A Tribute to Bernard Mulopo Mulubwa of Milenge (1914 to 2016)
By Elias Munshya
Bernard Mulopo Mulubwa was born on May 13, 1914. He died on March 12, 2016. Friday, March 12, 2021, will be the fifth anniversary of his death. Here is how I experienced his life and legacy.
My father’s uncle was only a young man when, after the death of his sister, Blandinah Mwewa, he decided to take all of her children under his wings. Our Ushi family that had migrated from Milenge to Mokambo, Mufulira had to be resettled again to Chingola where the young Bernard Mulopo Mulubwa, fondly nicknamed Pompolyongo, was working as a miner at the bustling Nchanga Mine. At the time of Blandinah and her husband Chilufya’s resettlement from Milenge to Mokambo, Milenge was a colonial outpost under the district of Samfya. Mokambo, on the other hand, was a bustling little village straddling the border of Northern Rhodesia and Katanga; along the pedicle. As a link between the Copperbelt mining towns, Katanga’s mining settlements, and Luapula – Mokambo was more like a boiling pot of all pedicle peoples and beyond – the Ushis, Lalas, Lambas, Tetelas, the Ba Sanga, Kaondes, and the Lundas. The Ushi people are, by nature, quite immigratory. Luapula Province comprises fewer Ushis than are spread across the Congolese pedicle and the Zambian urban areas such as the Copperbelt and Lusaka.
According to legend, the Ushi peoples of Luapula are part of the Luba peoples who migrated into modern-day Zambia in the 14th Century. Some stories put this migration to have occurred between the 16th and 17th Century. As early settlers of the Luapula Valley, their honeymoon of the new lands was only disturbed by King Kazembe’s Lunda warriors’ intruding forces in later centuries. Even though the Lunda invaded the Luba lands of the Luapula valley, it appears like the Lundas adopted most Luba/Ushi customs, embraced the Aushi/Bemba language for themselves and continued to respect the Makumba shrines of the Aushi peoples.
When his sister’s children joined him in Chingola, Pompolyongo helped them find jobs in the mines, educated others, and opened the doors for all of them.
Chingola now had become our family’s new home. Most of my father’s siblings planted themselves there. My father worked briefly as a miner and then went on to train as a teacher. His siblings stayed on in Chingola, running mostly salaula businesses at Chiwempala Market for decades. Some remnants of that makwebo remain to this day, even if it is mostly fitenges. The Why Not If Not hospitality and entertainment business run by one of Pompolyongo’s grandchildren at Chiwempala and elsewhere appears to be the only business to have departed from the initial merchant and salaula businesses.
After working as a miner, Pompolyongo decided to retire to Milenge in the 1980s. President Kenneth Kaunda, at that time, was encouraging retirees to go back to the village. And Pompolyongo heeded the call. He left the nieces and nephews and sons and daughters in mostly Chingola and Katanga’s urban areas and left for Luapula.
Within months of resettling in Mansa, the part of which would soon be called Milenge District, he lost almost all of his household goods in a mysterious fire. We still don’t know how that happened. A mucona had probably been given a fitting village welcome, obviously. And fire it was.
But unfazed by the fire and the loss, Pompolyongo continued on becoming the family patriarch he always was. He planted himself again and became the dependable villager in the land of his ancestors. His childhood friend was the reigning Chieftainess Sokontwe of the Ushi people. He was well known and well-liked ku musumba. He narrated a story of how he went to visit his old friend to be stopped by kapasos, only for the Chieftainess to warmly bid him to come Ku musumba, much to the embarrassment of the kapasos.
On one of their visits back to Chingola in the 1980s, he survived a terrible accident, leading to losing his teeth and broken limbs. With his speech now impaired, Pompolyongo continued to be a wonder to listen to. And he regularly featured as the arbitrator of family disputes in Chingola and beyond.
I have fond memories of Pompolyongo. At one time, in blessing me and several others, he would say ule enda, nge fyenda akasuba mu mulu (may your life be as blessed as the sun in the sky). To this day, I do remember those words. And the cold sun of Alberta never seems to freeze the impact of those words in the path of my mind. And neither can the hot African sun melt this blessing. Whether in Alberta or Zambia, the sun seems to obey these words of one great Pompolyongo.
In the late 1990s, my brother got tired of town life and decided to relocate to Milenge. He arrived at Pompolyongo’s homestead and was warmly welcomed. Much like his grandfather, Chilufya settled in very well and remained under the traditional protective custody of Pompolyongo. Chilufya gave his youthful energy to helping shape Milenge in his own way.
In 2016, Pompolyongo returned to visit his niece (my mayo senge) in Chingola. Moved seemingly by a premonition of his own death, it seemed he was under a burden to re-unite with his niece in Chingola for the last time. In keeping with Ushi tradition that elevates one’s nephews and nieces over sons and daughters – Pompolyongo was drawn to Chingola. He died shortly after an illness and was buried at Chingola’s town cemetery. A true hero not only to his biological children but also to countless nieces and nephews he had brought up as his own – and countless grandchildren.
The patriarch, and cover of the family, has been gone for five years now. He would joke quite frequently that he was the reason why none of his sister’s children died before their time. Just how he “protected” them is left to our legendary imagination, with the hope that the memory of this patriarch will make all of us better people for our family and the Zambia he loved.
Elias Munshya can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org