Monday, 25 May 2020

God's candelights, Mabel Shaw

'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
Other places mentioned are: Kasembe (Kazembe's village, 10km south), Mpolokoso (Mporokoso), Kawambwa, Mbala, N'kana (mine),  and Elizabethville (now Lubumbashi, DRC).

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
One of the girls makes a trip to Elizabethville to experience town life, and everybody at the school wants to learn about this exciting trip. Mbereshi itself is quite wild. Post is a treat and when Christmas bags arrive only carrying Bibles from the British and Foreign Bible Society, there is great disappointment.

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.


Sometimes 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.


Andreya (evangelist)
Bole-Bole (trips with Shaw, day watchman)
Chakota, Nelson (evangelist)
Joshua  (evangelist)
Kakula, Paul - witchdoctor turned apostle
Kansenga (kapitao at Kawambwa store, uncle of Grace Katunansa)
Kasembe, Chief
Kasokolo, Henry (ministry training since 1927)
Mapoma, helps transport cycle during trips
Nshimba (Chief, Chilwa Island, L. Mweru, muslim)
Ntundu, John
Solo, seems to be a leader of others on trips

Girls and teachers

Mostly first names are given so some guessing is involved here.

Amelia (became teacher, fell pregnant unmarried)

Bwalya,  Leya
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)
Chilufya, Mary

Chipampa - joined school aged 4, punished for sanda
Chipepa, Alice

Chishimba, Lise who married 'Timorthy Crocodile'
Chitoshi (girl, died)
Chomba (her house)
Chongo, Enesi (married at 15, went to Congo)
Christina (teacher)
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
Constance, house-mother

Duncan, Mary
Hilda (and her dimples), perhaps Catholic, mother wears a St Christopher's - is it a charm? The chlidren debate.

Kabanda, Fane
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)

Katongo, Hilda
Kisha, Luse (teacher)
Kwenda, Mutemwa (old)
Livingstone, Mary (there is apparently another book telling her story)
Lumanya, Josephine
Lupambo, (polygamist man)

Malita (house-mother)
Mambepa (beaten by others when she became an 'elder', for her insolence when younger)
Masala (has a child called Leya)
Margery (teacher)
Mfuta, Mary
Milika (teacher, went to Elizabethville, later Ndola where she was a cook to a protestant missionary, married Mbereshi man)
Mulenga, Maggie
Mulenga, Rachel (mother was widow of evangelist, died, children Rachel and Tabita left to Mabel Shaw; marriage problems described)
Mumbi, Emily
Mubanga, Isobel (house mother)
Mubanga, Jessie
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)
Mwambwa, Mary
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?)
Philemon, Mercy

Rachel (teacher)
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' Day

Chipola, Agnes
Chitoshi, Agnes
Mwamba, Mary and her little son Michael

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Zambia: I changed my mind (Michael Wright)

I'd seen this book a few times on eBay and formed a first impression of what it might be like. I was ready to be annoyed, and almost immediately was, but in the end the author makes some good points.

If we are any doubt as to the argument, the inset of Chairman Mao should help to set the scene. The author is concerned about the increasing influence of China in Africa, but actually the book is more about the failure of the political system and the steady erosion of democratic ideas as the one-party system takes hold in the late 1960s. The book leaves us in no doubt that the author considers Africa unready for democracy, that the Zambian constitution is a mockery of the real thing and that English policy towards central Africa is a failure.

Along the way we hear much about Wright's bewilderment with the way things are run and failures to tackle issues as they arise. Sometimes this is justified, other times I am reminded of a visitor who spent time telling everyone that they found an ant in their water, as if this was something to be remarked at.

Michael Wright came to Zambia in 1967 and spent three years lecturing in Economics and Government at Evelyn Hone College in Lusaka, a post advertised through the Ministry of Overseas Development.  He 'changed his mind' because he came from a liberal background, but after his experiences we wonder if he remained a liberal. In fact, he suggests that 'this catastrophe' should not be repeated south of the Zambezi.

You will not be surprised to hear that the book contains many examples of facilities that are not repaired and systems that are not functioning, and yet after three years in the country, and three years since independence, I feel it was a bit premature to trot these examples out as proof of the country's failures.  At the same time, we can see now the continuing failure to tackle major infrastructure issues, in particular water and electricity supply, with areas such as Makeni lately suffering daily power cuts spanning a half day or more, usually during working hours. Imagine the impact on your ability to pump water from your borehole, to flush toilets, to wash clothes, or to keep food in a freezer.  We are getting to the point where everyone will require their own generator.

