Founding Document

Birth of “Zambia Knowledge Bank” (ZANOBA)

Mwizenge S. Tembo
Bridgewater College, Box 74,
Bridgewater, VIRGINIA 22812
Tel # Home 703-828-4467
Office 703-828-5351
Fax # 703 – 828-5479
[email protected]

August 19, 1995.

Dear Frank,

BIRTH OF “Zambia Knowledge Bank (ZANOBA)”

My family’s recent visit to your home was simply fabulous. It was nice to see you and Gloria and the kids. I haven’t enjoyed or relaxed myself the way I did visiting and talking with you in years. I came away with the impression that we share a lot in common in terms thoughts, future aspirations and a desire to find meaning within our troubled uprooted immigrant lives. One of the most endearing and comforting realizations is that both of us regard our traditional village roots as a source of tremendous strength, pride, and inspiration.

As you may have deduced from our intense conversations over the two days, I have thought a great deal and have a lot to say about the Zambian society as a whole. I want to discuss our experiences and thoughts to day on how we can reclaim lost ground in the desire to establish confidence in our own culture. We did discuss the fact that our traditional Zambian knowledge in many areas was very valid and supported our parents, grand parents, and ancestors for a long time. But suddenly to day we Zambians find ourselves completely disoriented, unable to sustain many of the imported Western institutions, intimidated and harboring incredible inferiority complexes in almost all avenues of life. Why is this the case? How can we reclaim and rebuild confidence and pride in our own knowledge? We will have plenty of opportunities to discuss the source of the philosophy, ideological rationales, and other reasons for some of the ideas that I will discuss here. But in this document, I will try to cut out all diversions and stick to what I think should be the central objectives of what we will do and why.


We have all now reached the near apex of our lives. This is the time that we imagined we would be working in Zambia raising families, getting involved in community, and most importantly contributing some of the most significant ideas and activities in our country. None of this has happened. We came from a very strong and reliable traditional cultural background. We were taught Bemba, Nyanja, Kaonde, Lozi, the customs of our communities, the dances, the technology for agriculture that contributed to self reliance. Life in the village was one of happiness, fresh air, living with our relatives including grandparents, uncles, aunts, and there was plenty of wholesome natural foods.

We then struggled to go to school to be exposed to Western education with expectations of getting a good high status job and opening horizons for the future. We have now reached the apex of that education and life. Something went wrong. Zambian society is not working the way we thought it would. The woes and helpless floundering that our country is going though need no spelling out. We now see very clearly the strengths, weaknesses, short comings of both the Western society where we are living in and the Zambian traditional and urban society we grew up in. We have now come full circle. We realize that for Zambian people to be confident in order to realize a good quality life that takes advantage of modern contemporary technological improvements, we need to reclaim a strong indigenous or traditional foundation that would be identical to what we had experienced growing up in the village. The Japanese and Chinese are technologically advanced to day in areas of medicine, transportation, manufacturing, not because they threw out all their traditional values. But because they built on their traditional values, customs, and knowledge.

What Has To Be Done

What we need to do is form a new small non-profit voluntary organization with very specific limited objectives. Pardon me at this point if I seem a little defensive. We talked about this when I visited. In my life I have seen too many organizations both abroad and especially in Zambia that have failed. This is because many of them had bad unimaginative leadership, too many imaginary unrealistic objectives, they were not pragmatic, they had no real roots within the society, had no source of funds, too theoretical, involved too many people whose only desire was the high status of a high sounding position and had no real dreams or desire or life long commitment to achieve the objectives spelt out, too many workshops and resolutions, too many people thinking the membership was a good source of foreign exchange and income.

I propose that the main initially limited objective of the new non-profit voluntary organization be to document and validate an aspect(s) Zambian traditional culture. I totally agree with Ali Mazrui (1986) that one of the worst weaknesses of the African traditional society was the lack of the archival tradition. No one ever wrote and recorded anything down because it was handed down by oral traditional when people lived in one village together for their entire lives. Any civilization to day that is worth talking about has documentation as an indispensable central feature.

