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Chief Chipepo Print E-mail
Written by Eric Davies   
Monday, 04 May 2009 08:54

In 1958 Chief Chipepo (Jack Magodi) together with the majority of his people moved to his new chiefdom in the Chipepo area (Gwembe District), where 29,000 of his people were relocated as a consequence of the building of the Kariba Dam and the imminent rise of Lake Kariba.

The move was controversial and preceded by violence and loss of life. Chief Chipepo was instrumental in negotiating a truce with the government of the time. At stake was the loss of fertile agricultural land and ancestral burial sites. One negotiated stipulation of the final agreement was the building of a secondary school adjacent to the new village. That's where I ended up 16 years later.

Chief Jack Magodi died in September of 1974 and was buried by his home in the new village of Chipepo.

I was the only 'European' to attend his funeral, and only then by a chance of fate, having been a resident in the country less than a month. My personal residence was in a state of flux. My temporary roommate was packing up to return to the U.K. and I was in the early stages of settling in.

We had a knock on the door early on a Friday evening. Two local men from the village informed us that Chief Chipepo had just died. One of them held two sticks, one for the chief's height and the other for the width of his shoulders. George was the school's shop teacher, and the request from the village elders was for him to build a coffin for the chief.

The two of us went off to the school and worked into the early hours of the morning putting together a coffin. George was the experienced carpenter and my father had been a mortician, so between the two of us we fashioned a crude but acceptable casket. The chief was buried according to custom before the sun came up.

Two weeks passed, George having returned to the U.K the week before. Early on a Saturday afternoon there was a knock on the door. I couldn't speak a word of Batonga and the two gentlemen at the door couldn't speak a word of English. Somehow they got it through to me that they wanted me to accompany them in their pickup truck. We proceeded to the village where I was welcomed as a guest for the funeral of Chief Jack Magodi.

What an experience. At the time I estimated the attendance at 2000+ people. I currently possess a Tonga funeral drum I bought at a mission in Siavonga. It looks like a peanut compared to the drum used at the funeral - it took four men to carry with a fifth to beat out a rhythm. It was a day of mourning, but the impression I came away with was one of celebration for the life of an honoured man. These were a very poor people, but for nearly 12 hours they kept a full bottle of Castle in my hand, all because I had helped someone else construct a coffin. It was the first time I encountered the generosity and inherent charity of the Zambian people.

Sometime near 2:00 A.M., I begged my chaperones to take me back to the compound. At the time people were still arriving, appearing out of the bush with no more than paraffin lamps to guide them. Overhead was an amazing site to a young expat new to the Zambezi Valley - stars overhead in a clear sky with three electrical storms scattered across the horizon, lightening leaping from storm to storm . . . . but I could barely stand up. Remaining any longer would have only resulted in personal embarrassment. Having admitted as such, I couldn't sleep a wink upon returning home. I laid awake hours wondering what a change my life had taken in such a few short weeks.