'God's Candlelights, an educational venture in Northern Rhodesia' is another book about the first Girls' School in Zambia, at Mbereshi (see my previous post here on Children of the Chief). This one is based on Mabel Shaw's letters dating from 1916 to 1933 during her time heading the school that (in her own words)
'tells of an attempt to conserve all that is true and good in the old life and to build upon it; and so to present the Christian faith to the community and to the individual that they see it not as the white man's religion... but through the familiar ways of their own thought and belief.'
This follows closely the idea expressed at the Le Zoute 1926 missionary conference that 'everything that is good in the African's heritage should be conserved, enriched and enobled by contact with the spirit of Christ'.
The Journal of the Royal African Society said in 1934 (Vol 33 No. 132) 'During her nineteen years of missionary work ... Miss Shaw has made a name for herself and for the school she has built up in Mbereshi. God's candelights is a record full of meekness, devotion and thanksgiving, of the patient sympathy which has led to that success - in which failures and difficulties are spoken with candour and triumphs with humility. If there was an Mbereshi in every African village, there would be no need, from Africa's point of view, for the pomp, the circumstance, and the heavy hand of colonial government.'
This is a fair summary of the book. Although initially the narrative appears rather rose-coloured, there is also later admittance of where things have gone wrong and discussion of problems in the village and failings of her own and the children's.
There is a long waiting-list to join the school. In some cases parents return for years as they move up the waiting list, with only 6-8 children being admitted a year. For some this happens until their child is too old to join.
There is mention of some local customs, including the practice of killing a chinkula baby, one who is born with their top teeth appearing first, which is a bad omen. One such child is saved from this practice.
Other customs we hear about include how fire is taken from one village to another, and of how fires are extinguished when somebody dies, a new fire is lit and then all fires are started from this new fire. Also we are told of the sprinkling of flour on the ground for various reasons, and spitting out the first mouthful of water. A stick is placed in the ground for protection. A game the children like to play is tying a bird on a piece of string and whizzing it around until it dies (at least, before Mabel!)
The LMS were also against polygamy, beer drinking and 'certain inheritance rites', which newly baptised Christians agreed to refrain from. The last presumably refers to inheritance by a brother of a spouse on the husband's death. But Shaw also prefers to stand back from interfering in girls' coming of age rites until invited in by the older women, who it appears later abandon their traditions in this respect.
We are told that Sanda, or insulting somebody's appearance, is taken as a serious offence. On one occasion a girl is made to wear large paper ears for suggesting another girl has large ears. The Bemba proverb is 'she who sandas spoils her own looks' but they also say 'the mother does not throw the bad child away'. The last rain is called kunta nsoka, which translates as 'the shaking off of the seeds'.
When Mabel first arrives the children are usually married at 14, but she extends this to 18 during her time. There is a maternity and children's hospital alongside the school buildings and dormitories. Infant mortality is high - about 45% of first babies die.
|Northern Rhodesia, 1927|
Mbereshi is close to the Luapula River, on the western border of Zambia, and we hear of people crossing the river.
As the map included here shows (from Funk and Wagnalls Atlas of the World, New York, 1927) Lusaka doesn't really register at this time, and Elizabethville is the largest town nearby. We also hear about people coming from Lake Mweru (here Moero), Lake Tanganyika, and a visit to Kalambo Falls. You can also see Fort Roseberry here (Mansa). See also the map here.
|'Is it ready yet?' Hilda Katongo and Mary Livingstone|
Shaw hears an interesting legend from an older tribesman about the awe inspiring Kalambo Falls (which is more than twice the height of Victoria Falls). The man says that two chiefs were always fighting over who owned the gorge. Eventually 'the young wife' (the chief having many wives) with her first born on her back came one dawn and threw herself over, 'thus making it ours forever'.
There is quite a lot about Chief Kasembe and how his power has dwindled during the time of the school. It is told that the previous Kasembe punished various people by mutilation, including removal of ears, nose, fingers, tongue and lips. Victims included Katayi and Mwaba.