We hear that on his arrival his disillusionment is still to come, and he hopes for a bright future, as suggested by the new currency names of kwacha (dawn) and ngwee (brightness is coming).

Wright spends a fair amount of time talking about Kaunda's philosophy (said to be developed through correspondence with Colin Morris) of humanism and how nobody can figure out quite what it means, although he asserts that the idea of the 'common man' is taken as meaning that a living is justified by one's position in life, rather than effort.  As the idea of humanism is put into practice it becomes about decent housing, a good diet and charitable effort alongside less helpful ideas such as Simon Kapwepwe's suggestion that English should not be taught in schools.  I remember the backlash against the mini-skirt in the press, as improper and not worthy of Zambian culture. I see this as Zambia finding its feet, deciding what it meant to be Zambian.

Of course, Kaunda was also trying to unite many tribal groups. However, later these worthy ideas are tarnished as it appears that UNIP membership is often a pre-requisite for employment.

There is mention of road renaming, and an attempt to name streets after two Africans who had been hanged for killing a European lady in her car (see elsewhere on this blog for more on this story). But this was rightly quashed, and we should not be surprised, as he is not, that we no longer want a Cecil Rhodes Drive.  On the other hand we have a declaration that Eveyln Hone College was built by the Zambian Government, when it was built by the British South Africa Company, as an example of a revisionist approach.


I was intrigued by mention of the Anglican Cathedral, because I think my father would have been there at the time.  Wright suggests that the church is regarded by the president as a natural instrument of his policies and that he holds sway over the clergy. By way of evidence that the Anglican church is losing its way he cites splitting from the church in Rhodesia, Africanisation, and relaxation of regulations covering marriage. He says 'the church in Lusaka contained some rather odd people' and tells us about a sermon in which the priest (allegedly) said that drug taking was quite acceptable, after all 'look how many people take aspirin or sleeping pills'. But surely this is wilful misinterpretation? Then he suggests that the priest has said the Ten Commandments no longer really apply. Hmm...

After the service, Wright talks to the priest, who defends his position and also military opposition to Rhodesia. Hypothetically speaking, Wright suggests an example of the Epworth mission outside Salisbury, should they be bombed? Regrettably, this might be necessary, the priest is claimed to have said.

I don't think I see my father in the first quote, though I can imagine him taking a strong line against Rhodesia, as I remember him going off to do broadcasts on Radio Freedom, which started with the sound of automatic gunfire, and songs of Umkhonto we Sizwe. I am left wondering if it was him.

Wright claims that the Watch Tower movement talked of the 'miraculous removal of whites and the discomfiture of the missionaries', not something I've heard before.

Living in Zambia

There's quite a nice chapter about living in Lusaka, touching on places like Munda Wanga and the drive-in cinema up the road, suggesting how nice it could be, but there is always an undercurrent of worry and trouble. For example there is the story of the white girl (unnamed) who, following a quarrel, was beaten so badly by daughters of a minister at her school (somewhere near Woodlands) that she was hospitalised. The minister's daughters were not disciplined afterwards, it seems. There are many such stories, so that we are left with the impression that life is cheap.

In the end I recognise many of the things that Wright says as true, but it still seems a harsh judgement for somebody who spent just three years in the country, however much truth there is in it.  I wonder what happened to Wright afterwards.

The book contains an appendix of references*, mostly from local newspapers, backing up the author's statements.

Most of the names in the book are government officials. I've tried to indicate some of them below:

