Principles and Methods of African Traditional Medicine

by

Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.

Professor of Sociology

Introduction

This article will first discuss the basic or fundamental principles of African traditional medicine. The ideas are derived from the life of the author who was born and lived in the Zambian village among the Tumbuka in Lundazi in Eastern Province of Zambia from 1954. Second it will disclose in Tumbuka language some of the actual specific names of trees, roots, and methods that are used for treatment of various illnesses among the Tumbuka. This information was obtained when he conducted formal research into Zambian and African traditional treatment of disease among

Traditional healer Zebby Tembo after returning from the bush to gather roots prepares them for a patient.

Traditional healer Zebby Tembo after returning from the bush to gather roots prepares them for a patient.

the Tumbuka in 2002. The specific names of the trees, roots, and methods of treatment are very confidential among the traditional healers. The four weeks the researcher spent conducting the research survey was not long enough for the traditional healers or ng’anga to develop the trust that is needed to show an outsider or stranger the trees and roots that are used for treatment of diseases and illnesses.     I thank my younger brother Zebby Tembo who took me into the bush. He was 35 years old at the time. He actually showed me the various trees, roots, and what diseases and illnesses they were used for treating and some of the rituals that accompany the treatments.

The broadest conviction that under girds this entire description of Zambian and African traditional medicine is that Africans are the origin all 7 billion humans today. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recent_African_origin_of_modern_humans

The pile of jumbled roots at a traditional healers' home or practice. Inspite of the looks, the healer or ng'anga knows all their roots by name and how they are used for treatment of various illnesses.

The pile of jumbled roots at a traditional healers’ home or practice. Inspite of the looks, the healer or ng’anga knows all their roots by name and how they are used for treatment of various illnesses.

Since Africans are the homo sapiens that eventually populated the entire world over probably the last one hundred thousand years, virtually all biological genetic characteristics that human exhibit to day might have evolved from the Africans. This impeccable logic simply means most medical practices may have evolved or have been transmitted to peoples from African traditional medicine. Most specifically, fundamental methods of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Native American and even modern Western medicine may be descendants of or evolved from African traditional medicine. Some of what still exists is described in this

Roots and bark from trees is ground into powder that is used for treatment of diseases and illnesses.

Roots and bark from trees is ground into powder that is used for treatment of diseases and illnesses.

article.

Lastly, it is hoped that by disclosing and describing the trees, roots, and methods of treating diseases, this knowledge will be preserved. Second that today some of these methods have worked and do work in treating various types of illnesses today as you read this article. This is hardly ancient or extinct information and practices. If the reader would like to, they can use some of these methods of treatment, but just as with any other modern Western medical treatment, they have to be supervised by an experienced Zambian or African traditional healer.

Basic Principles of Zambian or African Traditional medicine

The first principle of African traditional treatment of disease it to properly diagnose

Roots and tree bark may be burned into charcoal that is ground into powder which is used for treatment of diseases and illnesses.

Roots and tree bark may be burned into charcoal that is ground into powder which is used for treatment of diseases and illnesses.

the patient. Second, once the patient has been diagnosed, proper often complex treatment procedures using roots from the bush must be followed which often includes many rituals. The ultimate aim of the Zambian and African traditional treatment is to cure the disease completely so that the patient is completely free of illness for the rest of their lives. It is never an open ended treatment in which the patient has to consult the healer forever and take certain root herbs every day for the rest of their lives. This is the fundamental reason why serious chronic illness require what is called chizimba at the end of a successful treatment of a serious chronic disease so that the illness is banished or sealed away forever.  I discuss the role of chizimba here http://www.hungerforculture.com/?page_id=351

Below is an excerpt from my book: “Satisfying Zambian Hunger for Culture”.

Preparation

Roots and tree bark collected for treatment had to be prepared in a certain way depending on how the patient was going to use them. Fresh roots just brought from

The traditional healer cuts the roots into separate bundles and are tied together. The patient is then given instructions on how to use the roots.

The traditional healer cuts the roots into separate bundles and are tied together. The patient is then given instructions on how to use the roots.

The Kabeza tree is one of the 3 tree roots that are used to treat a woman who experiences severe cramps during her period.

The Kabeza tree is one of the 3 tree roots that are used to treat a woman who experiences severe cramps during her period.

the bush are chopped up into small pieces and usually tied into small bundles with small tree fiber. This is for purposes of identification and convenience when soaking the roots in a small pot, bottle or any container. If the fresh roots are for use as powder they are spread in the sun to dry. When they are dry, they are pounded in a pestle and mortar and sifted into a powder. Your girls before the age of puberty might be the only ones who could pound the roots into powder to be used for treating certain illnesses. It is believed that the active sexual energy of older women and girls past puberty might interfere with the potency of the medicine. If the roots are dried, they can later be soaked in water to use the herb for treating the illness.

