Saturday, 6 February 2010

Jungle Pathfinder - Chirupula Stephenson

I lapped up Kathaleen Rukavina's biography Jungle Pathfinder, about Chirupula Stephenson - it's very readable and often quite poetic. Mine is the first reprint, 1952.

John Edward Stephenson must have been born about 1874. The events we hear of cover about 1896-1952. Stephenson is another of those remarkable characters in the history of Northern Rhodesia. 

Picture from 'North of the Zambezi'
He is called Chirupula ('smiter'), from an occasion on which he had some men whipped.

We hear first how he worked as a telegraph operator in Kimberley. This was his first job after arriving from Northumberland (he grew up somewhere on the Tyne) in 1896. Due to a failing arm and a forced rest on medical grounds, he decides to seek greener pastures in the north. Rhodes was opening up the country, and this was his chance to seek his fortune outside of dull and dusty Kimberley.

Arriving ahead of the train north, in 1898, he resigned his new post in Bulawayo on the news that his father had died and left him a small legacy. He clearly had an appetite for the freedom of the road, and he was in love with Africa. More fun was to be had in exploring new areas, as yet unopened to the British. Blantyre would do as the starting point to launch this exploration, and that was his next trip.

He fell ill on the way with malaria, badly enough to require carrying in the last stages and to require some recuperation in a village. Here he received some native hospitality - being nurtured back to health in a hut by local women. This seems to have made a great impression on him. Later he wonders if it is this event that has led him down the path he eventually follows, marrying two local women polygamously and settling down for good.

After some time Stephenson has married his first wife, Loti, an Ngoni girl who had been abducted or rescued (her parents having been killed) by a scheming Yao man of the name Muwandiga, who planned to sell off her virginity.  Stephenson's helper Tambo asks if he wouldn't marry the girl to save her from this fate. Thinking that he can do this by bringing Loti into his compound, Stephenson agrees. He is quite shy around women, but his intentions to keep her as a wife in name only do not last long, and so begins a long love affair. They have their first child in Blantyre, almost as black as Loti, who is dark-skinned, and Loti fears the child is cursed.

After about two years working in Blantyre he has the opportunity to join Rhodes and the BSA's march into present day Zambia under Robert Codrington, and grabs the chance. They go to Fort Jameson (present day Chipata in Zambia) and plan to go west from there.  Stephenson finds himself lonely without Loti and so Tambo returns for her, making a round trip between Fort Jameson and Blantyre to bring her back.

Codrington becomes Administrator of North Eastern Rhodesia. Stephenson is hankering to head into the bush again, bored with telgraphy in Fort Jameson, and lets it be known he wants to be a collector of taxes! (Well, that's how the colonials worked: tax them, then they need a job to earn their shillings, then they are part of the cash economy. In fairness to them, they also saw this as a civilising thing, or a means of bringing Africans into a modern cash-based society. Interesting that an African in this book says a regular job is no better than slavery.)

Soon enough Stephenson has his chance to head west to the hook of the Kafue River, via Lala land, accompanied by one other white man, Francis Jones. The two of them are to visit chiefs and let them know the British are there and what they want. They come with the "gospel of the BSA", messages that the BSA has defeated their enemies (the Ngoni), that there should be no more war, that there should be no more witchcraft and that slavery must be abolished. (Arab slave traders are still marauding freely at this time.)

At least north of the Zambezi, chiefs are left to rule largely in the manner they have always done, and this has a lot to do with the later stability in the region.

Now a story that you would struggle to make up. The Lala people have a creation myth in which three god-men brothers divide up the fledgling world. To one, the east; to another the west. There is no north or south yet. The third brother is upset that he has no share. Very well, he concludes, I will turn into an animal and travel wherever I like, possessing all lands.

Stephenson and Jones enter the area with a pet baboon in tow, who has picked up the habit of smoking a pipe and sitting around with the men and behaving in an altogether human way, it seems. The Lalas see them coming all the way, and soon the rumour goes out that the three brothers have returned. These men don't behave like strangers; they smile as they go along. Everyone should give them what they ask.

So Stephenson and Jones open up Lala land without trouble....

