Columnists Features

Inspirational lives: What about your own family?

SPIDER’S WEB with CHEELA CHILALA
In the last two articles I have discussed, to some length, the life of Winston Churchill, one of the people whose life inspired my father. Another man whose life greatly inspired my father and by extension inspired me was my great grandfather, Simutwe, leader of my clan. In fact, the name Simutwe means “leader” or an intelligent person. But it is also the name of the village in Chikankata where he lays buried.
My father had the privilege of interacting with my great grandfather – and so inspired was he by the man that he often told stories about him, and even named me after him: my name Cheela is a shortened version of one of Simutwe’s praise names, Cheela-Mulonga, which means “one who crosses the river”. In its deepest philosophical sense, the name means “one who stubbornly pushes on and crosses the river even when the water reaches his neck.”
The name originates from one of my great grandfather’s adventures. It is said among members of my clan that Simutwe was once captured by raiders and taken to what is now Zimbabwe and forced to work in the mines. However, he managed to escape and returned to his home village. On the way back home, he had to cross a river. As he waded through the water rose to his neck but he did not turn back until he crossed and returned home. That is how he earned the praise name Cheela-Mulonga.
However, because of his exploits as a man and leader, Simutwe earned himself many other praise names. Among them: Chipamba, “manipulator of words”; Chinyukula, “shaker of the trees”; Mvula-Kuwa-Kubala-Kamwi, “rain that pours despite the blazing sun”. Indeed Simutwe had a way with words, and the shaking of trees had to do with his power as a leader. But the man was also an enigma, hence the ironic name of rain that falls when the sun is shining brightly and there are no rain clouds in the sky. The name also suggests someone who does the unexpected.
Simutwe’s legacy among members of my clan has raised him to legendary stature – which is why he is a huge source of inspiration to all those who consider themselves his descendants. There are many incredible stories about his exploits. One of the more commonly told stories is about how he defied a colonial administrator.
According to the story, a colonial administrator responsible for the area where Simutwe’s village summoned him to his office so he could be registered as a traditional leader. However, Simutwe refused to go, arguing, “The white man is the visitor here, and this is my land. He is the one who should come to see me.”
This story, though, is told to inspire his clan not to be intimidated by anyone or any situation but proudly stand their ground, especially when their dignity is at stake.
It is also used to encourage Simutwe’s descendants to be proud of who they are and of their roots. Indeed Simutwe’s life was an inspiration to those who lived and interacted with him, and is still an inspiration to those who, like me, never met him but are descended from him.
One of the reasons I am sharing the story of Simutwe as an inspirer is to demonstrate the fact that you do not always have to look outside your own family for inspirational lives: if you care to dig into your own past, among your own people, you are likely to discover a lot of inspirational stories.
You need to be proud of your roots and the inspirational ancestors that made it possible for you to be what and who you are. Is there an inspirational ancestor in your family, and what have you learnt from their life?
cheelafkc@yahoo.co.uk

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