyone chewed a piece of the root which was very bitter. We talked about it.

As the sun set, we drove back to Lusaka. What did this unstructured group discourse achieve? That is what everyone who took part in it is still contemplating. Nothing that happened can be described yet as the experience was completely new. The new experience that cannot be named yet is what the German Philosopher Michael Polanyi might call the “Tacit Dimension”.

By Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.

Emeritus Professor of Sociology

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