Much of the rest of the book concerns Stephenson's relationships with his wives, Loti and Mwape, and with his starting his own business away from the BSA, after being passed over for promotion. Ultimately it is clear that Stephenson loves Africa, loves where he is, loves his wives and children. His reputation in white circles seems born mainly of a mixture of awe at his standing in the African community and distaste at his 'going native'. Amongst his African people he is a Lala god-chief. There are many quite amazing tales... but you'll have to read the book for the rest of them.

Stephenson has eight children: 3 by Mwape, and 5 by Loti. Alpha and Omega were twins.

Mulungushi Dam under construction in 1925 and at its opening
I've omitted a couple of lists - one of people involved in Mulungushi Dam, another of mining people.

Here are some names - often only one name is given:
NRR = Northern Rhodesia Rifles

Achiwachimo, p51, 55, 60, 62, 67,68, 101, 105-6
Albert, Prince of Belgium p154-6

Aosta, Duchess of p156
Ardelle, pen-pal, died of an overdose, p127,138,140, 160, 210,221
Ascenso, Dr (Italian) p155
Chalwe (Katanga's sister) p201-6
Chevalier, prince's valet p155
Chimbukuma p182, 191-2 (photo)
Chiwak p225, 235
Chiwali, Lala chief p108-9, 111
Chiwali, Mwape, second wife, p109-112, 115, 121-5, 136-152, 154, 162, 175-6, 181, 193, 200, 211, 215-6, 220, 224-8, 231-5,
Chiwebwu p226-8, 237
Codrington, Robert p59,63-65, 91, 113, 127, 134, 157
Collier, Bill prospector p107
Coryndon, Robert Thynne p118-121, 124-6
Dee and Ted, accompanying Ardelle, p212, 217-9
Goode, Richard p63
Gussie, p43
Esther, German girl Matopa siding, sister of Ida p35
Ida, German girl Matopa Siding, sister of Esther p35
Irwin, Dave (Roan mine) p200,207
Johnston, Harry p47-8
Jones, Francis Emilias Fletcher from Wales p65-67, 71, 85, 99, 102, 119-21
Kapopo, elehpant hunter p119
Kasokolo, J. p235
Kasuwika Mondwa (Chiwali's brother) p235
Katanga (King) and the Luanshya snake p200-7
Kawuna, Lamba woman p84
Lewanika p118-20
Loti, first wife p51-55, 109-11, 115-6, 122, 125, 136, 141-154, 159, 167, 175-6, 179-81, 193-5, 216, 244-48, 224-8

Louis, a fop from Cape Town, Esther's husband p35
Madan, A.C. writing Lala grammar, p107 143
Malfeytt, Colonel (Congo) p155
Mashiri, Lamba chief p84
Mondwa, father of Chiwali p146
Moor, Baron de (aide de camp of Albert) p154
Muller going south p213, 218
Muwandiga p194
Mweremuka p208 (photo)
Nalumango, N. p235

Stephenson, Alpha  p121, 176, 245, 248
Stephenson, Bessie d. malaria, p146, 176-7
Stephenson, Edward Mesanu, mailman,  p122-5, 1369, 151, 192 (photo), 222-3, 243-5
Stephenson, Horatio p176, 195, 245
Stephenson, Ivy p125, 139, 151, 159, 167, 211-13, 217, 223, 245
Stephenson, Omega p176, 245
Stephenson, Ossa John p176, 214
Stephenson, Otto p176, 223, 243-4
Stephenson, Torfrida, 176, 211-3, 217, 223, 237

McGee, John (NRR) (previously also Boer and Zulu), p161
Moore, Janiel (NRR) p164
Moses, accompanies him north from Kimberley p36
Mpeseni, Ngnoi p59, 119
Muwandiga, p51-55, 60, 62, 246
Na-Kalimba p116-7
Nyirenda, Tom, 'Mwana Lesa', witch hunter p184, 190-6
Pandafyalo p182, 191
Pisiscilli, Cpt p156
Scott, Herbert (NRR) p164
Shaiwira (I and II) p142, 147, 185-6, 196
Shearer, Moira, ballet dancer p115
Smuts, Jan C. p215, 240
Tambo, p50, 151, 144
Von Lettow, Vorbek (surrender in Rhodesia) p164-6
Yule, Robert W. p246


Jungle Pathfinder, the Biography of Chirupula Stephenson; Rukavina, Kathleen Stevens; Hutchinson, 1952
North of the Zambezi (photo), Anthony, L.F.G., 1953, Northern Rhodesia Information Department

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