By Elias Munshya
In Muka Muchona, legendary Zambian singer and musician Peter Tsotsi Juma paints a picture of a woman in the village whose husband has temporarily left her to look for greener pastures in the mining towns. “Ama chona” is a term used to describe a phenomenon after the World Wars of village dwellers who left the villages to work in the mines. They would leave their spouses and children and would return to the village sporadically to visit. In some instances, the “machonas” would return to the villages to take the spouses they left to join them in towns. Being a “muka muchona” meant that these women would have to live without a husband for long periods. In the villages – this status was frowned upon. In some cases, they were subjects of great ridicule. The gossip going around the villages was unbearable – why hasn’t the muchona returned for the wife? Muka Muchona’s husband has probably left her. What is muka muchona up to? How could she survive without companionship?
In the song, Juma narrates how a certain man in the village tries to lure Muka Muchona. He tells muka muchona that shileka nkupe, umulume obe taka bwele kukalale (let me marry you as your muchona husband will not return to marry you). “Let me marry you since your husband is just wasting your time.” Your muchona husband “is comfortably married in town while you are here suffering, lonely, and having no companionship.” To this proposal, Muka Chona answers the gentleman and declines the advances. She shoots back and says, “I will not get married to someone else”. She continues, naku lalole abena myandi (I will faithfully wait for my muchona husband and will not entertain any advances from men in this village). She continues to say takuli ico ndeculila mwebantu (there is no reason why I should be put under pressure and suffer by entertaining another man).
The village man takes his proposal a notch higher. This time, he comes back by claiming that he does not sleep at night because of her, and his heart ulatutuma (the heart shakes vigorously with the love he has for the muka muchona). He then continues to try to woo her. He claims that muka muchona has a lovely shape and figure like icibimbi (a crush or pumpkin popular among Lalas, Ushis and other pedicle peoples). With that figure, Mr Village Man cannot just hold himself. He directly now asks to be invited to muka muchona’s house. He exclaims, icungulo ndeisa kumobe, njikate kuli cisasa (let me come to your house in the evening so that I can play with your waist beads). Cisasa, is a well-crafted beads worn by women around their waist. It is one of a few items in much of traditional Zambia regarded as erotic and sexually stimulating. Even with this, Muka Muchona rebuff’s Mr Village Man’s advances. She answers, “you will not have me. I cannot even be wooed by your great dressing or by anything else”. “Being a muka muchona is not a disease and one day my muchona husband will return back to me”, she claims. She stands her ground. While she longs for her husband, she wants to remain faithful to him no matter where he is. She then tells the Village Man, shikulu nangu mule kumbwa ama figure yandi, muleicusha fye. Yaba nomwine (Mr Man, even if you admire my figure, you are just troubling yourself. This beautiful body has an owner, the muchona who currently lives in town. He will be back soon for it!).
While Muka Muchona depicts a village young woman, a muka muchona who stands her ground against the onslaught of potential village suitors, in P.K Chishala’s Na Musonda, the opposite seems to happen. Na Musonda is a village woman just like muka muchona. It could as well be that Na Musonda may have been a muka muchona in the village, and Shi Musonda could also have been a muchona. But anyway, Shi Musonda returns to the village to marry Na Musonda to take her to town. Before she leaves, the mother sits down with Na Musonda to give her some advice and traditional marriage lessons. She is supposed to be faithful to her husband. She is not to lust after other things. She is not supposed to be overtaken by urban temptations.
Once she reaches Kitwe, however, Na Musonda is overtaken by urban temptations. Coveting after a good piece of steak, she goes to a butchery. There at the butchery, she finds Mr Tembo at the counter. Before we know it – Na Musonda and Mr Tembo strike an illicit relationship. Whereas Muka Muchona stood against temptations in Peter Juma’s song, Na Musonda in PK Chishala’s song falls for the temptation and begins the affair.
If women are depicted as weak in popular folk culture, Peter Tsotsi Juma seems to paint a very different picture – a picture of a powerful woman who, despite her status as a muka muchona, stands her ground. Of course, this is not true with Na Musonda.
Further, the two songs show the different approaches that both Chishala and Juma take regarding men’s role in trying to woo these women. In Muka Muchona, the man tries to woo muka muchona with good language – he first tells her that her husband is very far, he will not return for her, she is beautiful, she has a nice figure, and when all this does not work, the man then goes for the jugular – let me come to your house so that I can play with your cisasa. Let me come to your house to have sex with you. The man is even willing to be “arrested” or “jailed” for the love he has for the muka muchona.
Mr Tembo’s words in Na Musonda are similar to the ones used by Mr Village Man in Muka Muchona. But Mr Tembo uses something extra – the incessant supply of good meats at no cost to Na Musonda. Further, “bayamba noku pingana uku pana” (they even begin arranging to get married) is similar to what Mr Village Man is telling muka muchona; let’s get married.
Questions abound about what could have happened had Mr Village Man gotten his way with Muka Muchona. Could it have ended like Tembo and Na Musonda, where Tembo refuses responsibility and rejects Na Musonda after she poisons her husband? For sure, these are questions that Juma leaves with us.
Muka Muchona and Na Musonda leave us with further questions. What is responsible for chastity? Is it where one lives? Muka Muchona stood firm in the village. However, Na Musonda, a village girl, got confused by town life’s lures and gave in to start an illicit affair. PK Chishala, though in his moralising in Na Musonda, appears to frown upon the machonas going back to the village to marry and bring spouses in town. He is of the idea that “kupila fye apo wikele”. Nevertheless, PK Chishala, perhaps in Na Musonda, should have known that there is a muka muchona who stands her ground. Chishala thinks that no matter how a village woman is faithful, she can do a Na Musonda once she comes to town.
The literary and lyrical genius of Kalindula music and the stories it told in the olden days will remain relevant to our society for some time to come. We probably need more time to listen and analyse these songs. Though, be it Tembo or Village Man in both Na Musonda and Muka Muchona, the role of the men deserves an analysis of its own.
Elias Munshya can be reached at email@example.com.
Muka Muchona by Peter Tsotsi Juma