The British Empire Library

Tales of Zambia

by Dick Hobson

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Kenneth J. Forder (Northern Rhodesia 1951-64)
Those of us formerly in the Colonial Service in Northern Rhodesia will be intrigued by this description of the country through the eyes of one who lived there as a staff member of the Federal Information Dept., and later of the R.S.T. Modesty has driven the author to assert that he is not presenting us with a history, but in fact former civil servants will find an in depth description of the origins of so many features which, as birds of passage, they did not have the opportunity so to do in their time.

The ex-Colonial Service reader will be particularly interested in the very factual description of the origins of the Copperbelt, going back as far as several hundred million years from the geological point of view, and some three hundred years as a centre of mining. And just as much by the fascinating stories of the early days of Sir Stewart Gore-Brown's Shiwa N'gandu, the first railways, the Victoria Falls bridge, Lundazi Castle, and the life of Chirupula Stephenson who actually founded Mkushi and Ndola (11 kilometres from its present location).

But it is not all history; a whole section is devoted to Animals, Insects and Fish; another to Trees, Flowers and Parks. There is the most detailed account under the heading of 'Lakes and Rivers' of the story of the Liemba (linked to the German army surrender at Abercom in 1918); an in depth account of Ndola's many sunken lakes with photograph - and a photograph of the Kalambo Falls at Abercom, to be noted as one of the highest waterfalls in the world; and a moving account of the area of Lake Mweru and Lake Bangweulu, their origins and the David Livingstone link via his fervent efforts to establish it all as the source of the Nile. After that there are the later stories of how the Kariba dam (but with a brief reference to the tragedy of the forced displacement of the Tonga from the Gwembe Valley) and the Meshi Teshi dam came into being. In focussing attention on the most important water (i.e. the Zambezi) Dick Hobson's account of all the features of the thousand mile river is crowned by a description of the source under a tree near Kalene Hill Mission where it so happens that I myself was the District Officer at one time. He also tells the colourful story of the origins and the reasons behind the annual Kuomboka Ceremony by the Litunga of the Lozi.

I found many interesting little titbits which we ex-colonials would not necessarily have taken on board when we were there; did you know how Cairo Road came to be so named? Also I thank the author for his explanation of an African game which always puzzled so many of us colonials - I refer of course to Chisolo with its rows of holes in the ground, rather akin to Ludo. We have all seen African beerhalls, but this is the first analytical account of how the beer is made. He tells us about the familiar saucepan radio; the building of Lusaka Cathedral, and the founding of Lusaka University. About the tragedy of the death of Dag Hammarskjold; about the Chimndu fossil trees - reminiscent of the Petrified Forest in Arizona; and how the Capital was moved from Livingstone to Lusaka (after consideration of Chilanga and other sites).

Those of us who knew Namwala will be intrigued by the stories of the Ba-Ila, particularly of the renowned late Chief Mukobela, but also by the account of the incredible annual lechwe hunt which I myself saw in a shower of spears without a shot being fired. Other topics include Johnston's dramatic ending of the Slave Trade (thereafter having the Falls named after him); Lewanika's treaty with the British South Africa Company, and a variety of Zambian legends.

The only minor lacuna is the tribute to the White Fathers and the Brethren as Missionaries, but not to the many other Mission bodies which we all came to know (eg. C of E, the Methodists, and the Seventh Day Adventists).

The story starts with the celebration of Independence in 1964 and the elevation of K.K. to the Presidency (a moment to forget that a year or two before I was once sent out to arrest him!). But there is also very informative data on the origins of the Bantu languages, and the prime distinction of their use of the prefix compared with the use of the suffix in European languages.

Added is a very informative list of his sources. The whole makes a fascinating survey which contains so many items of information which we as contemporaries did not know about. I make a strong recommendation to obtain the book.

British Empire Book
Dick Hobson
The Zambia Society Trust


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