By Edem Djokotoe
Among the titles on the Anthropology reading list
of Emory University students, Atlanta, Georgia is a 2005 novel entitled
Bitterness. It was written by a 39-year-old Zambia. His name is Malama
Published by Modial in New York, the 281-page
novel resonates with the anger of Ngugi wa Thiong'o, the pessimism of
Ayi Kwei Amah and the lyricism of Chinua Achebe, but in his own voice,
Katulwende explains why the centre can no longer hold in a land where
a beggar who stretches out his hand for a cob of maize is beaten to death
by an angry, blood thirsty mob, and where youth is powerless against the
inscrutability of a future which runs like a river with no end.
In his view, things are falling apart because
the shrine is no more. The gods of his forefathers are dead and his people
have befriended those who have always stood against them, imitating their
ways and worshipping their gods. At this point, Katulwende's anger slowly
crystallizes into an Africanist ideology.
The plot revolves around the life and times of
Besa, the son of Musunga Fyonse, priest and keeper of the village shrine
deep in Ngu'mbo country, a young school leaver who becomes the first member
of his family to go to university.
Therein lies the dilemma that Besa faces. A university
education would undoubtedly transform his social circumstances and help
him realize his potential away from the rural environment where Times
seems to stand still. But in gaining a tertiary education, he would also
have to lose a bit of his soul, this young descent of 'Chipango, the tellers
of oracles, Mwila, the prophetess who remained unblemished from the desires
of men, Nchike, the maker of rain, fire and sender of pestilences when
provoked, Kolwe, famed for killing monkeys with knives of lightning and
Kaoma, Yaluma, Kabende and other healers and seers of the lands whose
names and wonders were worthy of praise and emulation
Who knows? Perhaps it is the eloquence with which
Katulwende grapples with his age-old dilemma in his novel that motivated
scholars at Emory University in Atlanta Georgia to recommend Bitterness
as a suitable text for Anthropology students.
Perhaps it is the tale of love and self-discovery
set in a land where curses are real, where witches fly at night and where
it is not uncommon to find a witch finder sailing on a lake on a mat,
which piqued their imagination.
Either way, Katulwende, 39, is writing about a
place and about issues close to his heart, though he swears his book is
not autobiographical. However, he admits some of the events he recounts
in Bitterness happened to him and to people he knows.
"The book is based on personal experiences,
but most importantly, it is based on real life in Zambia," he said.
But he won't say at which point fact transforms
into Fiction, opting instead to allow the reader to find meaning and relevance
in the trials and tribulations of Besa Musunga.
Besa's predicament is not altogether a peculiar
one. One night after a few beers, the young school leaver suddenly realizes
how heavy the responsibility on his shoulders is. I am seed that must
germinate and yield good fruit or else there will be no harvest. I am
a feast waiting to be eaten, a banquet to be devoured by the hungry, he
grudgingly admitted. Everybody expects me to land a good job, earn pots
of money and rescue the family from the jaws of poverty. One of his aunts
put the family's expectation more succinctly before he left for school.
"When you complete your studies, we expect
to visit and live in your home."
His uncle, Bwaale, in the typical fashion of village
sage, did not say too much.
But he gives Besa a present that is symbolic and
pregnant with meaning. It is an Omega wrist watch given to the old man
by one, Mr. Halton from South Africa; he'd worked with at Mufulira mines.
"I am giving you this watch to help you keep time," Bwaale told
However, it is not until Besa finishes his studies
that the full extent of the pervasiveness of family dawns on him. By this
time, this villager from Samfya is in love with a colored woman who is
half-Italian and half Bemba, a woman his family is unwilling to accept
as a daughter -in-law. Their reason: "She is of different blood and
she could bring harm if she were admitted into our family."
Meanwhile, Besa's family, insistent that he marry
from within the village, had gone ahead and paid dowry for a virgin maiden.
The resolution of this particular predicament
is a mixture of tragedy and melodrama, but is one that many Zambians will
undoubtedly identify with and relate to.
Interestingly, Malama Katulwende, born in Lubwe,
Samfya in 1967, didn't set out be an author. If fate had its way, this
first born in a family of eight should have become s Diocesan priest,
baptizing babies, blessing marriages, burying the dead and hearing the
confession of sinners for a living.
But he took a different career path, choosing
the test tube and the Bunsen burner over the cassock. He became a Math
and science teacher after he completed university education, teaching
at Mwense high School, St Charles Lwanga Bahati Seminary for six years.
Today, he is on the verge of starting a publishing company in Lusaka with
two friends, with the backing of his New York publisher, Mondial.
Publishing in Zambia, for some reason, has had
a chequered past, though literature - whether written or oral - is a river
from which many tributaries of artistic expression can flow. For instance,
the number of novels that have made it to the silver screen are too numerous
to mention. They range from classics like Andre Brink's A Dry White Season
to J.R.R. Tolkin's fantastic trilogy, The Lord of the Rings which went
on to win the film maker Peter Jackson an Oscar for the Best Director
49 years after the books were written.
In short, a vibrant publishing industry can stimulate
other art forms, scholars say.
But for this to happen, people have to write;
people have to read. Sadly, in most parts of Africa, the river is running
dry. James Hall, a South African journalist, explains why.
"Book publishing in Africa essentially means
textbooks. Few Africans have the disposable income to purchase books.
