Does God Exist? Where Do We Come From?; Astrophysics for people in a Hurry: Book Review


Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D

Professor of Sociology

Neil deGrasse Tyson,, Astrophysics for people in a Hurry, New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2017, 222 pp, Hardcover, K174.35 ($18.95).


When I was a child living at Chipewa Village in the late 1950s in Lundazi District in Eastern Zambia in Southern Africa, we were loudly playing children’s games including hide and seek. I was jumping and running around in the evening after supper with other children in the open village square. Adults congregated in front of houses and chatted around with household family members getting ready to go to bed. Suddenly from nowhere a massive very bright light descended directly on top of the village momentarily making everything look as bright as day light. Suddenly the light went off

Beautiful sunrise about to land at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka in Zambia. Did God Create the beauty and the plane?

Beautiful sunrise about to land at Kenneth Kaunda International Airport in Lusaka in Zambia. Did God Create the beauty and the plane?

and it was dark again. We all screamed running in different directions to our various homes. Out of breath my cousins and I asked my grandparents what that scary bright light was. My grandmother calmly replied that it was the wretched work of witches in the night.

Neil deGrasse Tyson Astrophysics for people in a Hurry, reminded me of this incident that I never witnessed again in my life. But I might have seen again and again but more on this later. In the village I attended Sub A or Grade One at Boyole Primary School. The very first religious knowledge class taught me about God, the origin of humans and the crucial role of  Adam and Eve in the fate of all humanity. Ten years later in Form 4 in 1970 at Chizongwe Secondary School in Chipata, I was to learn about Sir Isaac Newton’s Law of Gravity (1642-1726) in physics in my Physical Science classes practicing the formula. Although in 1915 Albert Einstein’s discovered the very influential Theory of Relativity, I don’t remember it being in our physics textbook yet in 1970. How is all this related to Tyson’s just published new book Astrophysics for people in a Hurry? How is this related to whether God exists?

The Big Bang

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in the very first sentence of his book reminiscent of the Bible says: “In the beginning, nearly fourteen billion years ago, all space and all the matter and all the energy of the known universe was contained in a volume less than one-trillionth the size of the period (full stop) that ends this sentence.” (p.17) “What!!??” was my reaction after I read the first sentence. Then there was the Big Bang. I could not stop reading until I finished the 208 pages because I wanted so many of my own questions answered.

The moon in the night sky in the village.

The moon in the night sky in the village.

Tyson goes on to describe the origin of the known Universe, distant galaxies, the famous Milky Way, stars, our solar system, matter, energy, and how the Earth may have become the only known habitable planet in the solar system. Tyson describes photons, atoms, molecules, constants, conservation laws, speed of light, the mystery of dark matter, cosmic distances; all without using any of the sophisticated mathematical formulas in physics. That’s why the book is for the lay person because even a non-Astrophysicist like me with some physics knowledge from secondary school was able to read and understand it.

Does God Exist?

What invokes questions in the book about whether God exists is the sheer unimaginable monumental events that have happened over 13 billion years and will continue to happen going into the future. All of them appear or are said to happen or have happened by chance. For example, the orbit along which our mother earth rotates around the massive hot sun happens to be just further enough from the sun that we do not burn but instead have incredible forms of life from tiny bacteria, insects, and trees to humans, elephants and to one time humongous dinosaurs. The sun’s energy through photosynthesis creates oxygen through plants. We humans and many other of the earth’s creatures need oxygen to live. No other planets, at least in our solar system, have these qualities that support so much life. Had our Earth been nudged just a little further away from the sun in our orbit several billion years after the Big Bag, the earth would be too cold to support our life.

Think of Your Origins

Enjoying the fire in the village. What is the relationship between fire and the speed of light?

Enjoying the fire in the village. What is the relationship between fire and the speed of light?

If you are a Zambian living in the village,  Lusaka, Kabompo, Gwembe Valley, and Livingstone and where ever you are, once you have eaten nshima with good relish, you are not necessarily rich, but you are comfortable, life seems good, shouldn’t you take a moment to think: “What was there before the Big Bang? Where did I come from? Why? What is Earth? How big is the Universe? What about the moon, heaven and all those thousand and millions of stars at night? Where did they come from? What is my role in the Universe? What is light or fire?” This book will give you some answers. But it will not give you the answer to the question: “Does God exist?” You will have to make up your mind after you read the book if you have not made up your mind already. About that bright light in the village? I now believe it might have been a shooting star or meteorite that was headed toward our village but combusted or burned up and evaporated into gas in the atmosphere perhaps 10 Kms high above our village. I have seen thousands of shooting stars especially even today when I visit the village and look at the bright moon and mesmerizing twinkling stars.