Some roots are placed on ambers of fire and burned halfway. At that point the roots are promptly removed and the charcoal is pounded into a pestle and mortar into a black powder.

Fresh leaves are normally pounded into a pestle and mortar into a thick paste. The paste may be soaked in a large container and herbs may be used for bathing as treatment. The paste may also be smeared on a part of the body or skin as treatment for a particular illness.

Types of Treatment

Almost all the treatments of illnesses and diseases may use many or some of multiple methods always accompanied with very simple to complex rituals. There are six major types of treatment which may have different equivalent names among the 72 tribes or ethnic groups in Zambia. When the roots and leaves are brought from the bush, the methods of treatment in Tumbuka, Ngoni, and Chewa include kumwako (to drink), kudyako (to eat) or kumwako bala (to drink porridge), kutema simbo (to make small cuts), kugezako or kusambako ( to bathe),

A traditional healer or ng'anga diagnosing a patient who had chronic pain in his shoulder and arm.

A traditional healer or ng’anga diagnosing a patient who had chronic pain in his shoulder and arm.

kufukizgha (to steam), and kuvina ( to dance).

Kumwako or to drink means that the patient must soak the roots or tree bark in a container of plain water. The patient may be instructed or required to drink about a cup of the herb often about 3 times a day or in the case of a child  or baby a few gulps or sips every few hours. The patient may be required to drink this from ten days up to a month or two. Of course fresh roots may be fetched when the existing ones get weaker or diluted.

Kudyako or to eat, kumwako bala or to drink porridge means the patient must soak the roots or tree bark in a container of plain water. The patient may be instructed or required to use a cup of the herb to cook a thin porridge using mealie-meal which they will drink maybe three times per day. They may also use one cup of the herb to cook a small nshima with maize mealie-meal which the patient may eat twice per day.

Kutema simbo or to make small cuts means that the traditional healer will make one or two tiny cuts on the skin using a clean new or sterile sharp razor blade. These very small cuts on the skin are made on certain locations of the body. Once tiny bits of blood are visible, the healer will get a pinch of the black charcoal roots powder and rub it into the small cuts. Depending on the nature of the illness that the nga’nga or traditional healer is trying to treat, there might be two or three cuts around the temple or sides of the head, on the middle of the forehead between the eyebrows, on the cheeks, on the forearms, behind the hands, on the chest, on the diaphragm, on the stomach, behind the neck, on the legs, feet, and ankles. The cuts

The two trees right behind the author's hut in the village could be used for treating illness. The tall Msoro tree on the left and smaller Mtowa tree on the right.

The two trees right behind the author’s hut in the village could be used for treating illness. The tall Msoro tree on the left and smaller Mtowa tree on the right.

may be done on only a few of these parts of the body depending on the illness. Normally the cuts may be done just once, or once per week for 2 to 6 weeks. All of this depends on the illness.

Kugezako, kusambako or to bathe means the roots are soaked in a large container of water. The patient is instructed or required to use the herb to bathe their face or their whole body once per day every day for ten days to a couple weeks.

Kufukizgha or to steaming means that the roots or thick paste of leaves that were pounded in a pestle and mortar are soaked in a large pot or container with a lid on it. The container is placed on the fire and heated to a boil. A large blanket is placed over the patient’s head. While the herbs are still boiling with a top on, it is removed from the fire and placed on the floor. The lid is removed. After about ten seconds, the patient puts their face on top of the steaming herbs and covers their whole head with the blanket. The patient is told to expose their face to the steam, breathe the steam in and out of their lungs, and open their eyes. The kufukizgha or steaming may last up to five or more minutes or until the steam dies down as the boiling

The young girl in the chair (left) is a patient performing the Vimbuza Dance to exorcise spirits that are believed to come from no where.

The young girl in the chair (left) is a patient performing the Vimbuza Dance to exorcise spirits that are believed to come from no where.

herbs begin to cool. The patient may be required to do this once a day for about ten days.

Kuvina or to dance as part of the treatment of an illness is never required outside spiritual possession illnesses such a vimbuza and vyanusi among the Tumbuka people of Eastern Zambia and Northern Malawi. The main symptom of the vimbuza illness is that the individual feel as though they are going to lose their mind. The Tumbuka say mtima kumwazghika as if one is going to lose one’s mind. Suddenly their whole body may begin shaking, trembling, and they may shake their head and bob it up down as they holler hysterically, “ hey!, hey! hey!” At this point the nearest people around will hold and restrain them. A ng’anga or traditional healer will be consulted who will recognize the vimbuza spiritual possession. The healer will require the person to dance the vimbuza for him or her to be cured. (Tembo, 2012: 163-165)

 

Name of Tree Description of Roots/Herbs Disease or Illness Treatment Procedure
Kapuula**

The Ng’anga or Traditional Healer emphasized that the Kapuula roots are a booster that is common or added to the treatment regimen of all illnesses

Dig and get roots Mutu – Heachache You soak the roots in water.

