Man in Zambia
Man in Zambia : Part Two
Man in Zambia : Part Three
Man in Zambia : Part Four
Man in Zambia : Part Five
Man in Zambia : Part Six
Man in Zambia : Part Seven
Man in Zambia : Part Eight
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Population: 10.8 million (UN, 2003)
Major language: English (official), Bemba, Lozi, Nyanja,
Major religions: Christianity, indigenous beliefs,
Life expectancy: 33 years (men), 32 years (women) (UN)
Leader: Levy Mwanawasa
Monetary unit: 1 Kwacha = 100 ngwee
Main exports: Copper, minerals, tobacco Average annual
income: US $320 (World Bank, 2001) Internet domain: .zm
International dialling code: +260
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A very real six-foot cobra hangs dangling from
the witchdoctor's neck as he parades in front the gathering crowd.
In front of him lie vials of noxious-looking liquid next to sculptures
of serpents, birds and giant pumpkins placed on a huge chalked out
I ask the guy next to me what this charade is in aid of. He has
the audacity to look at me in disbelief at asking such a question,
before explaining that the scene in front of us is a display used
by witchdoctors to drive out evil spirits, or juju.
with a cobra
More than a hundred people are standing here patiently
and it suddenly dawns upon me that the crowd is actually a queue.
They are all queuing besides a makeshift hut made of nothing but
wood and black polythene bags. A white sheet flaps beside it, announcing
that the "internationally renowned Malawian witchdoctor"
is now gracing us with his presence.
There are roughly 40,000 witchdoctors and traditional healers in
Zambia, compared with 850 "orthodox" doctors, 4,000 nurses
and 4,000 clinical officers and paramedic staff. They include herbalists,
spiritualists, bone-setters, counselors and traditional birth attendants.
Throughout Zambia, especially in the rural areas, witchdoctors are
seen as pillars of society sought for advice on topics as diverse
as estranged wives, crop failure and spiritual guidance. They have
also been used to drive out juju or to exact revenge upon opponents
and outsiders taking advantage of the people's goodwill.
Memorably, witchdoctors were used nearly 50 years ago, when the
British Government, who at that time ruled Zambia, decided to build
the Kariba Dam. The local Tonga people were outraged that the new
lake would flood their river god's residence and called on witchdoctors
to call on Nyaminyami to curse the white man's interference.
In July 1957, a year into the project, a torrential
storm breached the temporary dam setting back the project months.
The following year an even bigger flood - the sort expected every
thousand years and never two years running - completely destroyed
Hundreds of workers died during these catastrophes
yet the building continued regardless. In 1960 the dam was officially
opened but Nyaminyami had one last trick to play. No sooner had
the lake begun to fill up than a destructive floating weed began
choking the lake's surface. At one stage it covered nearly half
of the 255km long lake, severely affecting the dam's outflow and
making boating virtually impossible.
The curse of Kariba may also have a final,
devastating twist - two years ago cracks apparently started appearing
in the concrete of the dam's walls.
However much one believes in the weird and
wonderful intrigue of such superstition, and Zambians are firm believers,
a sense of foreboding can be useful to society. Noone worries that
their maize will be stolen from their fields, for it is fervently
believed that someone who eats stolen maize will have terrible stomachache.
Similarly, bags of charcoal are left in markets
overnight unguarded as someone who steals charcoal can not drop
it until the owner takes it back from them. If only this was the
case for the hundreds of mobile phones and cars that go missing
every night in the UK.
Perhaps a superstitious mind does make sense