The Soul of Kinship


Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.

Professor of Sociology


The soul of kinship has been the strongest pillar of my entire life since I lived in the village at Chipewa in the late 1950s. This village is located among the Tumbuka people in the Lundazi district of the Eastern Province of Zambia. It is because my life has always been deeply embedded in kinship that I have never felt alone in the worst of circumstances in life since my childhood up to my entire adult life. This is when I have been alone facing some of life’s most difficult personal challenges in school, my career, in marriage, family, child rearing, work, personal conflicts, illness, death, grief, the anguish of isolation, and loneliness in unfamiliar distant lands among strangers far away from my kinship. The soul of kinship is the feeling of having an intimate place as a member among a large group, the soothing feeling of unconditional Kinship Groupbelonging, recognition, acceptance, physical security, emotional comfort, and the love that all bind you to more than sometimes as many as 200 to 400 men, women, and children who are members of one’s kinship often in a village or many villages. The soul of kinship is the feeling that you are connected to all these people not because you are rich, poor, tall or short, educated or uneducated, beautiful or ugly, of a certain race, religion; but because you are just you as a living breathing human being.

The power and soul of kinship in the Zambian or African context cannot be fully appreciated unless it is described in order to understand its influence. This is why I will first describe kinship and then later describe the power of the soul of kinship.

Zambian Traditional Kinship

The Zambian and African kinship is very intimate, broad and uses many kinship terminologies. The nuclear family of the man, his wife, and their biological children is embedded in the extended family wide kinship network that includes and binds the man and woman family and entire kinship. There are mainly two types of marriages and families that determine kinship; the patrilineal and matrilineal.

The patrilineal families, marriages and societies practice customs in which when a woman is married she moves to her husband’s village or dwelling. Since my Tumbuka tribe practices patrilineal kinship customs, all my father’s brothers are my fathers or Dads or Adada. All my father’s sisters are my ankhazi or aunts and all their husbands are asibweni or uncles. All my father’s brother’s children are my sisters or dumbu and brothers or dumbu. All my father’s sisters’ children are my bavyala or cousins. All my mother’s sisters are my mothers or amama. All my mother’s brothers are my asibweni or uncles. All my mother’s brothers’ wives are my apongozi of which the closest English equivalent is aunt.  All my mother’s brothers’ and sisters’ children are bavyala or cousins. A girl or woman has exactly the same kinship relationships.

All my brother’s children are bana bane or my children or my sons and daughters. All my sister’s children are baphwa or nephews and nieces. All the children of my sons and daughters are bazukulu or grandchildren. All the children of my children are bazukulu chivu or great grandchildren.

Complexity of Kinship

What makes the kinship relationships appear complex to the outsider is that if there are polygamous marriages, all the described relationships apply or are followed. For example, if my father’s father had 3 wives, all the women are agogo or my grandmothers. All the children of the 3 wives are my father’s brothers and sisters. My mother’s father’s wives are all my agogo or grandmothers. All my grandfathers’ wives and brothers on both my mother and father’s families are agogo or grandmothers or grandfathers.

The few families, tribes or societies in Zambia that practice matrilineal kinship customs will have some differences in customs. In these societies, when the woman gets married, her husband moves to her village or kinship dwelling. In the matrilineal society, the boy is raised to identify, depend on, and be closest to his mother’s side of the family kinship who are his mother’s brothers or uncles.

These relationships I have describe so far do not even include some of the other numerous kinship relationships that are immediately established as soon as a man and woman get married and two large kinships relationships and families become united. All the couple’s brothers and sisters become mulamu or sisters and brothers’in-law. The mothers and fathers of the couple are asebele or parents-in-law. All of these  terms and relationships apply when the couple comes from polygamous families in which a man may be married up to 3 or my be even 5 wives with numerous children. The same applies if the woman is married to a polygamous man in which case the woman  may have 2, 3 or may be even 5 co-wives with numerous children including her own.

Kinship Baffles Europeans

When Europeans encountered Zambian or African kinship, they found the complexity so perplexing that a European professor or Lecturer in the 1970s at the University of Zambia describe this incident that he found baffling. His Zambian student was absent from class. When the student returned to class, the Professor asked him why he was absent. The student said his mother had passed away and he had to attend her funeral. Three months later the same student was absent again and the Professor asked him why he was absent again. The student replied that his mother had passed away and he had gone to attend to her funeral. The Westerner will assume that either the student was lying or doesn’t understand that he can have only one mother: that is her biological mother. But unless you understand the Zambian culture, as an outsider and especially Europeans, you may not understand that one can have so many mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers or agogo or grandparents.