The documentation and validation of Zambian traditional culture will be in the areas of the Natural Sciences and Humanities and Social Sciences. You will notice that according to what I discussed with you, I am not calling Zambian traditional culture just simple customs and rituals to marriage, family, and village life. This is for the important reason that many of the life practices that seemed simple and according to modern educated people “primitive” were not simple at all. They were very sophisticated and required good knowledge about chemistry, physics, psychological and social theories about the natural environment and human behavior.

In the area of the Natural Sciences documentation could be in the following: In physics how houses were built, the sources and types of materials and their durability, transportation, building of rope suspension bridges over large streams and rivers, boat building, animal traps, fishing, various types of weapons and projectiles used in the household and for hunting. In Chemistry, medical and biological sciences documentation could be in such areas as medicinal plants and herbs, antidotes for snake bites and insect stings, brewing of beer and non-alcoholic beverages such as munkoyo, muthibi, zinduku, thobwa, iron smelting, human physiology, sexual and reproductive hormones, birth control, the growing of food crops, preservation and storage, wild foods, fruits, mushrooms and the technical knowledge that was involved in obtaining these foods, nutrition, dental hygiene.

Documentation in the areas of social sciences and humanities will require tremendous skill and patience. Westerners generally think of anything in this area done by non-Western people as primitive, undesirable, and beneath them. Mountains of negative literature has been written since two hundred years ago when the first Europeans arrived in Zambia. In this area documentation should cover marriage and family customs, traditional treatment of various diseases, raising of children and their socialization, folk tales, riddles, songs, dances, traditional names, religion, ceremonies and rituals including chisungu or cinamwali, kuomboka, and ncwala, the social and gender division of labor involved in production, processing, and preservation of food.

Of course one cannot document all of these at once because it is an immense task. Each one of us can choose one or a few areas in which we have an interest in. But the point to keep in mind is that it will be an on-going project with a life time commitment to working in and with rural Zambians. I hope you have a deep joy about being in and working with people in the villages of Zambia. This will not be a project where you can sit at Intercontinental Hotel or in Lusaka and direct things from there. I have done some research and documentation myself when I was at the Institute of African Studies. If done properly attending to minute detail, it is time consuming and but very enjoyable.

Organization and Location

I propose that the working team in this non-profit organization be very small and tight for a number of years for reasons I have mentioned before. We want to be pragmatic. If you have too many people involved at the beginning, the whole thing will bog down. I propose that each of us contact our home districts, i.e Luwingu, Kasama, Mpika, Lundazi. In that district, establish a small simple building which will be cheaply built. This will be the center for Documentation and Validation of Zambian Traditional Culture. (Zambia Knowledge Bank- ZANOBA) In Nyanja this would translate – Mwambo or Kulemba Mwambo wathu – “Writing down our customs” which has a very proud ring to it. What would be the equivalent in Bemba, Kaonde, Lozi, Tonga? In view of tribalism this may have to be rethought. This will be the depository for all printed documents and audio tapes made.

There will be a curator who will be a retired local School teacher, may be a local medical assistant or priest who will passionately believe in the objective of the project. These people will initially be volunteers just as all of us will be. The center initially may have to open only on weekends. I believe in this so much that I will be working on this just like a hobby except that I am more passionate about it. Each time an aspect of Zambian culture has been properly described, analyzed, and documented, it will be deposited in this building for safe keeping. The original copies of manuscripts will have to be kept is a fire proof vault. Copies of these important original documents or books will be open for consultation by local primary and secondary school students and teachers, churches, citizens, and even researchers from Lusaka and elsewhere. I was pleasantly surprised when I went home two years ago that eight young men in their early twenties, who had finished form five, sat with me to read the newspapers I had brought with from Lusaka. This scene would have been unheard of fifteen to twenty years ago. This si why this organization will be established at the ripe time. As much as possible this building is where the original manuscripts, raw data, questionnaires will be safely stored away.