Abrahams, Dr *
Banda, Dingiswayo? (Copperbelt and 'Zambians first' speech)
Banda, Hyden (Western province Minister)
Bennet, Mr (refugee in Lusaka prison) *
Bing, Mr G., Nkrumah's former legal advisor *
Boyd, R.N. (auditor)
Burke (Ndola Magistrate)
Chiabi, Dickson (loans board)
Chimba (minister)
Chyawa, Chief
Dake, Mawuse Dr (UNZA) *
Doyle *
Evans, Ivor (judge)
Fabian Society 
Ferrier, Mrs * relating to death of OG Wilkinson
Frobisher, Mr (Evelyn Hone)
Gascoyne, Mr *
Grieve, Mr
Holloway, John
Hyreck, Buhuslav (Czech press)
Japau, John (Minister)
Jennings, Mr (Tourism consultant)
Jones, Brynn (Australian librarian UNZA)
Kajuga, Mr (driving out evil spirits in Lusaka)
Kalengelesha, Michael
Kapwepwe, Simon
Kellock, Thomas (QC)
Lenshina, Alice (Lumpa church)
Macleod, Ian (British PM)
Mataka, Philemon (Bishop) *
Matanda, Mr (Kafue UNIP)
Mkandawire, Michael (TV announcer)
Molteno, Robert *
Morris, Colin
Mudenda, Elijah
Mumba, Eustace
Mumba, Laywell (DG)
Mwale, Matthew
Mwambulukutu, Mr. *
Nkama, Moto *
Nkandawire, Simon
Nkoloso (he of the space program)
Nkumbula, Harry
Ntambo, Jonathan (Choma governor)
Phiri, James (UNIP)
Ranger, T. O. * (African churches of Tanzania)
Rex, John (murdered)
Sell, Miss (Evelyn Hone)
Sharpy, Alex
Sidhom, Salih (Railways)
Skinner, James (UNIP)
Smith, Ian
Temple, Merfyn
Wheelan (Justice)
Wilkinson, Revd Oliver Green
Wina (information minister)
Zimba, Mary

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Lusaka Infants' School, June Kashita's book 'This was my Africa'

I was going to do a piece about June Kashita's book 'This was my Africa: Living with changes' (published in 2018), but as I read it on a Kindle I wasn't making notes as I went along.  Then I started making notes on another app, and lost them...

There was much of interest in it relating to early post-independence history, and many familiar names, as well as some nice old photos (which you can see quite well on a kindle, in colour, and enlarge quickly to zoom in on details, an unexpected bonus).  Of particular interest for this blog was the number of names relating to schools, since June was a teacher.  I thank June for reminding me of the name of my Grade 1 or perhaps Grade 2 teacher, Mrs Barbara Cook, at Lusaka Infants' School.

There is insight also for the outsider into the workings of the Convent School, and more names there too that I will try to add here some time.

 There's a memorable story about a visit to NEDCOZ (National Educational Distribution Company of Zambia) for teaching supplies. On one such trip they were buying blocks of paint packaged in sets of 6, but which were priced in tens, so they bought 10 packets to keep the arithmetic simple. However, rather than doing the maths of 10 x 6 = 6 x 10, the cashier insisted on unpacking all the packs of 6 and arranging them in piles of 10. Classic.

Anyway, without all the names in the book to hand, I am just going to dump some images in here that I've been thinking about for a while, particularly since we haven't gone long since the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, and I knew I had this sketch in my Grade 1 or 2 NEDCOZ exercise book.  Plus there are a few names and other mentions here that seemed worth pulling out while I am talking about my early school days. I do not know who all of these people are, but maybe they do.

I guess I was in 1 Blue, judging by the sticker on this book.
And can I just point out that I got two 'stars' - see the clover stamps? Thank you very much. My artwork hasn't changed much since then.  Sometimes we would get these rubber stamps on a nominated part of our body as well, usually the hand, but I have to say they didn't show up too well on darker skin.

It's funny how you can go from looking at snails on Monday to men walking on the moon on Tuesday.  It certainly helps to date things though: 21 July, 1969.

On Friday 29th May, 1970, I recorded that On Wednesday we had a fashion show at school, and that a group of boys called the Rising Stars (anyone remember them?) had played some music. Tickets were 20 ngwee for children and the school PTA made over K200 from the event.

On Friday 5th June 1970 I wrote "We must not fight in the playground. We must play nicely and not spoil other children's games. Last night I saw Tamsin and Mark and Yvonne and Susan and Jaish on televiosion. They were making dragons."  This must have been on a children's TV show. I remember characters called Dizzy Lizzy (a dancing cow) and another cow, I think. Perhaps the show was sponsored by the Zambian Dairy Board? I was on it too at some point, and danced with those cows.

I am sure that Mark is Mark Appleford, as I do remember him. Son of Dean Patrick Appleford, they lived at the Cathedral deanery while we were in Victory Road.

I also recorded us going off on a sponsored 10km walk in 1970, but I should do a separate post for that.

I'll end with a couple of photos from a Lusaka Infants' School evening event, under spotlights, imagine! I have no idea what we were doing, but I do remember walking around in circles on the stage, and that our 'costumes' were pieces of card stapled around us at the last minute. I think I was a solider? Who knows.

 I don't even know if I'm visible in these photos, but if you recognise yourself, I'll be interested to hear from you!

Lusaka Infants' later became Jacaranda Primary School.

Popular Posts