When I was young, all my siblings and I had two mothers; my mother and her younger sister, aNyaMsuzghika, who is now deceased. I also have two amama or mothers today; my biological mother in the village and my mother who lives on the farm in Chainda or Ibex Hill in Lusaka the Capital City of Zambia. Both of them have been significant in my life. They both treat and love me as their son and I love and treat them as my mothers. Everyone in my kinship knows and calls both of them my mothers.

How Do You Identify Them?

One question that is always expressed and baffles Westerners or even modern urbanized and Europeanized Zambians and Africans is: “If you have so many mothers, brothers, sisters in all these kinships, how do you tell them apart? How do you tell who is your real mother?” Who is the real relative and not real or distant relative does not exist in the traditional Zambian kinship. The way relatives identify each other is that they intimately know who is married to whom, their names, when they were born, what village or town they live in and lastly the language that is used to explain kinship is very specific to the culture. For example, my younger sister lives in Chipata. First, we are dumbu or brother and sister. We can say mkulu na munung’una older or younger sibling. Then we say tika dikana which means she was born next or immediately after me. If we are explaining to an extended family member and we say our mother is aNyaNthula they will immediately say: “Oh!! I know who you are or how you are related to me because your mother aNyaNthula is also my mother. So we are brothers and sisters.” Right there, the kinship bond is both explained, identity, and belonging are established.

Kinship Relationships

These kinship relationships are not just mere cold objective labels or words that as used to indicate who I am related to. But they are symbols of the social binding that exists between a large group of people. Dumbu or sisters, mulamu or in-laws, asibweni or uncle, adada father or dad, amama or mother or mom, ankhazi or aunt, vyala or cousin all are relationships with serious and deep obligations. This is how the kinship members share moments of joy but also support each other in times poverty, suffering, death, sorrow, loss, or conflict, or just the ups and downs of life’s troubles. It is probably the seriousness and depth of these kinship relationships that among the Tumbuka and Zambian traditional kinship relationships there are no step mothers and step fathers, there are no half-brothers or half-sisters, distant relationships or distant cousins. Regarding the significance of biology, no one is the real mother or real father, or real sister or real brother just purely based on the distinction of biological relationships. Of course this doesn’t mean people ignore or are not aware of biological relationships. It just means biological relationships are regarded as secondary or briefly dwelt on if asked especially by anthropological researchers, strangers, and outsiders. What seems to matter most are the deep social bonds that bind people embedded in the kinship relationships passed on from generation to generation for hundreds if not thousands of years.

First Meet Relatives

My father had just completed his teacher training at Katete Mission and was given his first teaching assignment at Chasela School deep in the Luangwa Valley among the Bisa people. My father dispatched my mother and I to visit her village. My mother for months had told me I had so many relatives in the village; grandparents, uncles, apongozi or aunts and especially young cousins my age that I could play with. I was so primed and excited to go to the village.

We boarded the Central African Road Services (CARS) bus via Fort Jameson (Chipata) to Lundazi and then to Hoya along the Chama Road. Once we got off at Hoya, we walked for about one mile in the bush path when we arrived at a small village. Several women came running towards us laughing and smiling and quickly grabbed my mother’s luggage from her head. A small old woman walked toward us lifting her hands up in the air with utter joy and with a small dance to welcome us. As all the commotion was going on my mother turned to me and said:

“This is your agogo (grandmother) a NyaKundambo and this is Jali-Jali village.”

With in an hour we were eating fresh and delicious pumpkins and sweet dobe fresh maize. My mother said all the people in that village were related to me. I could come there at any time. I would be welcome and I could stay. Soon we bid everyone farewell and continued to walk in the bush path toward my mother’s village of Chipewa. The women relatives from Jali-Jali escorted us for a little distance carrying my mother’s luggage on their head. Then the women who had hosted us turned back.

We Arrive at Chipewa

While walking along in the pleasant Savannah bush path or nthowa, we heard the loud melodious songs of njiba birds, the tiny blue nyasisi birds,  mthyengu birds and nyapwele birds. After the two of us had walked in the meandering bush path for an hour, my mother and I heard the sound of pestles and mortars pounding. We heard some loud voices, bleating of goats, and roosters crowing. The dogs began barking toward our path as we drew closer.