You will notice that I have not mentioned many state of the art computers, floppy and compact disks, faxes, videos, cellular phones, and video cameras. I strongly suggest that we stick to printing our work in book form and may be audio tapes. These will be cheap and Zambian people can use and store them cheaply. If this succeeds, we will be told that we are stupid and primitive because we don’t use sophisticated computers or sophisticated gadgets. But resist all temptation and keep an eye on your objective. We will use limited modern technology. For example, a small computer with a basic word processing capability with one megabite of memory and a printer is all you would need at the beginning.


What will be our sources of money to run this organization? First and foremost it should be from ourselves. Again start small and modestly. At the beginning may be lease an unused building either donated or rented for a modest twenty dollars per month. We can obtain a lot of used or flee market supplies for paper, audio tape recorders, pens pencils, and may be a couple of bicycles. The advantage of this modesty is that we will really learn how to build a vital organization like this one from our own ingenuity and sweat. Chances of succeeding will also be greatly enhanced. At this point, it would be disastrous to think a four wheel drive land cruiser, state of the art modern building complete with air conditioning, secretaries, and half a dozen managers, directors, and cleaners or janitors. There just isn’t any capital.

Many years down the line we may be able to achieve these. Begging for money, or seeking funding from big organizations, UN, NGOs should be strictly avoided. As we had discussed, once you do that, then you are inviting other people to set the agenda which will be likely their own agenda and they will persuade you that you need a branch of this in every African rural district with headquarters in New York or London or Lusaka. Then they will send “experts” to advise us on what to do. I had many experiences with the experts when I was at the Institute. What the majority of them do really in the long run is create diversions so that you and I will never do what is really important for us.

By seeking some form of easy grant or funding, you also invite people and other government type bureaucrats and other nay Sayers who will say it won’t work unless you emulate how and what they have done somewhere or you have to tow a certain government policy. As far as I know this idea is so radical but simple that it will cause upheaval in many people’s minds Zambians included. Do not get me wrong. We can receive advice but I am just sick of people pontificating and telling you theoretically what is good or just discouraging and telling you something will never work. Some body may have told the European Atlantic slave traders that transporting human cargo from Africa to North America braving the seas and doing the unknown would never work. But it worked. Some body may have told Americans that going to the moon would not work. Zambians during the colonial days may have been told that Africans can never rule themselves as an independent country. But Zambia is independent and has done a lot of good things although there have been serious problems. Remember when I was telling you that the dangerous manenekela near Luangwa on the Great East Road was eliminated two years after independence? Stay away from negative people as much as possible. These are dream killers.

We could conduct fund raising drives perhaps by giving speeches about Zambia and Africa and donating the proceeds in honorariums to the organization. We could also conduct fund raising drives in the urban and rural districts themselves in Zambia. We could collect salaula from here and sell it in Zambia. Since this would be a non-profit organization, taxes, customs charges, transportation could be hopefully waived both here and in Zambia. May be a lawyer in Zambia could be convinced to volunteer or donate his services there. My lawyer, Ben Ngenda in Lusaka could help. You also have various contacts in many places both here and in Zambia who would be willing to help for a good cause. Some of the documents and audio tapes we will make could be sold in Zambia and abroad. This will be very unique original work. In case you have any doubts, both of us are highly skilled in writing, editing, describing, putting numbers together. This year I am taking piano lessons for the first time so that I can understand Western notations in music. We have all the skills we need if we get the right Zambians with the right attitude and experience. Now that the general idea of ZANOBA has been described, the most exciting part comes now. What could happen in the future? These are generally dreams that I have had for many many years.

