bookFor the past couple of years, I have been having a delightful sporadic email correspondence with retired biochemistry professor, David Whitehead, who has worked at universities across Africa after graduating from Oxford. Our connection came about after I had written several columns on my travels in Zambia, and when I previewed a trip I did in 2012 to Barotseland, Liuwa Plains, the Kafue and the Busanga Plains.
David, it turned out, was born and grew up in Barotseland. He is a walking encyclopedia on the area, and one of the mails he sent me was what he called “my limited Silozi vocabulary”, a list of common words and phrases, and notes on pronunciation which proved invaluable in some of the more remote parts of the region. And that, really, brings me to the point of this column: David has written the most delightful memoir about his life in Barotseland, and his lifelong fascination with the Lozi people and the Bulozi kingdom. Titled Inspired by the Zambezi, and subtitled Memories of Barotseland and a Royal River – the mighty Liambai, it is one of those gems that anyone travelling to the regions simply has to beg, borrow, buy or steal – preferably buy, as all the proceeds from its sale are going towards building a school near Makusi Village on the Zambezi in Sesheke District. It was a remarkable upbringing, all the more so given that David went to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, studying under Nobel laureate, Prof Hans Krebs – even I knew who Krebs was, having learnt about the “Krebs cycle” in high school biology.
As he says in his memoir about growing up in Bulozi, “relating my experiences in Bulozi will, I hope, serve to illustrate how lucky I was to grow up in such a magical, friendly world dominated by the fantastic Zambezi River. We lived amongst an amazing tribe, the Malozi, from whom I learned many lessons while imbibing their colourful language as if it were my own. I even used to dream in Silozi; and sometimes I still do.”
The books is populated with colourful characters, some of whom went on to become household names in southern Africa – the Meikles brothers, after whom the famous Meikles Hotel in Harare is named, the Susman brothers, founders of the modern day Woolworths, and the various members of the royal families of both Bulozi and Lesotho (Constantine Seeiso,later to be King Moshoeshoe II, was his Oxford tennis partner).
The moving preface to the memoir is written by Akashambwata Mbikusita-Lewanika, son of Litunga (King) Mbikusita Lewanika II, and grandson of one of the most famous of all the Lozi kings, the Litunga Lubosi Lewanika (1842-1916) who had the great foresight to declare one of Africa’s gems, Liuwa Plains, a protected area in the 19th century.
Mbikusita-Lewanika writes in the preface that “this story specifically belongs to the fraternity of all those of us who care passionately about thinking, seeing, living, serving and loving Africa’s Barotseland … (David is) a member of this fraternity. He inherits a custodianship of his subject – the land, the River, and heritage of the Barotse experience …“ Like the Zambezi River, this book does not only belong to Barotseland. It also reflects lives, livelihoods and (the) ecology of neighbouring Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. What the Zambezi gathers on its journey to the Indian Ocean contributes to the rest of the world’s ocean waters and the shores of the world they touch. So it is with this book.”
And that, really, is what lies at the core of this memoir: it is both a paean and a dirge for one of the great rivers of Africa and of the world, and a river about which I am personally passionate, the Zambezi. Interspersed among the childhood reminiscences and fascinating history of the settler life in Mongu, are observations on the environment and early warning signals of long term environmental degradation. I learnt here that the devastating spread of the south-eastern Brazilian aquatic plant, salvinia molesta – Kariba weed – which has wrought havoc on Lake Kariba, in the Okavango Delta, and the Kwando, Linyanti and Chobe rivers, was caused by just one person tipping the contents of their ornamental fish tank into the Zambezi near Kazungula in 1948 or 1949.
The book is self-published and will be sold through lodges in Zambia, or contact David on

Tony Weaver, Cape Times

Source : The Livingstone Weekly

Gill Staden

23 July 2014