“We are near our village now,” my mother said.

I was bursting with excited anticipation. I had been told about the village for months. We were finally here. We emerged from the bush path leading into the eastern side of Chipewa Village. There were two straight rolls of rectangular roof thatched house stretching as far as I could see. The middle of the village open and empty.

“Ehhhh!!! a NyaNthula!!!” two women shouted once they saw us.

“Ehhh!!! a Nyina Yakhobe!!!!” 3 other women shouted.

They run towards us as the chorus of “aNyaNthula biza!!!!” spread around the village. The women grabbed my mother’s luggage from her head. Soon there were women ululating, raising their hands into the air, clapping, laughing with just sheer joy.

“You must be tired,” one woman said.

“You have been gone so long I almost didn’t recognize you!!” a man said.

“If you had written us a letter about your coming, we would have met you at Hoya bus station!!!” someone said.

“Ah! Ah! Ah! Is this your son Yakhobe?” one woman asked as she pointed at me.

“Enya,” (yes) my mother replied.

All the young children were gravitating toward me as they stared at me intently while keeping a discreet distance.

There were a cacophony of so many voices as the growing loud and excited entourage walked past ten houses until we arrived at my grandfather and grandmother’s house. My mother was given a reed mat to sit on and I sat beside her. There was a large group of men and women slowly gathering as the news rippled through the village that a NyaNthula the daughter of aMchawa had arrived with her son Yakhobe.

Soon a large group of men, women, and children had gathered from the entire village. Men sat on one side and women on the other side. A man stood up and called  a boy about my age.

“Jemusi!” he called. “You and your friends chase and catch the large red rooster. Give it to your mother so we can cook it for your akhazi aNyaNthula (aunt) and vyala wako Yakhobe (cousin). Yendeskani !!! (Hurry up)

The man was Asibweni (uncle) Mzimphu and mvyala (cousin) Jemusi (James). The two would have such an influential impact on my life growing up in the village.


After a while of small talk, it was time for the Tumbuka malonje custom and ritual. During malonje, a guest describes in systematic detail their journey, the state of health of the family and people the guest they left behind and the purpose of the visit. My mother was center stage as she explained and described the chronology of the trip down to our arrival at Hoya, visiting agogo aNyakudambo and that the purpose of the trip was we came to visit relatives and family.

My agogo aMchawa described the malonje for the family and village. My agogo Tendelu concluded the malonje adding her own perspective.

The large group of relatives and other people from the village dispersed. This is when my mother began to introduce me to the relatives that would mean so much to me for the rest of my life. My avylala (cousins) Jemusi and Sokoyala who were my age mates. My youngest asibweni (uncle) later in life was to be called UBZ (United Bus Company of Zambia) because he worked for UBZ for a few years as a bus conductor.  My asibweni (uncles) Mzimphu, Kunotha, and Mwendapoli. Apongozi (aunts) aNyamhoni, Anyina Sokoyala, and Anyina Jemusi. Of course my agogo (grandmother) aTendelu and agogo (grandfather) aMchawa.

The First Day

That first day was emotionally so overwhelming that tears still flow in my eyes just thinking of those moments 57 years ago. As a child it was the underserved feeling of everyone in the village making you feel like a celebrity without having done anything heroic. As a child I kept asking my mother, why are they doing all these good things? Why are they so happy to see us? My mother kept saying: “Because they love us. We are their relatives.” As a child I just opened my heart and loved to all of them. How could I not?

That evening more than 12 nshimas were delivered to us in honor of my mother and I. Remember I had eaten pumpkins and sweet dobe fresh maize earlier in the afternoon? When eating my mother cautioned me not to over eat as all the food had chicken and other delicious ndiwos or ma dende with nshima. She said otherwise I would experience kutyumba which is when you over eat and spend the night in the toilet or bush. This was an important piece of advice because I experienced kutyumba as recently as 2015 in the village because I ate too much of the delicious food which included nshima with goat meat, delicious special nchunga ziswesi (red kidney beans), and plenty of juicy sweet fresh mangoes straight from the numerous mango trees.

So this was the first day of the beginning to the deepening of my soul of kinship that was to last a life time. So many both negative and positive things happened in the village. But all we members of my kinship love each other. Members die and new ones are born. Members marry from and unite with different families. We still keep track of where we are even as we scatter to cities and other distant parts of the world. The bond expands and continues. I invite everyone to join in this precious soul of kinship.