Interest and Dreams

When you found an organization you need dreams. Some of them you will achieve in your life time. But many may be achieved by others including my children, your children, and millions of future Zambians. As you can imagine the list of dreams in long. The THREE things you should keep in mind are that this organization will succeed beyond your wildest expectations first, if you sweat and have personal sacrifice to make it work. Second, if we create so many ways for all of us to enjoy ourselves while working with people and for the organization. Third, if you have dreams about the ZANOBA future for these will be your guiding lights. You will notice that if you leave out any one of these three, chances of success are greatly diminished. For example, if you just sweat and sacrifice, then the work will become a thankless chore. If you just enjoy yourself, then the hard work that makes all organizations work will never be done. The organization will collapse. If you live by dreams alone, you will experience the frustration I have endured over so many years about being unable to do anything about my dreams.

1. The Zambia Knowledge Bank could eventually incorporate and provide much of the material in text books to be used in all schools.
2. The Organization could be a reliable and prestigious source for all materials about Zambian culture for colleges, research universities, and many others in Zambia and abroad.
3. To review the activities of the organization, those in America, Europe and elsewhere overseas could meet once a year with family in one location to have a working vacation for about three days. This could be a tremendous morale booster and could reduce some of the loneliness, home sickness and isolation many of us feel here abroad.
4. During all district agricultural shows, ZANOBA could sponsor a stand, traditional dance competitions, plays and theaters during the nights of the agricultural show. Villagers and schools could stage the plays.
5. The organization could eventually sponsor bus loads of rural pupils to travel to game parks, commercial farms, and urban land marks and factories. Rural young people are some of the most alienated to day.
6. The organization members in Zambia could organize trips once every few years during which we would meet in one district as guests of the local district ZANOBA. During the periods we could travel in groups of two or three to collect data in outlying rural areas. This would be very exciting and enjoyable for all of us. I actually enjoy the process of collecting data in the field first hand.
7. If we are successful, after many years we could write an autobiography of how this organization started. The proceeds could go to the organization.
8. The organization could eventually sponsor or atleast be responsible for writing reports about Zambians who have made significant national and international achievements.
9. ZANOBA could sponsor Zambians on expeditions may be to the source of the Nile or reaching the North or South Pole, or the first Zambian to reach Siberia.
10. The organization could spend a few years writing a text book of Sociology for African undergraduate students.
11. The organization could eventually publish a big dictionary of Zambian traditional names. I have already done research in the Eastern and Southern Provinces. This dictionary could be available at maternity wards in all hospitals in Zambia for Zambians to use to choose a Zambian name for their baby if they so wish.
12. The organization could eventually form or sponsor traditional Zambian dance groups that could periodically perform at the district office. There could be sister clubs in Zambia and abroad where ever members live.
13. Lastly, it would be thrilling if there was a branch of the organization in every district in Zambia to document and validate Zambian traditional culture. It may strategically be a very good idea even now to find someone who could have a branch in Gwembe Valley, Sesheke in the Western Province, Zambezi in North-Western Province.


If you have been looking for something that you can devote some of your energies to and fulfil some of your dreams, this may be what you have been waiting for. I feel already that if you agree to go ahead, this may fill some of the void and frustrations I have had especially since I left Zambia in 1989.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Mwizenge S. Tembo
CC. Vincent Musakanya
88 Lupton Avenue
Leeds LS9 6EE
West Yorkshire
ENGLAND Tel. 0113 2489803

P.S: This is the original letter of correspondence about ZANOBA (now ZANOBA) sent to Dr. Frank Chisela in CANADA where I and my family had visited him and his family in August 1995.

About the Author

The author obtained his B.A is Sociology and Psychology at University of Zambia in 1976, M.A, Ph. D. at Michigan State University in Sociology in 1987. He was a Lecturer and Research Fellow at the Institute of African Studies of the University of Zambia from 1977 to 1990. During this period, he conducted extensive research and field work in rural Zambia in Southern Africa particularly in the Eastern and Southern Provinces of the country. He is a citizen of the Southern African country of Zambia. He now lives in the US where he teaches sociology at Bridgewater College.