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Plight of two unfortunate lovers

LIFE: WHAT A JOURNEY with CHARLES CHISALA
LAST Sunday, I stepped aside for my boss, Zambia Daily Mail deputy managing director Chapadongo Lungu, who I hosted as the guest writer of your favourite column.
Mr Lungu, a former columnist himself, used the platform to share his experience when he visited his former school, Mumbwa Secondary School, last month and his memories as a pupil there years back.
The previous Sunday, I had highlighted some of the myths that fuelled gender-based violence directed at men among the Bena-Ng’umbo people of Samfya district in Luapula Province in the past and how things have now changed for the better.
I singled out the humiliation and torture of married men whose expecting wives died while in labour. The deaths were blamed on the unfaithfulness of the husband.
It was called incila.
The hapless widowers were summarily tried and found guilty by kangaroo courts and punishment was harsh, extending to their larger extended families.
Each trial was a farce of comical proportions, with the ‘accused’ ordered to sit in the middle of a human semi-circle facing the jury. There was no justice.
The atmosphere was hostile enough to intimidate even a lion-hearted man into admitting something he had not done.
In extreme cases, years ago, the husband was forced to rip open his dead wife’s bloated tummy with a blunt tool and remove the dead baby, whom he was ordered to lay on the side of the mother in the coffin before burial.
The myth was that if the dead baby was buried while inside the mother’s womb it would not ‘sleep’ until it was appeased with scary rituals.
But at the time I was growing up, that practice had been dropped.
Once a kangaroo court found a man guilty of causing the death of his wife through sexual immorality, he would be slapped with a frighteningly heavy fine.
The fine could consist of a banana boat, dug-out canoe, goats, sheep, coarse salt, entire cassava fields, huge quantities of cassava flour, millet, white chickens and rolls of fabric among others.
Sometimes, relatives of the dead mother would come with an array of crude weapons including axes and spears, which they would be brandishing throughout the hearing. In many cases relatives of the ‘suspects’ would stay away for fear of being lynched together with them.
I witnessed one case that haunted me and gave me nightmares for more than 10 years when I was doing my Form One at Nchelenge Secondary School, or Nchezzy if you like in the 1980s.
Those days, there was nothing like enjoying one’s holiday for some of us because we had to work our backs sore to raise money for transport back to school and for numerous school fees.
We the BenaNg’umbo people are traditionally fishermen and versatile traders. So, more than 90 percent of our income came from fishing and trading.
After resting for a few days, my father and I started preparing for the perilous trip across Lake Chifunabuli to the fishing camps dotted along the scenic and sandy Ifunge Peninsular that separates lakes Chifunabuli and Bangweulu, and served as the base for our fishing and trading expeditions.
My father’s dug-out canoe, which he had inherited from a dead uncle before I was born, had seen better days and was not in inspiring condition. We could not take the risk of crossing aboard the sluggish and leaking vessel.
He, therefore, suggested that we borrow a dug-out canoe from a Mr Londoni, a retiree who lived in Brown village on the edge of Umulonga we Yunga (Yunga Stream) that separates Chinama and Bwembya villages on the shore of Lake Chifunabuli.
The big man had already discussed the matter with Mr Londoni, a good man, and all we needed was collect the vessel and paddle it to our village, Shimalama.
As we walked past my uncle, Chief Chitembo’s palace, my father suggested that we briefly attend an incila case hearing. The open court was being conducted in a village opposite the Iyunga palace, behind the Nawabungwa square set in a cluster of the majestic and leafy imisambya trees.
A man who had been accused of causing the death of his expecting wife was on trial.
When we arrived at the ‘court hearing’ I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was a big crowd, most of the people sitting on the bare ground. Only a few were standing.
They had formed a semi-circle and a terrified man was sitting in the centre beside an equally frightened woman. Both had unkempt hair and seemed to have gone for days without food, judging by their collapsed countenances.
At my age then, I had not attended any such traditional court. One of the members of the jury was my own uncle, Mr Costa Bashiliyo, my mother’s biological brother. He was seconded to the jury by the chief because of being a member of the royal family.
The hearing had not yet begun, but it was clear that all was set. I learned that the woman sitting with the ‘accused’ in the centre of the semi-circle was his lover and that he had named her during intense interrogations before his wife’s death in labour.
The heat from the sun was forbidding, and the two poor souls had been forced to sit in the open on the bare ground.
They were sweating like cattle that had just emerged from a dip tank while the rest enjoyed the safety of the shade from edges of roofs and trees.
Two hefty men stepped inside at the orders of my uncle and started roughly cutting the hair of the man and his lover with two pairs of scissors. The woman was sobbing while the man looked disoriented. I could tell that they were both in pain.
My father explained that he had settled in the village from the Copperbelt and that he had only lived in the village for less than one year when he lost his wife.
As the heads of the two lovers were being shaved there were endless catcalls from the crowd, especially the relatives of the dead mother.
My father noticed that the sight was traumatising me and whisked me away. It took me over a decade to start recovering from that experience. Thank God we are living in a new era.
Charles_chisala@yahoo.com