Either they are not brought up as children in a home-reading culture,
or poverty keeps them from acquiring the home libraries they could like."
The figures seem to vindicate him. Eighty per
cent of the school textbook market in Africa is dominated by multi-national
companies neither of which is African: Macmillan, Heinemann and Oxford
University Press. In Francophone Africa, 95per cent of school text books
are produced by French publishers. In effect, one out of every five books
sold in Africa is produced by a publishing house based on the continent.
The ideological implications of this scenario
prompted many post-colonial states to nationalize book publishing and
distribution shortly after independence. A case in point: the establishment
of Kenneth Kaunda Foundation (KKF) in 1996. The board of directors consisted
almost entirely of government ministers, with the Republican president
as the chairman and patron.
The national Educational Company of Zambia, a
subsidiary of KKF, reincarnated to become the Zambia Education Publishing
House (ZEPH), but its statutory mandate did not change, and that was to
publish, print, market and distribute all educational materials developed
by Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) of the Ministry of Education.
Somewhere down the line, two other parastatal
companies. Namely Zambia Printing Company and Times-Printpak got in on
But the law favored ZEPH. As parastatal companies,
Zambia Printing Company and Times-Printpak operate under the Companies
Act. ZEPH, on the other hand, is a statutory body, established by an Act
of Parliament, which meant it was exempt from paying corporate tax and
customs duty on imported inputs.
Book publishing has been liberalized since 1991,
but the focus on educational materials has not changed. Today, the landscape
has expanded to accommodate private publishers like Maiden Publishing
House, Insaka Press Limited and Bookworld Publishers, but some of the
smaller companies withered and died, unable to cope with the capital-intensive
demands of book publishing.
Multi-national publishing houses like Longman
and Oxford University Press, which had closed their Zambian offices in
the 1970s, have since returned.
The preference for educational publishing isn't
sitting well with writers and would-be writers engaged in the production
of creative work, mainly fiction. They say they are contributing to the
cultural and intellectual fabric of the nation and as such they need moral
and material support for their efforts.
And indeed they do. Writing may be a very lonely
occupation, at times even a painful purging of the soul, an exorcism of
restless spirits. Yet the products of the writer's imagination can easily
become parts of the mosaic of a nation's culture, but only if we allow
them to be. We begin by making books an issue in Zambia. The benefits
are enormous. For instance, local stories told by local writers are the
best way to jumpstart a local film industry.
It works for Bollywood. This is a colloquial name
of the centre of the Hindi film industry in Mumbai, the old name of the
city of Bombay in India. Bollywood is derived by blending Bombay and Hollywood.
In India, cinema is more than entertainment. It's a national passion.
The exact number of movie-goers in India is not known, but it is estimated
that every day,m9llions of people flock to the 13000-odd cinema halls
scattered across the country to watch productions that blend grand spectacle,
sing-along songs and intricately choreographed dance routines.
From the early 1900s when film production started
in India, over 27000 films have been made so far, records show, making
it the largest film-producing country in the world. About 800 films are
produced annually, with successful sound tracks selling up to 10 million
cassettes every year. According to Anupama Chopra, film critic for India
Today, the $ 500 million local film industry employs over 100, 000 people
and contributes about US $15 million to the state treasury per annum.
By Shupe Sililo
A STORY of a poor, young village boy with the
dream of becoming an elite after his graduation from the University of
Besa, who from childhood becomes the light of
the village because of his intelligence and the love for books, is celebrated
by the entire clan as he prepares to head to Lusaka for his higher education
With a negative attitude towards women, Besa believes
that women were burdened with their frivolous attentions and were generally
He says he has nothing in common with women and
could never endure the monotony of their gossip, habits and lack of a
clear purpose in life.
However, not long before his departure, the young
man meets a pretty girl whom he unexpectedly becomes extremely attracted
He meets Musonda, the girl of his dreams and falls
in love with her, despite his possession of a somewhat childish approach
Apart from his love life, Besa's family is a cheerful
one despite the unusual silence of his father, Musunga, who is training
to become a traditional priest and spends much of his time at the shrine
where he finds his peace.
After an interesting turn of events, bad things
begin to happen to Besa who eventually loses his girlfriend, Musonda,
by a death that he cannot comprehend.
His dream of becoming the 'breadwinner' of the
family is lost as he, a teacher at a school in Lusaka West in Lusaka,
has not been paid his salary for many months.
While he is living in a one roomed shack in Chawama
compound, Besa hears the news of his mother's death and begins to develop
suicidal thoughts because of the turn that his life has taken.
The author writes that the book is concerened
with themes about Negritude or the 'Black experience' and echoes real
experiences of a people who have been tied by a common doom of slavery,
colonialism and underdevelopment.
"When we define Africanness as a historical
fact or phenomenon, we're talking about the African personality as a collective
person pitted against his past, his present and his future", writes
The book is elaborate and well written and reveals
the true Africanness of Zambia and what has been experienced in many villages.
It also reveals how deep traditions were respected
mainly by the elders of the past and also the rituals that took place
in many villages.
The author was born in 1967 in the Luapula province
of Zambia. He is the first in a family of eight and was educated in Catholic
schools in order to become a Diocesan priest, but later decided to attend
the University of Zambia.
Malama Katulwende has taught science and mathematics
at different schools. He has published poems in an anthology titled, Under
the African Skies: Poems from Zambia, and is currently writing another
novel, No Other Land.