·       Kumwako: Drink the herb 1 cup 3 times a day.

·       Kusumba: The patient can chew the roots and swallow the juice.

·       Kutemako: Burn the roots into charcoal. Grind the charcoal into powder. Make 3 tiny cuts or simbo on the side of your head with a clean razor and rub the black charcoal powder into the cuts.

 

Mpondo The tree leaves look like those of the Msekese tree but the Mpondo tree leaves are small however big the tree. Dig and get the roots of the tree. Chilaso: Pneumonia You soak the roots in water.

·       Kumwako: Drink the herb 1 cup 3 times a day.

 

Msekese Dig and get roots Chilaso: Pneumonia You soak the roots in water.

·       Kumwako: Drink the herb 1 cup 3 times a day.

Mazaye Dig and get roots Chilaso: Pneumonia You soak the roots in water.

·       Kumwako: Drink the herb 1 cup 3 times a day.

Msoro Dig and get roots Chilaso: Pneumonia You soak the roots in water.

·       Kumwako: Drink the herb 1 cup 3 times a day.

Kankhande Short trees with small thorns. Dig and get roots. Chilaso: Pneumonia You soak the roots in water.

·       Kumwako: Drink the herb 1 cup 3 times a day.

Musutula Dig and get roots. When a pregnant woman has gone way beyond 9 months and is overdue because someone may have played magic on her. Taking the herb will induce birth shortly. You soak the roots in water. Warm the herb in pot. The pregnant woman should drink the warm herb 1 cup 3 times a day. She will give birth shortly.
Mukotama, Phuruphuru, and Musindila Dig and get roots from all the 3 trees. This is for the girl who has been sleeping around or having sex after puberty but before marriage. Mapinga is the complication that is likely to happen to her first pregnancy after marriage. You give her these herbs to prevent her from experiencing dizziness, being blinded by bright objects, white buildings or wufu or white corn or maize meal; some form of white out experience. You soak all the roots from the 3 trees in water. This is a combination.

·       Kumwako: Drink the herb 1 cup 3 times a day.

·       Kugeza: use the herb to wash face once a day.

·       Kutemako: Burn the roots from the 3 trees into charcoal. Grind the charcoal into powder. Make 3 tiny cuts or simbo on the forehead of the patient and rub the charcoal powder into the cuts.

Mpukupuku The tree has long thin fruits. Dig and get roots. Treatment for Kamthuta or heart palpitations or abnormally fast heart beats You soak the roots in water.

Kumwako bala: You use the herb to cook or boil a thin porridge. Cook and drink this porridge 1 cup 3 times a day.

Kapilapila Dig and get roots. Treatment for Kamthuta or heart palpitations or abnormally fast heart beats You soak the roots in water.

·       Kumwako bala: You use the herb to cook or boil a thin porridge. Cook and drink this porridge 1 cup 3 times a day.

·       Chizimba or sealing the disease or illness away forever. Kill a lizard and dina kumasinda. Get the heart of the lizard and burn it together with the roots of the tree. Pound or grind the 2 together in a charcoal powder. Make 3 tiny cuts or simbo with a clean sharp razor on the left below breast where the heart or kamthuta or heart palpitations are happening. Rub the black charcoal powder in the cuts.

Mphatwe Scrape off the bark of the tree from the side that is facing the sunrise. Treatment for Pamtima or Diarrhea. You soak the roots in water.

·       Kumwako: Drink the herb 1 cup 3 times a Day.

·       Warm the herb and pour it into a large container. The naked patient should sit in it to soak the anus or chinyero.

Ngobe Scrape off the bark of the tree which has long thorns. Treatment for Pamtima or Diarrhea. You soak the roots in water.

·       Kumwako: Drink the herb 1 cup 3 times a Day.

·       Warm the herb and pour it into a large container. The naked patient should sit in it to soak the anus or chinyero.

Kamphoni Scrape off the bark of the tree. Treatment for very severe or serious Pamtima or Diarrhea. You soak the roots in water.

·       Kumwako: Drink the herb 1 cup 3 times a Day.

·       Warm the herb and pour it into a large container. The naked patient should sit in it to soak the anus or chinyero.

1.     Mphalavidwaba (the roots of this tree create mphovu or suds)

2.     Mphyoka

3.     Nthumbuzgha

4.     Msindila

5.     Rumburwe

6.     Soyo (Payekha or a lone one)

7.     Changwe

8.     Mukotama

Dig and get roots from all the 8 trees. Treatment chikhoso Ca Mdulo or cough. This very bad sounding cough is believed to be caused when:

·       a wife or husband has sex outside marriage. When next the couple has sex the partner who did not have sex outside marriage can experience it this cough.

