Humans of Zambezi: Chiwala Katakana

Chiwala Katamuna


“We are here to love each other.”

Chiwala Katamuna is infinitely polite. When asked a question—any question—he responds with a “Yes, please,” before offering his measured, thoughtful response. For every question asked, he has two of his own, and he is intensely curious about the United States.

How do you marry? What do you do with your children? How do you build houses? What do you grow? And, most importantly, he wonders, would he find in the states pills to ease the ache in his sore hip, adding that he fell on slippery ground two weeks ago, and the pain is consuming.

At 83, Chiwala’s small, thin, stooped frame belies the energy he radiates in conversation. In his long life, he has traveled about his country, going to school, working in the mines, and, most devotedly, helping his beloved Zambia.

Chiwala’s father died when he was 4 or 5, he can’t quite recall, and his mom grew cassava root and groundnuts to support her three children. Chiwala herded cattle and “hooked” fish. His small village had no school, so at 20, he left for Chitokoloki where he learned English and later took classes on agriculture before being trained as a veterinary assistant. Like many jobs at the time, Chiwala says, the pay was poor, and he was unhappy.

In search of better wages, Chiwala headed for the copper mines where “life was very cheap” due to government stores. He began as a miner where he worked to know everything, he says. “Mine workers must be clever, especially when drilling. There is danger under the ground.” His fluency in English and his dedicated work ethic drew the attention of his Californian boss, and Chiwala became a supervisor.

After three years in the mines, Chiwala was appointed as a justice to the local court in Mize, a small village across the river from Zambezi, where he heard civil complaints. Most of the cases he decided involved financial or domestic disputes. For example, according to custom, if a wife dies, the husband must pay her family with cash or a cow. “She was working for the husband,” Chiwala says, and similar to a wife getting a pension from her husband’s employer should he die, the wife’s family is entitled to compensation.

Around this time, Chiwala’s interest in politics intensified. In the early 1960s, Chiwala was a freedom fighter for Zambian independence from Great Britain; he traveled throughout the area to convince villagers that Zambia’s time for self-rule had come. Later, he was elected to the town council in Zambezi, visiting villages in the surrounding Balavale District to hear their concerns. Some needed a borehole for water; others needed a school.

Even today, his interest in politics remains strong. He serves as district chairman for the liberal United National Development Party, which late last year lost a highly contested, razor-thin election to the Patriotic Front Party. Chiwala is no fan of the current president.

On this warm May day, Chiwala wears a shirt decorated with a giant eagle and the colors of the Zambian flag—red, green, black, and orange. “The eagle is a symbol of freedom, that we can fly and decide for ourselves what we want,” he says. “Even now, I am a freedom fighter.”

Chiwala and his wife have been married for 57 years and raised nine children. Aside from getting their educations, he says, he wanted his children to know that loving relationships should be life’s focus.

“We are here to share ideas. We are here to love each other,” he says. “Love is most important in life.

“You can’t have anything without love.”



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2 Responses to Humans of Zambezi: Chiwala Katakana

  1. Blair Zykan says:

    Hello Zambezi adventurers,

    After a week of graduation activities (Elly’s younger sister JJ), and related family visits – I had a chance to catch up on the recent blog posts. Such fun to read everyone’s reflections, home stays, and adventures/mis-adventures. Joseph’s post does bring new meaning to the idea of building bridges through international travel. And, yes, the Leatherman is one of man’s best inventions.

    Wanted to add that I’m particularly enjoying the Humans in Zambezi posts. I’m sure it’s inspiring to spend time with people like Chiwala who were integral to Zambia gaining independence. And, as important as that was, he speaks to his focus on relationships, ideas, education and love being life’s focus. Wise perspective indeed.

    Everyone, please give Elly a group hug for me and her family back home. Elly, the sunset pic over the river (from one of the early posts) is frame worthy. Can’t wait to see more when you get back.


    Elly’s Dad

  2. Michele Ahearn says:

    So call me a BIG fan of each of you. I am so thankful, proud, inspired, humbled, educated, excited and more when reading your entries. I am so thankful for the visions you create when writing – you are all AMAZING at sharing. While I think of Kelen each day, I am so bless to be able to see her through your words. You are all rock stars with love, compassion and courage. From all your experiences so far, (the leatherman, crossing the bridge or the river, attending church, teaching or just reaching your hand out to another) or those yet to come – each of you are God with skin.

    My prayers of joy and thanksgiving are with you each day. God continues to cover you with His love and guidance.

    Kel’s Mom

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