Columnists Features

Reflections on tough village life

I HAVE told you several times that I will never regret growing up as a villager or fisher boy in Samfya district, Luapula Province, in the 1970s and ‘80s.
I picked up important human values, virtues and skills that have proved immensely useful to me in my adult and working life in an urban setting.
Ask those who were brought up in the villages along the shores of or around lakes Chifunabuli and Bangweulu, or the numerous other water bodies across our district those days.
They will tell you that we were not weaklings like you, town boys and girls, who were spoilt with meleki yakufola (free milk) and buns at the ama olofeya (welfare halls).
Most of you could not even swim, farm or run long distances. You could not climb tall trees, trap birds and small animals or tell fables as we did.
I am proud to inform you that we were growing up as much wiser and tougher youngsters than most of you. This was evident at the boarding secondary schools.
In fact we called ‘soft’ people like you inkoko sha loni (broiler chickens).
Tough life helped us learn things you could never learn in an urban setting.
For example, I addressed any man the age of my father as ‘Batata’ (father) while any woman the age of my mother was ‘Bamayo’ (mother).
Similarly, I called all my father’s brothers as “father” and my mother’s sisters as “mother”; not ‘Ba uncle’ and ‘Ba aunt’ as you called and still call them.
The daughters of my mother’s sisters were, and are still, my sisters and not ‘cousins’ as you call yours.
And how on earth can your mother’s younger sister’s daughter be your ‘cousin’ and not your sister?
Surely, mwebantu, how can the sons of your father’s younger brother be your cousins? Are they not your brothers?
I always pluck my two ears every time I hear you girls calling your fathers’ brothers as your ‘uncles’. For God’s sake those are your fathers!
Your uncle is your mother’s brother and his children you cousins.
I am really ashamed of you, town people.
Little wonder you have been secretly doing all kinds of abominable things with one another. That’s called ‘in-breeding’, if you ask the veterinary officers.
And you give your fathers and mothers water to drink while you are standing straight like Zesco electricity poles, without lowering your height by going down on one knee (ukutibila) as a show of respect.
What a shame! Mulekwatako umucinshi!
In the village when there were not enough seats to cater for both young ones and elders we would politely surrender our seats to our fathers and mothers and sit on the ground, stand or perch on tree branches.
Not the kind of insolence I have seen among you and your children.
When an elder loudly released foul air you quickly claimed the fart as yours and apologised for being such a naughty boy or girl, despite being innocent.
The idea was to reduce the guilty elder’s embarrassment. It was a taboo to laugh or deny the farting.
During meals we, the boys, ate with our fathers while the girls ate with their mothers.
The elders would pass important knowledge on to us younger diners.
It is also during meals that we picked up news on some of the latest happenings in the villages and the chiefdom.
One of the sacred rules was that when eating with elders you should not talk but merely listen, unless they ask you to talk.
“Pakulya nipakushiko muntu, tabalanda (meal time is as solemn as a burial, there is no talking),” my now late father would always remind me, although he would chatter liberally between mouthfuls.
Mind you, violation of any of those age-old norms could have dire consequences.
Offenders risked being ostracised and stigmatised as outcasts even by their own peers and contemporaries.
One of the strictest rules was that when you were eating with elders you were not supposed to make a shallow hole in the ball of nshima for scooping the soup (ukulema or ukupike nkondwa).
Only the elders were honoured with that privilege of enjoying the soup. Young ones or children were supposed to just dip the ulutoshi or umukusu (ball of nshima) into the soup.
For the uninitiated inkondwa was made by moulding a piece of nshima into a ball and punching a half-deep hole in the middle.
You then filled the hole with the soup (umuto) from the bowl or pot before throwing the ball of nshima into your expectant mouth.
We would watch with chagrin as the elders savoured the delicious fish or chicken soup or stew with malicious abandon.
But we cleverly outwitted them on this one, violating the unfair, selfish rule with impunity right under their noses.
Read more about this next Sunday.

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