·       When unmarried girls after puberty have sex and continue to cook and serve food in the household. Adults and even children and especially babies may experience cikhoso camdulo or cough.

You soak the roots from all the 8 trees mixed  together in water in a container.

·       Kumwako: Drink the herb 1 cup 3 times a day.

·       Kumwako bala: You use the herb to cook or boil a thin porridge. Cook and drink this porridge 1 cup 3 times a day.

 

 

 

Phuruphuru Dig and get roots. For treatment of Mapinga. This is when a pregnant woman’s baby’s head in the womb is facing away from the bottom of the birth canal. The medicine will move the baby’s head to face down. Soak the roots in water.

·       Kumwako: Drink the herb 1 cup 3 times a day.

·       Kumwako bala: You use the herb to cook or boil a thin porridge. Cook and drink this porridge 1 cup 3 times a day.

 

Kambulunje

Kankhulukuru

Mkanda Njobvu.

All 3 are fruit trees whose fruits people eat. Dig and get roots from all the 3 trees. This is for a young girl who has reached puberty. The herb helps her to stabilize her emotions and personality. You soak the roots from all the 3 trees mixed together in water in a container.

Special Conditions**: The mixing of the herbs and cooking of the porridge must be done by a married woman from a sexually reliable couple that have a stable home. The couple is always at home.

The container of the soaking herbs is placed on the spot where the couple had sexual intercourse.

·       Kumwako bala: The trusted woman will get the herb and cook a thin porridge for the young girl to drink 1 cup 3 times a day.

·       Kumwako: Drink the herb 1 cup 3 times a day.

Rumburwe Use not recorded Use not recorded Use not recorded
Kabeza

Mkorankhanga

Damati

Dig and get roots from all the 3 trees. For treatment of Khubaza. When a woman experiences severe cramps and pain before each period and during the period. When she is married and tries to get pregnant; she gets a period instead. Soak the roots in water.

·       Kumwako: Drink the herb when the period starts 1 cup 3 times a day.

·       Kumwako bala: You use the herb to cook or boil a thin porridge. Cook and drink this porridge when the period starts 1 cup 3 times a day.

 

Mpumba

Mtowa

Scrape the bark from each tree. Do not mix the barks.  Dry them and grind them into powder separately. For treatment of a cancerous growth or sore on the skin. ·       First, get the mtowa powder and put it on the cancerous growth or sore.

·       Second, sprinkle the sore the mpumba powder. Afterwards, the sore will ooze white stuff and heal. Then the sore will be gone.

Kambulunje

Kapwalapwala

Scrape the bark off both trees. You could also get twigs from both trees. You burn the bark together into charcoal. Grind them into powder and add some salt. For treating a baby when she or he is sick and has sores all over his or her mouth. ·       Sprinkle the black charcoal powder into the baby’s mouth.
Chifitye

Mulungalunga

Phwiripwijo

Kapuula**

Dig and get roots from all the 4 trees. For treatment of Mnthumbo kuphya; when the stomach feels hot or inflamed. Soak the roots in water.

·       Kumwako: Drink the herb 1 cup 3 times a day.

·       Kumwako bala: You use the herb to cook or boil a thin porridge. Cook and drink this porridge 1 cup 3 times a day.

Sokolowe Dig and get roots. The tree bears fruits that people eat. When a mother is 2 to 3 months pregnant and has a child who was weaned. The child cries and whines a lot. The child acts really spoiled and is very clingy to the mother. Soak the roots in water.

Use the herbs to cook nshima. Serve the nshima to the child while the child is sitting with siblings and the child’s friends on the chitenje cloth the mother uses for carrying the baby on the back. This cloth is called nguwo.  Semen among the Tumbuka, Chewa and Ngoni is also called nguwo. They will all eat the nshima together. After that the child will no longer cry and whine unnecessarily and being bothersome. The child will enjoy playing with siblings and friends all day.

Msoro Scrape the bark off the tree. You burn the bark into charcoal and grind it into powder. For treating a child who is burnt by hot water or fire. Get the charcoal power and sprinkle it on the burn sores. The sores will heal.
1.     Muwuluka

2.     Chibvumulo

3.     Maophe

4.     Mpapadende

5.     Khoswe

6.     Musambafumu

Scrape the barks from all the 6 trees from the side that faces the sunrise. Put all the barks in a large pot and soak them in water. You boil the contents (kubwatuska) for about 20 minutes. ·       Treatment for chest congestion.

·        Helps to relieve asthma.

·       If people hate you this helps neutralize the hate.

