Such Peculiar Names - Interest in Names

Article excerpt

My interest in the meaning of Zambian traditional names started in the 1950s, when I was very young. As a six-year-old I lived with my maternal grandfather in Chipewa (also known as Chupu) village. My grandfather was a tall, strong man. He woke up very early and left at dawn, always carrying an ax on his shoulder, to work in his field. He grew enough food to help feed more than fifteen children and grandchildren at the time. His name was Mateyo Kabinda, but he was generally known by his "name of joking," Mchawa, which means "tall and slender."

My grandmother was Esitere Mwaza, also known as Nya Mwaza (the prefix "Nya" is used among the Tumbika as a respectful way to address a woman). She always slept later than my grandfather so she could wait for us children to awaken. Then she fed the nkhunda (domestic pigeons), let the chickens out, and prepared food to be taken to grandfather. We walked with her to the field and would have to cross three small creeks before we arrived. At the field, she built a fire in the mphungu, a small grass-roof structure that was a temporary shelter during the growing season. After cooking some breakfast or warming any leftovers from the previous night, she joined my grandfather, who had been tilling the field for hours.

I thought their field was very big. One day I asked one of those childish questions that my grandparents have talked about with bemusement ever since: "Grandpa, do you use a tractor to till your field?"

Both grandparents laughed with amusement. With obvious pride they replied: "We use a hoe with our bare hands to till the land so that you can eat until your stomach is full."

Those formative years left an indelible mark on my life. The names of close relatives and elders in my village--Mchawa, Nya Mwaza, Ngaramira, Mwendapole, Kunotha, Anya Kudambo, and many others--forever hold special meaning for me. …