WHEN President Edgar Lungu advised Zambians to lessen their appetite for the not so-thick and not so-soft white porridge widely munched in Zambia and some neighbouring countries, a cross section of people voiced their strong views for and against the suggestion.
This is understood because ubwali in Bemba, nsima (Nyanja), insima (Tonga), buhobe in Lozi or indeed ‘gamani’ in the new Zambian lingo is a big deal in Zambia.
Yes ugali, as this food is also called in Swahili, is so much a big deal that some Zambians regard rice and potatoes as mere starters to the main dish of nshima.
This write up is not intended to review the views expressed by the Head of State of the Republic of Zambia but merely to add a voice to the subject because of the dangerous proportion nshima has assumed.
Look, no sooner the President made his views public than a man in Central Province was shoved into prison to serve 10 years with hard toil for burning his own house.
The man had returned home one night from his errands only to find that his wife had not cooked nsima for him. Angered by hunger, the man turned to the match stick and torched his own house in a frenzy of rage without realising that burning one’s own property amounts to committing a criminal offence of arson. So you see, had this man heeded the call to diversify his appetite away from “gamani,” perhaps, he should not have done what he had done.
Now, his insatiable appetite for dear nsima has landed him in deep soup of not yambuzi but of beans without salt and cooking oil to be eaten behind bars, of course not of alcohol. Nsima is a matter of life and death. Look, in October 2014, a resident of Mulilansolo Village in Chief Mubanga’s area in Chinsali was beaten to death by his brother in a quarrel over nshima.
Danny Chikula, 30, died after his brother Patrick hit him with a wooden object when the siblings picked up a quarrel over nshima.
During the squabble, Patrick is said to have picked up a stick and took aim at hitting his father but his elder brother, Danny swiftly moved in between to protect his father.
In the process, the wooden weapon landed heavily on Danny’s head and sent him to the ground. He never woke up. In another incident, Alefa Miti, aged 52 years was in July 2009 sentenced to death by the Lusaka High Court for burning down a house with an infant sleeping in it.
Circumstances of the event were that on the night of February 20, 2008 Miti had gone to the house of Ms Kelesia Kasengo in Kanchubwi village to buy “kapamela” (a small portion of mealie meal).
But when Ms Kasengo told Miti that she had run out of the commodity, Miti got infuriated and later in the night, torched the house with the baby sleeping in it.
According to court records, Miti, who lived alone at his house in the same village, was found hiding in the bush three days later.
Thirty-one year old Siavonga fisherman, Kedy Muyunivi, brutally strangled his son aged two years in December 2013 after blaming the toddler of eating buhobe his wife, who was the boy’s biological mother, had left for him. In the same month, hungry Kelvin Mubanga, aged 16 years at the time, killed his elder sister, Sarah, 18, after hitting her with a pestle at their Mulenga Township family house in Kitwe. Kelvin had returned home for lunch after playing with friends but did not find insima he had expected resulting in a scuffle and the eventual death of his sister. Pardon me for boring you but this is vital. In the same Copperbelt Town, John Makumba, 38 of Kamitondo Township, hit his nephew, Winter Makumba in the head with an iron bar in a rage. The nephew had allegedly eaten gamani (nshima) left for his uncle by his (John’s) wife. Winter died on the spot after being knocked down.
Some 40 kilometres away in Mufulira, Kelvin Tambatamba, 23, stabbed and killed his elder brother, Morton Hamooya Milumbe in the abdomen and shoulder with a broken bottle also over a plate of nshima in April 2012.
And in March 2013 in Chikoyi village in Chief Chipalo’s area of Luwingu, Bright Bwalya quarrelled with his wife, Eli Chibale, 38, over nshima she allegedly did not reserve for him when he returned home from a beer drinking spree in the same village.
According to a police report, Bwalya did not leave some money home for relish despite his wife pleading with him to do so before embarking on his social outing.
But upon return, he demanded for nshima which his wife could not provide in the absence of money for food resulting in a fight. In the drama, Bwalya is alleged to have punched and kicked his wife so hard that she fainted and died. Look, it is not only failure to cook nshima that has landed wives into trouble but preparing the food late is also a serious offence.
This is what happened to Nelly Daka of George compound in Lusaka in April 2012. On the material day, Patrick Kabwe had given his wife, Nelly K10 and sent her to go and buy relish at the local market but she returned home after some hours and prepared nshima late.
This did not amuse Kabwe who pounced on Nelly and beat her to death. But it is not just the late cooking of nshima which can land the cook in trouble. Some wives and inexperienced girls have been scalded by the head of the house for cooking nshima with small lumps in it called “ama mpulunkusu” in Bemba.
Some people love their five-fingured meal so much that they eat nsima for breakfast, nsima for lunch and still nsima for supper.
Should they visit homes of relatives and friends in between their own meals of nshima, chances are that these nsima lovers might be treated to more plates of nshima by their hosts as a show of respect. By the end of the day, one could end up eating more than three meals of nshima, what a feast!
Incidentally, how many times have you heard anecdotes of visitors refusing to leave the dinning table after eating a meal of rice, potatoes or noodles and still expecting the main dish of nshima – to be laid?
Look, the Tumbuka people of Eastern Province illustrate the importance of Nsima through the following incident: During British colonialism in the mid 1950s in Lundazi, a village Headman, a Mr. Kasaru, had been summoned from his village to see the European British District Commissioner. As common practice in rural Africa, people making a long journey on foot usually set off at dawn.
Headman Kasaru, set off at dawn with his wife insisting that he waits so that she cooks him and eats a good nshima meal to last him during the better part of the hot tiring day. The man insisted that he was going to be allright and that after all it was only a ten to fifteen mile walk.
He arrived tired, sweating and thirsty with patched lips and the District Commissioner could not see Headman Kasaru right away. He had to wait standing in the queue.
Suddenly, the Headman suddenly developed a glazed look in his eyes and collapsed. His daughter-in-law, who happened to live nearby, splashed cold water on his face to revive him. Later he ate a good hearty nshima meal and to this day, the common saying circulates in the area that: “Njara nkhamtengo, yikatonda a Kasaru.” which translates as “Hunger is as tough as a tree, Headman Kasaru succumbed to it.”
In Bemba, brides are taught to hit their husbands on the belly with a wooden cooking stick upon arrival home from work. Some foolish young wives literally implement the lesson and end up being beaten instead. Figuratively, hitting the husband on the abdomen with a stick means feeding the man with nshima, of course.
Known to the settler Afrikaaners as “mealies,”, by others as “Indian corn,” and by the Arab world as “Turkish wheat” and by the older racist as “kaffir corn.’ maize which is the main recipe for nshima, is said to have been introduced to southern Africa from the north, across the Sahara by Arab traders while other writers assume a Brazilian origin. Linguistic evidence denotes that maize was once termed “Milho Basil,” a corruption of the word “Milho Brasil,” meaning Brazilian grain. On the whole, however, linguistic evidence supporting the introduction of maize by the Portuguese to southern Africa is meagre.
Historians say records from the Gambia, Sao Tome right down to Mombasa in Kenya, Dar-es-Salam in Tanzania, and the Mozambique coast, reveal a slave trade centre for the hinterland of southern and central Africa from 1505 to 1878, as being the origin of maize to Africa including Zambia. As can be seen, maize is foreign but it has a strong grip on us. Let us do something and let God help us diversify our menu to loosen the clutch and prevent nshima deaths.