·       Helps to prevent people from doing bad things to you.

·       You remove the boiling pot from the fire without taking off the lid. You rush into the house. Put the pot on the floor. Cover a blanket over your head and place your head and face on the closed lid of the hot pot. When ready open the lid, let the steam hit your face and breathe the steam in and out into your lungs. This is called kufukizgha. You do this for 15 to 20 minutes; opening your eyes and sometimes coughing.

·       You use the herb to wash the whole body.

Mkalakate Dig and get roots. Treatment for a woman who has delivered but experiences pain in the stomach. This illness is called ciwulazi. Soak the roots in water.

·       Kumwako: Drink the herb when the herb 1 cup 3 times a day.

·       Kumwako bala: You use the herb to cook or boil a thin porridge. Cook and drink this porridge 1 cup 3 times a day.

 

Mpyoka Use not recorded Use not recorded Use not recorded
Mzakaka Scrape the bark off of the tree. Grind it into powder and mix the powder with tobacco snuff. Treatment for a toothache or jino. Place the mzakaka and tobacco snuff mixture on to a fresh tree leaf. And some drops of water. Put a few drops into the patient’s nose on the side of the nose where there is a toothache or jino.
Changwe Use not recorded Use not recorded Use not recorded
Kamemena Mbuzi Treatment of disease unknown Treatment of disease unknown Treatment of disease unknown
Mukatama

Mulilila or Mphakasa

Dig and get the roots. Scrape off bark from the roots. Grind the bark until it is very smooth. You mix is a tiny pinch of salt. Treatment wofunya chimdima or to remove shyness for girls. ·       Get some of the mixture and put it in a bottle which has oil that you rub on your face.

·       Add some of the mixture into bath water.

Katope

Makochezi

·       Dig and get the roots of the Katope tree

·       Makochezi are left over in a stream when the water flows through it. Get some of the left over weeds.

·       Mix the makochezi and the roots of the katope tree. Burn them together into charcoal and grind them into powder.

Treatment wofunya chimdima or to remove shyness for girls. ·       Put some of the charcoal powder into the girl’s bathing water.
1.     Mphangala (Vipa so Vya) fruits of the tree

2.     Chiyere

3.     Chimwemwe

Get the fruit of the mphangala tree, dig and get roots of the Chiyere and Chimwemwe trees. Grind all the 3 together until they are smooth. Treatment wofunya chimdima or to remove shyness for girls. ·       Kutemako: Make 2 tiny cuts or simbo on the the girl’s forehead with a clean razor and rub the smooth mixture into the cuts.

 

Chigulo Dig and get the roots Treatment for bola-bola Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) for men. Soak the roots in water.

·       Kumwako: Drink the herb 1 cup 3 times a day.

·       Kumwako bala: You use the herb to cook or boil a thin porridge. Cook and drink this porridge 1 cup 3 times a day.

Everything will come out of the man’s private parts including white puss. The patient will be cured of the STD.

 

 

Conclusion

This article first, discussed the basic or fundamental principles of African traditional medicine. Second, it disclosed in Tumbuka language some of the actual specific names of trees, roots, and methods that are used for treatment of various illnesses among the Tumbuka. This information was obtained when the author conducted formal research into Zambian and African traditional treatment of disease among the Tumbuka in 2002. The specific names of the trees, roots, and methods of treatment are very confidential among the traditional healers. Because the researcher only spent about four weeks conducting the research survey, the period was not long enough for him to develop the bond and trust the traditional healers or ng’anga he interviewed to show him some of the trees that are used for treating diseases and illnesses.

 

The Whiny Child: Wonders of Zambian/African Traditional Medicine

by

Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.

Professor of Sociology

Introduction

Since I was a child in the mid-1950s growing up in the Zambian/ African village, traditional African medicine has always fascinated. This fascination is not because of mere academic curiosity but because I witnessed the traditional medicine treat some of the most serious chronic diseases and illnesses in myself among close family members. Since the early 1990s I have also read a great deal about the immune system and how historically viral, bacterial, parasites and other epidemics have been

ChildrenonBack

Once a child is weaned, they should be able to play freely with siblings and others away from the mother.

transmitted among human civilizations and populations stretching over thousands of years. My interest in the changing nature of Zambian or African traditional medicine inspired me so much that I actually conducted formal research into the topic in 2002. The research was among the Tumbuka people of Lundazi District in the Eastern Province of Zambia. Some of the findings from the study are in this publication. http://www.hungerforculture.com/?page_id=354 Some of the findings are in this book https://www.amazon.com/Satisfying-Zambian-Hunger-Culture-Social/dp/1479702099

I have just began to compile and analyze more findings from my research notes from 2002. This is one of the series of reports that will soon be published exclusively on the “Hunger for Culture” web page.

