A few kilometers out of town people carried everything you can imagine. A stack of firewood, one guy with dozens of bright crimson pin wheels twirling in each hand.
“These people are coming back from the market. They have been selling.”
They’re Chewa, originally from Congo via Zambia, and among the longest settled Malawian tribes. Portugese contact with the Chechwa came as early as 1608, with evidence of the first Chechwa kingdom just before the 1492 voyage of Columbus.
Everlasting launched into a goat lecture: They should be tied so as not to eat the maize. Sometimes you cannot see where the goat is tied because the rope is so long. But sometimes the rope is gone away.
If you see a forest, Everlasting said, it is probably a cemetery. Village people cannot use cemetery land for growing, so, sensibly, they choose stands of forest for their burial grounds.
On a flagpole the national flag hung limp.
“The wind is not blowing so it is closed,” Everlasting explained helpfully. A red sun rises from the top of three bands across the flag, and Everlasting says it reflects fire.
“The national team when they have done well we call them the Flames. When they have not, well, then it is silent.”
When Everlasting got particularly involved in his stories, he’d punctuate his remarks with the car horn. Talkin’ and tappin’ and tootin’.
The lobola, or bride price, Everlasting says, is not paid here. A boy goes to a girl’s side and settles there. When they are blessed with children and they grow up to get married, the father cannot say no. That issue is referred to the boy’s uncle.
So as an uncle, Everlasting says, I must think of character – if the boy’s family lives by fighting, for example. I might say no.
If we do not know the family well we can hire a spy to go and look at that family. The spy might test the boy to see if he will tell a lie. It maybe take a month. That is in south and central region (where we were), Everlasting was at pains to point out. In the north district, we pay lobola. I have paid lobola for my wife.
Everlasting’s wife cost four cattle. She would cost considerably more today. If the cattle are too thin her family may say no, or okay, but you must pay something to help make the cattle fat. The lobola is 10 or 15 thousand kwacha now, he tells us, but in those days it was four English pounds.
For the parents, of course, a wife is all about character, not beauty.
“But for me as a boy, of course, I go for beauty.” Everlasting is smiling.
The spy thing works both ways. His wife’s family sent a spy to spy on Everlasting.