Craft and Ingenuity in Zambia

I am lucky enough to be on an email forum of Zambians in California. I found my way onto it through Vukani Nyirenda. Last week someone on the forum emailed out this brilliant picture.

This generated a lot of discussion. One of the responses that came in was from Victor Mwaba who describes himself as a thirty something father of two young girls, husband of one wife, who was born and completed high school in Zambia, but went to college and now works as an engineer in the US.

I am reproducing his response with his permission below.

Victor said … “I must say I find this picture quite mesmerizing because it brings a profound sense of nostalgia with it. I can relate to the subject because I used to be quite a craftsman when I was little.

A cousin of mine from the village taught me how to knit fishing nets. This process first involves reinforcing/twisting (ukupila) the polythene mealie-meal sack fibres with which you make the net. I would put a few strands of this fibre between my shin and my hand, row it down my shin, and let the fibres twist on themselves upon release, making a very very strong cord. Then I would also make big strong nets to put on soccer goal posts and bar made out of bamboos. This prevented a lot of arguments as to whether someone scored, or not.

I went onto making badminton racquets with the same ‘reinforced’ fibre. Get some strong thick wires and pieces of wood and the fibre; I have a raquet! For the badminton shuttle, I would get the stem of a cob of maize (umuseba) and shape it smooth appropriately on one end. Then get chicken or duck feathers and glue them to the maize cob stem; you have a perfectly flying shuttle. Of course the badminton net would be made with two bamboo sticks on two sides and the reinforced fibre net in the middle.

With this much fun, lets just say mom used to force us to go and eat nshima (The Zambian corn meal staple), else we would play all day long. Nintendo what? Wii? Video games were for the top 1%. 99% of us just figured out how to have fun blissfully with whatever material we could lay our hands on.The good ol’ days.”

Thanks Victor (pictured below) for letting me post that – it is no wonder you became an engineer it was in you from a very young age.

Victor Mwaba

10 responses to “Craft and Ingenuity in Zambia

  1. Big brother, Maurice, made nets like so but never twisted his own twine. However, ladies please note and remember me when you try it, hair removal is a side effect!

  2. You could be onto something there John! Patent it quickly. When this came up for discussion someone here was also telling of how they used to make their own football to play on the streets of Athy, and use sods of earth as goalposts – becoming very indignant when a car would be driven down the road and they’d have to move the goalposts (temporarily)…..

  3. Is Athy the true home of Rugby? When they failed miserably in making the ball round they could only go forward by picking it up and running with it.

  4. Come to think of it, a sod of earth would have done just as well.

  5. OR! A few well trained dung-beetles? Way past my bed-time and it shows!

  6. From rugby to well trained dung beetles! There’s a tale to be told lurking in there.

  7. But seriously. What if evolution went into reverse – a fast rewind and start again. That I would like to see.

  8. You looking to head back to the sea John? To the days before we slithered out of it? Not sure I’d like that having felt the temperature of the ocean here – if I was on Zanzibar perhaps.

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