Wonders of the Sokolowe Tree

In the Zambian traditional society, a mother might be 2 to 3 months pregnant and has a child who has been weaned. The child cries and whines a lot. The child acts really spoiled and is very clingy to the mother. The mother will consult an elderly person or a traditional healer or ng’anga. The ng’anga or the village elder might prescribe the roots of the Sokolowe tree. The tree bears fruits that people eat. You dig the Sokolowe tree and get the roots. Soak the roots in water.

Use the herbs to cook the nshima Zambian traditional staple meal. The mother will serve the nshima to the child while the child is sitting with siblings and the child’s friends on the chitenje cloth the mother uses for carrying the baby on the back. This cloth is called nguwo.  Semen among the Tumbuka, Chewa and Ngoni is also called nguwo. They will all eat the nshima together. After that the child will no longer cry, whine unnecessarily and be bothersome. The child will enjoy playing with siblings and friends all day.

This is one among dozens of traditional ways in which herbs and rituals were used for the betterment of the individuals in the community. A full detailed report is available here.

 

The 2008 Obama Campaign: The Thrill of Making History

by

Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.

Professor of Sociology

Introduction

The year was 1962 and I was 8 years old. My father was a teacher at Mafuta Primary School which is 30 miles or 48 Kms. along the Chipata-Lundazi road in the Eastern Province of Zambia. One morning, a two door yellow Land Rover sped along our dusty road and quickly pulled up to the school yard. The passenger door opened and a large bundle of papers with many colors were tossed to the ground. As the papers blew all over the school yard, the Land Rover quickly sped away.

 

Signs on top of the door into Obama Campaign office in Staunton, Va

Signs on top of the door into Obama Campaign office in Staunton, Va

My parents later explained that the people in the Land Rover were members of the African National Congress (ANC) who had tossed some flyers to recruit people to join the political party. The reason they sped off very quickly is that they knew this was a strong hold of their rival United National Independence Party (UNIP). They were afraid to walk around because they could be beaten up or even killed. Harry Nkumbula was leader of ANC and Kenneth Kaunda was the leader of UNIP. This was at the height of the heated struggle for independence against British colonialism in the then Northern Rhodesia now Zambia.

Childrem and parents help make Obama campaign signs at the office in Harrisonburg, va

Childrem and parents help make Obama campaign signs at the office in Harrisonburg, va

This was my earliest exposure to what campaigning and electoral politics were. The impression was not positive. As my parents talked about politics as a child, I wondered why people would beat up and even kill each other because of belonging to different political parties. The most notorious and violent in Fort Jameson (now Chipata) was Lushinga who was said to be a member of ANC. Word was that he was so vicious that if he found you riding your bicycle along the road, he would not only knock you over with his vehicle, he would follow you in the bush driving the vehicle in order to kill you. The ANC were called mainyong’o among adults in this area which was a derogatory term in the Nyanja language.

The members of the political parties would sometimes burn the grass huts at night of their political rivals killing them. As political protest of defiance against the Britidh colonialism, some Zambians burned down schools. One such school was Dzoole which

I wait with large crown in line to attend an Obama campaign rally at James Madison University.

I wait with large crown in line to attend an Obama campaign rally at James Madison University.

was burnt down to ashes. My father had the difficult assignment of reopening the school in 1963. He taught his first Sub A (Grade One) class under a large Kachele tree before the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) rebuilt the school. As a child at this time, my thinking was if it was so bad, I did not want to be any part of any campaigning or being part of a political party. At that tumultuous and tense time at 8 years old in rural Zambia, there was no way I could have guessed what would happen in my future: that 46 years later, 10,000 miles or 16,000 Kms away on the other side of the world, I would be part of the most important and thrilling election campaign in history: the Obama 2008 campaign. How did this happen? Why was this unwilling author involved with no experience in electoral campaign? What suddenly motivated him? What was the improbable journey and the drama of the Obama campaign given the overwhelming and daunting historical odds against an African American or black candidate in white American society?

Politics in Zambia: 1962 to 1964

British colonialists had occupied, oppressed, exploited, and in many cases humiliated

Town residents of Bridgewater gather and listen to a campaign organizer in the Bridgewater town campaign office.

Town residents of Bridgewater gather and listen to a campaign organizer in the Bridgewater town campaign office.

Zambians on their own land since the early 1900s. By 1962, Zambians had been fighting for independence for more than 20 years. The only difference between 1962 and 1964 is that they could smell victory. The British had imposed the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1953 on the 3 territories over the vehement opposition and objections of Zambians and Africans. This became one of the major rallying points for the decade that was to follow in the struggle against colonialism.

