Reviews of Tumbuka Histories

One of the biggest weaknesses for hundreds of years as Zambians is that we never developed written records or the archival tradition. This review highlights two books that can serve as a blueprint to preserve our history for the future generations.

Yizenge Chondoka and Frackson F. Bota, A History of the Tumbuka from 1400 to 1900: The Tumbuka under the M’nyanjagha,Chewa, Balowoka, Senga and Ngoni Chiefs, Lusaka: Academic Press, 2007, pp. 217, $16.95. K87,000.00, Paper. Yizenge Chondoka, A History of the Tumbuka and Senga in Chama District, 1470 to 1900: Chiefdoms Without a Kingdom, Lusaka: Academic Press, 2007, pp. 125, $14.00, K72,000.00, Paper.

One of the biggest weaknesses for hundreds of years as Zambians is that we never developed written records or the archival tradition. We relied only on the oral tradition. European history books described Zambians as belonging to the so-called 72 tribes or today called ethnic groups. Even though all of us Zambians may be Lozi, Bemba, Kaonde, Ngoni, Tonga, Luchazi or Namwanga just to mention a few, how many of us know the history of the various ethnic or tribal groups we, our parents, our close friends, relatives, or even our ancestors belonged to? Where did they migrate from? Who intermarried and intermingled with us? Who fought whom and why did they settle in an area? Who were the Chiefs, headmen or women rulers? What were the numerous customs practiced? How did the slave trade and the arrival of Europeans affect our lives?

When Zambia got independence from British Colonialism in 1964 forty-eight years ago, there were practically no history books written by Zambians. As a result, most of our history has tended to be portrayed from a European or Eurocentric perspective. One of the most exciting developments is that many more Zambians today are tracing, researching, and writing their own history. In the books: “A History of the Tumbuka from 1400 to 1900” and “The History of the Tumbuka and Senga in Chama District, 1470 to 1900” Yizenge Chondoka performed a phenomenal task that every Zambian should celebrate, emulate, and be proud of. While a history lecturer at University of Zambia for more than 25 years, Dr. Chondoka conducted extensive research into the history of the Tumbuka and Senga in Eastern Zambia.

Tumbuka History In “A History of the Tumbuka from 1400 to 1900” in Seventeen Chapters, Chondoka and Frackson Bota trace the history of the Tumbuka as migrating from the the Luba Kingdom in the Congo in the1400s, through Southern Tanzania, dispersing from Kalonga in 1435 to the present day Northern Malawi and North Eastern Zambia. During those 500 years up 1900, so many migrations, kingdoms, chiefdoms, trade routes, hunting and iron smelting skills, changes, influences, intermingling with so many different groups happened. All the major players are identified by maps and names. How did the Ngoni and the Chewa influence the Tumbuka? The book also described in detail the traditional family and marriage customs.

In “The History of the Tumbuka and Senga in Chama District, 1470 to 1900”, in the very first two paragraphs of the first chapter of the short 15 chapter book, Yizenge Chondoka identifies a major weakness in how Europeans may have recorded our Zambian history of the 72 ethnic groups. In this instance, the British identified a small ruling class or dominant group of the Senga and may have recorded a somewhat distorted history of the Senga in Chama district from that group’s narrow perspective.Tumbuka History Chama The book attempts to create a proper historiography of the Senga and Tumbuka people in the Chama District. Chondoka describes the rise and fall of the Chamavyose Kingdom and the reign of various chiefs such as Kambombo, Tembwe, and Chikwa. He explores the culture, salt making, disease, impact of the slave trade, and religion.

You might be asking: “What is the relevance of all these old details of names and places you might not even care about or be interested in?” “How does this old history of tribes or this stuff make you or young Zambian child a better person today with the internet and globalization?”

Even in the age of globalization knowing your history and cultural heritage will give you a stronger sense of identity and confidence in whom you or your children are whether you live in Lusaka, Kafulafuta, Lundazi, Mwinilunga,Tokyo, London, Russia or the United States. You will have a good idea where you came from as a Zambian or African. This information is useful if you are someone who is curious and interested in Zambian culture or has current relatives, friends, or ancestors who may have belonged to any of the 72 ethnic groups. This knowledge is power and will give you peace of mind.

I would strongly recommend these books for all Zambians, Africans, and all people who are interested in understanding Zambian and African history. I would further recommend that the books should not only be used for teaching African history in classrooms but families can read the books and sit together in groups and discuss the ideas learnt. These books could also be a blueprint for many Zambians who might want to do serious research about their own families or ethnic group history. This is how as Zambians we can ignite the writing and archival tradition to preserve our history for the future generations.

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