Should Zambian Languages be Taught in Schools?

January 16, 2014

Who among 13 million Zambians today will land the best job in Lusaka, Kitwe, Johannesburg in South Africa, in London in UK, Tokyo in Japan, or the United Nation in New York because they are fluent in Bemba, Nyanja, Tonga, or Lozi and dozens of other Zambian languages? The answer is no one. In introducing compulsory learning of Zambians languages in schools, is  the Ministry of Education wasting time and money? Will this policy encourage and create a resurgence of separatism, disunity,  and tribalism which the founders of Zambia tried hard to eliminate?  After all, a Zambian will communicate with more people in Zambia and the global world if they concentrate on knowing to read and speak English well as the Zambian official language. These arguments have been very common since independence in 1964. This article discusses some of the advantages of learning Zambian languages that many Zambians may not have been previously aware of. Some of the major reasons and advantages of  being bilingual and multilingual are very important in today’s world in spite globalization.

Because of all the knowledge, appreciating history, personal experiences from the village in Zambia to the United States, research, reading so much information and teaching some of it for the last 30 years, I have concluded that we Zambians, from the Ministry of Education Grade One  to grade 12 to all Universities in Zambia, we are teaching the wrong or distorted history to ourselves about ourselves. Our history as Zambians started  a long time ago from two hundred thousand years ago when we were the first humans in East Africa and Ethiopia. We spread all over the world. The evidence of us having been all over the world is all over the world right now. We just need to have the courage and conviction to find it and interpret it to the world. Europeans used to and have successfully blocked this knowledge but the internet will open the flood gate.

After early humans lived and migrated in small bands and communities for thousands of years, We Zambians and Africans created the Egyptian civilization. The arguments as to whether Egypt had white or black people may be irrelevant and it is a deliberate distraction, mifulungenye (Bemba),  msokonezo(Nyanja) kutangwaniska and kujalizgha (Tumbuka), or obfuscation that Europeans cherish which they introduced to justify the beginning of the Atlantic Slave Trade and later European colonialism in Africa. Europeans love to inject race into everything with whites always being superior somehow. African Egyptians in the north were olive skinned and those further south towards the equator were darker skinned.

The Egyptian civilization occurred for 2,010 or more than two thousand years from 3100 B.C.E to 1090 B.C.E. This was about 760 years before the ancient Greeks. The great Ancient Egyptian Civilization which African established was 2,460 years before the very young European Industrial Revolution of the 1700s and 1800s. The 1090 B.C.E to 2013 is 3, 013 years ago. Dr. Chisanga Siame’s article opened my eyes to the fact that using linguistic analysis known as  philology, etymology, and then the morphology, phonology, semantics and syntax of language you can trace “Siame” Namwanga Zambian name to the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt three thousand years ago. Zambian languages are very important as we Africans have used the Niger-Congo Bantu languages going back thousands of years.

Introducing Zambian languages will help us understand our real wider history in the origin of human civilization as our 72 tribes are part of the earlier African civilization going back thousands of years. The deeper meanings in traditional Zambian languages  in  Bemba, Nyanja, ChiChewa, Tonga, and Lozi have buried within them our true history going back perhaps to two hundred thousand years ago.

The learning, knowledge of and deeper proficiency in Zambian languages among Zambians also improves and widens our knowledge or world view which is known as cognition in psychology. For example, among the Nyanja or ChiChewa speaking people in the Eastern Province they have more than a dozen words to describe maize, mealie-meal and nshima-related terms. Because the Lozi in the Zambezi flood plain are a fishing culture, they probably have dozens of words related to fishing and fish related food. The Tonga people have a cattle raising culture. They probably have dozens of terms that are cattle-related. English may have no equivalent terms from these Zambian languages which limits cognition. Zambian languages are not just simple words for which we should create English equivalents, but reflect a much deeper epistemology and world view which may provide an advantage in the contemporary global world. For example I argue the nshima diet among 13 million Zambians may help to reduce obesity and gaining weight which is fast becoming a health epidemic. I discuss this in this article.

Because Zambian languages are what we speak as babies and children in families, this is why they are called mother tongues. They play a special role in our lives as they reinforce and express a certain emotional intimacy among Zambian families. My speaking Tumbuka expresses my deep connection to my mother, father, siblings, and kinship. These languages reinforce very important bonds when we are children and as adults.

Finally, speaking and understanding Zambian languages creates and reinforces national unity and patriotism. There is nothing as heartwarming when as a Zambian you are away from home for many years may be living in Tokyo, London, New York or Russia. When you meet a Zambian you experience a special joy whether they speak Bemba, Nyanja, Tonga, Lozi, Lunda or Kaonde. Although we would communicate in English if we don’t know each other’s’ traditional languages, we often use the much more intimate town lingua franca such as town Nyanja or Bemba, Lozi, or Tonga to express our national unity and patriotism. These are some of the factors why implementing compulsory teaching of Zambian languages in schools is the best decision the Ministry of Education has made.