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Monday, 4 May 2015

Insoselo na Mapinda: Ancient Bemba Wisdom for Modern Living


By Andrew Mulenga

“Cimbwi pakulila pali uko ashintilile amatako” loosely translated as “When the hyena howls, his buttocks are firmly planted against something”, meaning “When someone insists on doing something unreasonable, risky or out of character, he is sure of support from some quarter that you might not be aware of”. That is just one of over 600 Bemba sayings and proverbs that have been translated into English and published in Insoselo na Mapinda: Ancient Bemba Wisdom for Modern Living a 270-page book co-authored by Sampa Kangwa-Wilkie and Mulenga Kapwepwe.

Officially launched last Thursday at the Pamodzi Hotel in Lusaka in an event that featured a “Special lecture on Language, Culture & Identity” by paramount chief of the Bemba people Chitimukulu Henry Sosala Manga Kanyanta II, the book is now available in leading bookstores countrywide.

The forword is written by celebrated Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong'o who points out the importance of proverbs and suggests that: “The proverb has three crucial stages in the cognitive process: observation, assessment and conclusion”. He describes the new book as a “timely intervention in the recovery of the basis of our being” as Africans.

The book is available in paperback as well as
the slightly pricier hard cover version
Mulanga bantu alapalama (One who teaches people comes near to them). One can only come near them through their languages. The missionaries understood this and translated the bible into African languages so that their messages could reach the people,” writes wa Thiong'o citing a Bemba proverb.

“The educated African middleclass must understand this. This book helps us do that: come closer to the Bemba speaking peoples but also learn from the wisdom, ethics, and philosophy carried in their proverbs,” he continues.

Wa Thiong'o’s mentioning of missionaries and translation brings to mind how indeed the bible has been translated many times but still holds its substance.

But conversely, translation is no easy undertaking, certain elements of narratives are often lost in translation, as such it is every so often amusing to listen to preachers arguing over interpretations of scripture often quoting the Greek or Latin to sound more sanctified to their flock or lawyers doing the same to clarify their points if not to sound more learned.
On the other hand, an honest sense of modesty and gratitude resonates from the Sampa-Wilkie and Kapwepwe in the first few pages.

“[…] patterns of thought, expression and their capture are not always easily transferable between languages. While some proverbs were easy to translate, others were difficult, and some near impossible, often falling apart and were lost in translation”, submit the two authors “Where the literal translation fails to make sense, it is not bad English”.
They propose that the purpose of publishing the proverbs is to share “knowledge and wisdom”, to use them as “means of education, documentation and communication”, they are for “character building” as well as “reason and rhyme”, “science and intuition” as well as “living and learning”.

That light, the book is divided into 34 sections that tentatively serve as chapters with titles that read anything from “Marriage” to “Good health,” from “Conduct” and “Leadership” to “Poverty and self-reliance”.

In structure, the proverbs vary in length, particularly the extent of the narrative, you have the shorter and cheekier ones such as “Mputi isula taileka -- The anus that farts never stops”, meaning “bad habits are hard to stop” to the longer and more elaborate ones adapted from folk lore for instance “Ilyashi lisuma lyalalike cimbwe pa chishala” – Good news made the hyena spend  the night on a rubbish heap”,  which references a fable where the hyena heard an angry mother threaten to throw a naughty child on the village rubbish heap. Believing in the words and waiting in anticipation, the hyena “… fell asleep on the rubbish heap, a place he would never think of sleeping” and the moral of the proverb is therefore “Do not believe everything you hear, especially if it sounds too good to be true – you may be led to do things you would not normally do”.

Jointly the authors have collected over 3,000 proverbs, they only managed to cram just over 600 in the book and are therefore hinting towards the project as a work in progress, as such one feels they might want to include illustrations in the subsequent volumes as well as the reprints. The hyena proverb mentioned here for instance is literally hungry for an illustration. It is an easy reading book, so just about 10 illustrations would have perhaps done the layout good.

Not only do illustrations help break text monotony but they are good for visually mapping content in this kind of publication, but also assuming the book is not only targeted at adults and intends to introduce a younger demographic to the proverbs as well as encourage a reading culture, drawings would have gone well, children enjoy them.

Still on design, as sensible as the cover might be, it was designed by acclaimed Zimbabwean filmmaker and graphic designer Chaz Maviyane-Davies, who has had his fair share of international applause, it is not a matter of patriotism, but why not give the opportunity to a Zambian, there are many world class artists in Zambia that are hungry for international exposure on a book cover, authors such as Andrew Sardanis have noted this and have used local talent for all their books.

The book also lacks key components in the form of a brief history of the Bemba, like the many peoples that inhabit Zambia today, their origins are shrouded in fascinating mystery, it would have made fun reading to throw in a page, the legend of the Bemba migrations would actually read like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings, complete with a version of the character Gandalf in the name of Luchele Nganga also known as “The light envoy”or “The white wizard” whom legend says accompanied the Bemba during the Luba-Lunda migrations and according to one generally held belief left a footprint on a rock somewhere in Northern Zambia.

The book also could have done with a short glossary of some key words, nevertheless as much as a few words might be difficult to read for beginners, it is fun and at times even rib-tickling albeit the messages are at times grave. As for pronunciations that should not really bother you, if Ngugi wa Thiongo, a Kenyan can quote Bemba, anyone can.
The book is published by UKUSEFYA Words, a newly established publishing house founded by Sampa-Wilkie who is calling upon those proficient in proverbs from other Zambian languages to come forth and have them published as a celebration of the country’s diverse and rich cultural heritage.

Currently the book is available in paperback and the slightly pricier hard cover edition it is also available for purchase from the publishers’ website for doorstep delivery worldwide.
Of course Sampa-Wilkie and Kapwepwe are not the first to publish a book containing Bemba proverbs and they rightfully acknowledge this fact in a bibliography in which they make mention of The White Fathers Bemba-English dictionary, Bemba Oral Traditions (Part 2) by Edouard Labrecque, Icibemba cakwa Chitimukulu by Louis Oger WF as well as a text by Kevin B. Maxwell.

Title - “Insoselo na Mapinda -Ancient Wisdom for Modern Living”
Author (s) – Sampa Kangwa-Wilkie and Mulenga Mpundu Kapwepwe
Publishers – Ukusefya Words
Pages- 270 Pages
Price- K250.00 (Hard Cover) and K170.00 (Paper Back)

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  1. Where can i get this book "Insoselo na Mapinda"

  2. Dear Andrew, thank you very much the insightful review. Where can I order the book or books in bemba in general online? Best regards, Kambla

  3. Bemba is very rich. Lets preserve the nice proverbs

  4. lets put zambian languege on map ilove amapinda

  5. I'm search insoselo ya kuti akanwa kansele what it means

  6. Kolwe alieka tata ngoso pabwingi meaning what

  7. Last year was anything no one expected not even my self o wasn't expecting to launch a new bemba proverb: "umwaume wafiko afwa umushimbe."

  8. Last year was anything no one expected not even my self o wasn't expecting to launch a new bemba proverb: "umwaume wafiko afwa umushimbe."