As children in our household, my father and mother frequently referred to the tensions and violence among the UNIP and ANC political operatives in the region. My parents said a man known as Kenneth Kaunda of UNIP and Harry Nkhumbula of ANC were fighting for our freedom. Once we were independent, my parents explained, we would have freedom to do what we want. Our government would build schools, hospitals, roads,  and create jobs.

As children you always react to the mood of your parents and the family to any outside events that you might not even understand fully as a child. One day as the 1962 general elections were taking place, my parents said something very new and strange that excited us all children. My parents said that soon after the elections, the British colonialist bazungu would leave and we would no longer be Northern Rhodesia. We would be the new free and independent country of Zambia. My brothers and sisters looked at each other with tense smiles. We children immediately ran outside and began to scream in unison as we jumped around.

“Tifuna Zambia!! Tifuna Zambia!!! (We want Zambia! We want Zambia!)

Ndani afuna Zambia?!” (Who wants Zambia!???) I led the chant screaming at the top of my 8 year old voice.

“I-i-i-ine!!!!”, (Me, me, me) my younger brother and sisters responded loudly. We marched around the house many times screaming. We were to do this for months to come.

“The Federation was dissolved in December 1963 and universal adult suffrage elections which Zambians called One Man One Vote were held in January 1964 in which UNIP won an overwhelming majority of seats in parliament 56 and ANC won only 9.” (Tembo, 2012:215)

Over the years as I have reflected over our Zambian struggle for independence, I have always wished I had been an adult to contribute to the struggle. During independence from 1964 to date 2016, an opportunity to even be involved in Zambian elections campaigns and let alone vote had never come up.

Obama Campaign 2008

African Americans have a long history of enduring racial brutality and oppression from whites over the last 300 years. Voting and let alone any African American aspiring to be

I put up campaign signs in my yard.

I put up campaign signs in my yard.

President was so out of the question many in America believed it would never happen. So when a little known African American Senator from the State of Illinois with a strange name, Barack Obama, that did sound like Smith, Brown, or Johnson announced his candidacy for the Presidency of the United States, nearly everyone dismissed it as a joke or impossible. Barack Obama announced his candidacy on a cold morning in February 10 2007 in Springfield Illinois. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdJ7Ad15WCA  At that time Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic Party candidate, had 45% in the opinion polls and Barack Obama had only 12% and was behind in the polls by 33 points. Not too many Americans had reason to support or waste their vote on an African American or black candidate that was so behind and would never win the primary and let alone the General election.

Jumping into the Campaign

After almost a year of campaigning, an election result that stunned not only the American nation but the entire world: little known Barack Obama had won the Iowa caucus primaries on January 3, 2008. Obama had won by 37.6%, John Edwards by 29.7% and the heavy favorite Hilary Clinton came in third with 29.5%. I saw Obama’s electrifying victory speech on TV that night. I was mesmerized. The whole nation was mesmerized.

When anyone decides to be involved in a major event, one can remember the exact moment when it happened. In April 2008 at my college campus, I had just finished my working out at our college gym and was walking out. I casually picked up the Newsweek magazine which had an article titled “Barack Obama: How He did it”. I read it all. That was my tipping point. I decided there  and then that I was going to get involved in the Obama campaign.

Obama’s Books

I first read Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream”. Later I read: “Dreams from my Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance”. Barack Obama’s ideas not just impressed me but his experiences convinced me that I shared lot in common with him. The part of his life I found most appealing was that in his quest to understand his father and Obama’s own African heritage in Kenya, he did something unusual may be for many people who have been

City residents gather in the Harrisonburg Obama campaign office on opening day.

City residents gather in the Harrisonburg Obama campaign office on opening day.

westernized: he visited his rural remote home village in Kenya. These are places that are often dismissed as just primitive. This is the place and heritage that terrifies Westerners and urban people in general. He had lived in Indonesia and had gone to Harvard. He had endured some racial victimization in hotels even when he visited Nairobi in Kenya. In my view, this man was truly so educated, sophisticated, and optimistic, and humble at the same time. I believed he would make a huge difference if elected to live in the American White House.

Getting Involved

I had to first contact local Democratic Party organizers. I was supposed to go to Zambia that summer to help build the NKhanga Village Library in Lundazi. My mother-in-law had just passed away after battling cancer for nearly 2 years. My wife, I and the entire family were in grief. I also experienced the worst headaches I had never had before and since then. When I saw the doctor, my blood pressure was sky high. The doctor advised against flying out of precaution. I therefore dedicated my entire summer from May to August to the Obama campaign.

As Obama campaign picked up momentum from January 2008, it captured the

People showed up to vote at  dawn . It was an exciting day.