Tembo, Mwizenge S., Satisfying Zambian Hunger for Culture, Indiana: Xlibris Corporation, 2012




UNPD, HH and Treason Charge


Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.

Professor of Sociology


I have been very busy with work. President Trump has been in power here in the United States for about 4 months. But many of us citizens who live with his reckless actions, poor governing, and ill-conceived twitter statements feel like he has already been in power for 5 long years. President Trump and his entire White House staff is under siege as the Russian hacking election scandal has cast a dark cloud on his administration. I have not been following Zambian politics since last October 2016. So when a friend sent me some news articles about politics in Zambia that perked my interest.

International News

Some of the international news articles had alarming headlines that President Lungu was becoming authoritarian; that democracy was in danger in Zambia. Some articles said Lungu was becoming a dictator locking up his opposition opponent because of trumped up charges. These articles never give you actual details because many of them are used to just throwing  labels around like “authoritarian”, “dictator” on

UPND Opposition Leader Hakainde-Hichilema

UPND Opposition Leader Hakainde-Hichilema

African countries without bothering about details. When I saw a headline that said the opposition leader had been charged with treason and thrown in jail for a simple traffic stop that sparked my interest to dig deeper.

What I found out just looking on line is that there were so many news stories published within Zambia reported from the government, from the police, from the opposition leaders and other public commentators. Opposing ideas, allegations of the PF and President Lungu abuse of power, public protests, court trials, demonstrations, reports of police arrests and torture, strong opinions, and even insults are being expressed freely through the press and public conversations. The international press and those who are saying President Lungu and Zambia are descending into authoritarianism and dictatorship are not telling the truth. At worst this is being disingenuous and intellectual laziness in reporting.

Treason Charge Stunning

When I looked at the events surrounding the treason charge, I was stunned. I was even more stunned when apparently one of UPND and HH’s cadres decided to put  video clips of the incident on the internet on YouTube. The aim of the video tapes was to show how President’s Lungu’s motorcade police car with its flashing lights nearly rammed into Hakainde’s car. I have driven on those narrow tarred roads in rural Zambia. As recently as July 2016 I personally drove from rural Lundazi all the way to Solwezi. How can an opposition leaders’ 60 car long motorcade drive next to the President’s motorcade? This should no longer be about election results but about 14 million Zambians respecting the security of the individual who is occupying the Office of the President. The incident looked more dangerous on the YouTube video clip than when you read descriptions about it. People who instigate these things should think seriously many times. There could easily have been a dangerous incident during the motorcade fiasco that could have sparked the whole Zambian nation on fire.

2016 Presidential Elections

During the August Presidential election the PF and Edgar Lungu won 1,860,877 which was 50.35%of the vote; the UPND and Hakainde Hichilema won 1,760,347 which was 47.35% of the votes. The Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) declared the PF and Edgar Lungu the winner. The UPND lodged a petition alleging massive rigging by the PF. Both UPND and the PF were ready to present their cases in court. The Zambian Constitutional Court threw out the petition because the 14 days within which it is legally allowed to adjudicate and rule on the case had expired. The UPND supporters have staged protests and lodged court filings since then. National elections will never be squeaky clean. It might help for the opposition in Zambia to look at how opposition leaders both in Zambia and in other countries have handled similar situations.

In the 1960 American Presidential elections, President Kennedy won the national popular vote by 112,827 a narrow margin of 0.17% against Richard Nixon. After his loss, Nixon and the Republican Party discovered that in the crucial state of Illinois, thousands of dead voters had voted in that election. Richardson Nixon refused to file charges in court to protest the election result. He did not want to plunge the nation into chaos. Nixon peacefully worked very hard in opposition and won the Presidency 8 years later.

Respect the Office

Everyone understands that UPND and Hakainde have not made it a secret that they won’t recognize President Lungu. But creating a near dangerous Presidential motorcade incident should not be one of the ways to protest or resist. The courts also should never be used to overturn an election that was in August 2016.

What Mr. Hakainde Hachilema should have done during the very dangerous motorcade incident, was for him to order his own supporters in the long motorcade (See it on YouTube) to pull over and stop. His own supporters would probably have loudly opposed him. But then he should have stood up on a car with a megaphone and said something like: “We are not respecting Lungu personally as an individual but the Office of the President. He is the current leader of our country, let his motorcade pass safely.” That’s what a good strong leader and opposition would do from now up to the next election. That would improve the chances of Hakainde and UPND winning the next presidential election.