A particularly good tale is of how Shaw was telling some of the young children the parable of the Good Shepherd. The children are paying rapt attention. When she is finished she asks them why the shepherd was looking for the lost sheep. One girl immediately pipes up Munani! (relish!) in other words, because he wanted to eat the sheep.
NamesSometimes it is unclear whether a person is a teacher or student, particularly since children who had passed Standard II were given teaching duties themselves during their last year. Subjects taught included geography, biology, hygeine and arithmetic (counting and money).
The abbreviated names include Dr M, Nurse R (Rebecca? A Scots midwife perhaps) , Miss B, Miss S and Miss W.
The children are given English names alongside their Bemba names. There are some unusual names recorded, not given by the school: Trotters, Comic, Bunkum, Giotto and Giovanni.
David Livingstone is still fresh in the memory and gets a couple of mentions.
Bole-Bole (trips with Shaw, day watchman)
Chakota, Nelson (evangelist)
Kakula, Paul - witchdoctor turned apostle
Kansenga (kapitao at Kawambwa store, uncle of Grace Katunansa)
Kasokolo, Henry (ministry training since 1927)
Mapoma, helps transport cycle during trips
Nshimba (Chief, Chilwa Island, L. Mweru, muslim)
Solo, seems to be a leader of others on trips
Girls and teachersMostly first names are given so some guessing is involved here.
Amelia (became teacher, fell pregnant unmarried)
Bunyan, Johnny (nickname of girl from L. Mweru who arrived as a 4 yr old)
Chama, Phyllis (head girl)
Charity and Felicity (twins)
Chilima, Bessie (sister of evangelist brother, fell pregnant, daughter Ruth?, later married)
Chipampa - joined school aged 4, punished for sanda
Chishimba, Lise who married 'Timorthy Crocodile'
Chitoshi (girl, died)
Chomba (her house)
Chongo, Enesi (married at 15, went to Congo)
Christine, daughter of chief's man
Chulunoma (watchman, old)
Chungu - Kasembe offered to marry her, visited Elizabethville, later deacon of church, first marriage failed, had daughter Betty
Hilda (and her dimples), perhaps Catholic, mother wears a St Christopher's - is it a charm? The chlidren debate.
Kabungo, Katie (daughter of teacher in American mission in Congo)
Kabwe, Ethel * (teacher)
Kabwe, Dinah (*sisters)
Kalulu (little girl, presumably nickname)
Kaoma, Rebecca (house mother)
Kapaya, Cicely (baby, mother died)
Kisha, Luse (teacher)
Kwenda, Mutemwa (old)
Livingstone, Mary (there is apparently another book telling her story)
Lupambo, (polygamist man)
Mambepa (beaten by others when she became an 'elder', for her insolence when younger)
Masala (has a child called Leya)
Milika (teacher, went to Elizabethville, later Ndola where she was a cook to a protestant missionary, married Mbereshi man)
Mulenga, Rachel (mother was widow of evangelist, died, children Rachel and Tabita left to Mabel Shaw; marriage problems described)
Mubanga, Isobel (house mother)
Mubanga, Nakulu (last words recorded)
Mupelwa (buried baby)
Mulengo, Lise - daughter of Lupambo from Wankie (S.Rhodesia) married about 1928, husband 'Light' died about 1932, remarried his brother Sambini by inheritance, had a child by each father. She was lame, saved a chinkula baby from destruction.
Musonda, Mariya (chinkula baby saved by Lise Mulengo), daughter Priscilla died aged 1.
Mutiyampa, Fane (has child called Hilda)
Mwenya (oldest girl? school matron? Girls' teacher at puberty, chimbusa; she was rescued from an Arab slave caravan)
Nellie (baby boy burial)
Ntinda, Rebecca (matron and midwife?)
Ruth (golden-haired, 'half-caste' girl)
Safila and Susan (girls who were good at weaving)
Shi-Chongo (man of the village)
Deaths remembered on All Saints' DayChipola, Agnes
Mwamba, Mary and her little son Michael