People showed up to vote at dawn . It was an exciting day.

imagination of millions of Americans and even the whole world. There were regular Democratic Party campaign offices. But then thousands of citizens, both white and black, volunteered to open campaign offices using their own homes. This happened in small and large towns. Obama gave electrifying campaign speeches to large mass rallies ranging from 5,000, 10,000, 20,000 to as large as 75,000. Obama’s wife, Michelle gave campaign speeches in support of her husband to smaller venues. Volunteers were needed to make phone calls, conduct door to door campaigns, distribute yards signs, and write to the local press. Monetary and food donations were needed to fund the campaigns. I participated in voter registration for both Democrats and Republicans at my college among students and faculty on the college campus dining hall lobby.

Campaign Offices

The first Obama campaign office was opened 10 miles or 16 Kms. north of us in the City of Harrisonburg which has a population of 52,478 of whom 78.4% White, 6.4% Black or African American, 0.3% Native American, 3.5% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 8.2% from other races. A couple who are residents of my home town Bridgewater volunteered for

Large signs welcome Obamas' 2 daughters to the White House on Inauguration Day.

Large signs welcome Obamas’ 2 daughters to the White House on Inauguration Day.

their house to be the town’s Obama campaign headquarters. Bridgewater has a population of 5,644 of whom 95.18% White, 2.48% African American, 0.12% Native American, 0.42% Asian, 0.94% from other races. The town of Staunton which is 25 miles or Kms. South of Bridgewater has a population of 23,746 of whom 83.29% White, 13.95% Black or African American, 0.22% Native American, 0.46% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.52% from other races. I attended all the 3 official opening receptions the new Obama campaign offices in the 3 towns. It was very heartening and such a joyous occasion to see the beaming faces of men, women, old, young, children, white, black and all races working to make the Obama campaign a success.

DSC_0068

Holding a sign at the Mall during Inauguration Day in Washington, D.C

Over the months I checked on the computer every day to see which primary election Obama had won that day and which one he had lost. I checked every day to see the election opinion polls to see how many points Obama was up or down. I put up campaign signs in my front yard. I donated crates of soft drinks, cookies or biscuits, and sandwiches for campaign headquarters volunteers. I saw many citizens bring cooked food to the campaign headquarters. We went on door to door campaigns in our neighborhoods. The momentum for the Obama campaign had built so much in the entire country of 305 million people that there were so many campaign buttons that represented various campaign groups that had mushroomed all over the country. There were groups such are Police officers for Obama, Women for Obama, Children for Obama, Fire fighters for Obama, cyclists for Obama, back packers for Obama, Volunteers for Obama, Joggers for Obama, Athletes for Obama, Book Lovers for Obama.

Election Day

After 10 months of heavy campaigning, the Election Day had arrived. My wife and I woke up early. There was a long line at 6:00am already. I took some photos. According to instruction, I was on standby all day to find out if I needed to drive any voter to the voting precincts. As it was getting dark in the evening, an old car pulled in front of our house. An old white woman slowly walked toward our house and knocked on the door. When I opened the door she asked me if I had already voted. She was just checking to make sure. I had tears in my eyes just to think so human beings at their best during the entire long campaign.

Large crowds gathered at the Mall in Washington D. C. on Inauguration Day.

Large crowds gathered at the Mall in Washington D. C. on Inauguration Day.

That evening on November 4, 2008 my wife was sitting in bed and I was about to go to the bathroom when TV announcers said that Barack Obama had just passed 270 electoral votes. He would be the 44th President and the first ever African American or black President of the United States. The camera panned to the large crowd that had gathered in Chicago in Barack Obama’s home town. It showed Jesse Jackson, Oprah Winfrey, and many others in the crowd in tears; they never thought that a black man would ever be President of the United States in their lifetime. The election results were that 69,498,516 or 52.9% of the American voters had voted for Barack Obama and 59,948,323 or 45.7% had voted for his Republican Party opponent John McCain. It was one of the most gratifying, exciting, and memorable events I have ever been involved with in my life. There were so many great memories of the goodness of the American everyday citizen and how we can pull our hearts together to achieve something that no one ever thought could be possible. That was a message from a great nation that I would never have known I would be part of those days in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) when I was 8 years old in 1962.

References

  1. Obama, Barack., Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, New York: Three Rivers Press, 1995, 2004.
  2. Obama, Barack., The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006.
  3. Tembo, Mwizenge S., Satisfying Zambian Hunger for Culture: Social Change in the Global World, Xlibris Corporation: 2012.
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdJ7Ad15WCA
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nationwide_opinion_polling_for_the_Democratic_Party_2008_presidential_primaries
  6. http://politics.nytimes.com/election-guide/2008/results/states/IA.html
  7. http://www.newsweek.com/barack-obama-how-he-did-it-85083
  8. https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=american%20popultion%20in%202008
  9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_2008
  10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Presidents_of_the_United_States
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrisonburg,_Virginia
  12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridgewater,_Virginia
  13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Staunton,_Virginia