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Thursday, 1 December 2016

Elephants and Millipedes

It's a small world. The other day in church, a choir member asked me if I'd heard of Merfyn Temple. I'd heard of him, I said, he was well known in Lusaka, and attended services at the Cathedral in Lusaka sometimes - and my parents knew him. "I have a book for you," she said. So, I was gifted this title called Elephants and Millipedes, The organic revolution in Zambia, signed by Merfyn Temple. My benefactor had met him at a meeting on organic farming somewhere in England. Merfyn had interrupted her conversation when she suggested using a pesticide on some or other garden pest. Now I know that Merfyn became a champion of organic farming in his later life.

Merfyn has a natural way of writing and a passion for his subject, as well as a depth of experience in Zambia. In this account he talks about his work in Chipapa, near Chilanga, where he helped establish organic farming, a later venture of his. He had arrived in Zambia in 1943 as a minister of the Methodist church, left Zambia in 1974, and returned to start this work at Chipapa (which it seems took its name from that of a freed slave) in 1989.

He writes of his early experiences:

Not being a natural linguist I was having great difficulty in understanding and speaking the local language... I went to live away from the mission, where no-one spoke English... I learned to use a native adze and carved a six foot wooden cross which I set up by the well... I bought an iron spearhead [which] I hammered into the cross and asked to explain to the mystified villagers that on such a cross had Jesus their Saviour been crucified and the spear was man's sin which had been the cause of his death. I planted zinnia seeds at the foot of the cross and some of the women helped gather thorn bushes... to keep the cattle and goats away. I later heard that soon after I left someone stole the spear, the flowers died from lack of water and the white ants ate the cross. I had a lot more to learn than the language.

I find this tale so typical of our failed expectations as missionaries and also as NGOs. We have high hopes that are often sadly misplaced.

Merfyn writes of a stranger who visited his mission station to hand him a note saying:

Dear Muluti [teacher], we know that you missionaries have been sent here by the government to apply Bible grease. You have come to make us soft so that we will not oppose Colonial rule. You will never succeed because we African people will take the power and you with all the other white people will be thrown out of the country....

On another occasion the man (it turns out he was Edward Liso Mungoni, later a politician and member of the Anglican church) returned medals issued to mission schools to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, saying that Harry Nkumbula was the true leader of the country.

Merfyn Temple later joined Kenneth Kaunda's UNIP party, which must have taken a great deal of courage, and was active politically, helping to establish the Zambia Youth Service. After independence, the youths at a planned agricultural project were not well-pleased to be told they had to hoe the ground, as there were no tractors. As Merfyn puts it, there was a 'gap between dream and reality that had grown out of all proportion'. I do find this earlier history very revealing.

Merfyn asks 'old' Schachifwa what he thinks of Americans having flown to the moon. He said  

'he believed it because he knew the Americans were very clever people, but there had been a great deal of discussion in the village amongst the older people who found it impossible to believe. They had two difficulties. One was that people could not walk on the moon because they would not have any sky there since they were in the sky already. The other problem was about God. God is somewhere up there in the sky because he sends the rain, and nothing in the lives of people is more important than rain. Somehow, men on the moon would interfere with God's benevolence.... Anyway, what's the point of going there since they found no trees to build houses with, and no grass for grazing cattle'.

He's got a point...

There is much of interest in the later history of the work at Chipapa as well, including the story of a family that died after brewing beer in an empty pesticide barrel, but ultimately it is a positive account of the success of organic farming in this area.

Merfyn Temple died in 2012.


Here are some of the people mentioned, some from the earlier history, many chiefs, some proponents of organic farming mentioned in passing, others people living in Chipapa or involved in the establishment of organic farming there.

Chibuluma, Chief
Curtis, Jukes (Lusaka businessman)
Doxiadis Ltd - Greek town planners

Filipo - farmer and water engineer, Shantumbu
Goodfellow, District Commissioner
Jansson engineering works

Kaingu (Ila Chief)
Kalambalala, Daniel
Kalambalala, Godfrey
Kasempa, Chief
Kaunda, Kenneth
Kibika, Juda (farmer)
Krapf, Dr

Lewanika, Chief
Liebentall, Bob
Luungu, Bazak

Maane, E.C. (architect)
Mayanda, Job
Mbewe, Peter (tavern)
Michello, Ennias
Moffat, Unwin
Moono, Chief
Morris, Colin
Mukobelal (Ila Chief)
Mungaila (Chief)
Mungoni, Edward
Muwezwa (Ila Chief)
Mwando, Yoram

Nalubamba, Bright (Chief)
Namwala secondary school dancers
Ndunda, Matthew (farmer)
Nkomesha, Chief
Nkumbula, Harry

Phiri, Mr (driver Chipapa bus)
Porter, Mrs (secretary of Schumacher)
Priebe, Dr

Schachifwa, b. abt. 1900 headman, wife Esther
Schachifwa, Daniel, wife Sarah
Schachifwa, Janela
Schachifwa, Chipo
Schachifwa, Trevor
Schachikwa, Gilbert
Scott, Guy
Shakumbila, Chief
Shankwaya, Herbert
Shantumbu - village
Shezongo (Ila Chief)
Schumacher, Dr Fritz

Zumbwa, Moses
Zumbwa, John (son of Moses) wife Charity
Zumbwa, Norman


Elephants and Millipedes is published by
Millipede Books,
40 Thames Avenue,
Berks RG8 7BY

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