Jean-Philippe and I spent more time in Chipaika than we had thought. But we could not have done otherwise. I had to greet the whole village and pay homage to the village headman. Jean-Philippe accompanied me to all the places and took a lot of photographs. He captured every smiling person he saw. He even wanted to go and photograph my cousin’s newly born baby. I told him that was impossible because in Tonga culture men are not allowed to see or touch someone’s bonda.
“I thought bonya was a fish,” Jean-Philippe said, failing to hide his surprise.
“I said bonda; not bonya. Bonda is a newly born baby. But in Tongaland, the young usipa is also called bonda.”
When we got back to my uncle’s house, my uncle asked me if Jean-Philippe was not hoodwinking them because, in all his life, he had never seen a camera that could take pictures without someone having to change film rolls. I explained that film cameras were almost out of fashion. We are in a digital age, I said.
I explained to Jean-Philippe my uncle’s doubts about his camera. He took out his camera and ambled to where my uncle sat. He switched it on and left it to auto-scroll from photo to photo.
“He is right,” my uncle said, beckoning the young boys and girls to attend the photo viewing session.
In no time Jean-Philippe and my uncle were engulfed in a crowd of children, each fighting for the best viewing position. I asked Jean-Philippe to switch off the camera so that the children could disperse. They did. I bid my uncle goodbye because we wanted to drive back while it there was still day light. He called his wife, my aunt. She asked us to get into uncle’s house for a bite. I told Jean-Philippe.
“But I am not hungry,” he protested.
“That’s culturally arrogant. A visitor is always hungry.”
Jean-Philippe did not say anything. He followed me and my uncle into the house. I took the water basin and asked my uncle to wash his hands. I then passed the water basin to Jean-Philippe.
“Wow!” Jean-Philippe exclaimed when lids were removed from the dishes, “This must be a Christmas party!”
“Welcome home,” I said.
“And do you call this nkhuku?”
“Nyoli is Chipiyu?”
“No. Nyoli is nkhuku. A young female one is called msoti; a layer is nyakhutu; the cockerel is tambala.”
Jean-Philippe shook his head. When we finished eating, I asked my uncle to allow us to leave. He accepted, but asked to come back soonest because politicians were grabbing the best land at Chipaika. We drove back to Chombi on our way back to Chinthechi.
On the way, Jean-Philippe kept remarking how beautiful the land was and asked why there was no major development in the area. Chipaika had no hospital, no secondary school, nothing tangible to point at. He asked me if ever the Chipaika area had had any parliamentary representative. I did not answer.
“You know, elsewhere, this area should have been using gravity-fed water from one of the surrounding mountain ranges,” he said.
“Sometime back, one government minister, Afawaka George Kandawire, mobilised people from all over his constituency to dig trenches from the Bungulu Mountain through Sanga to Mdyaka, near the Chinthechi lagoon. He built water kiosks all the way. But before he could finish the project, he was fired.”
“Someone reported him to the then president, Dr Kamuzu Banda, that he was aspiring to be president.”