Monday, 24 November 2014


Sunduzwayo Madise
23 November 2014

I heard the original story from James Mbingwa[1]. I have granted myself poetic licence and added in mchere na sobola (salt and pepper).

The story is told predominantly in Tumbuka. Tumbuka is the dominant language spoken in the Northern part of Malawi. The story has also few Chichewa (the main language in the Centre and most parts of the South of Malawi) and one or two Ngoni/Zulu words (the original language of the people of Mzimba, the biggest and most populated district in the North). Suffice to say the Ngoni language is now spoken only in parts, principally at Edingeni, the headquarters of the Zwangendaba/Jele Ngoni Paramopunt Chief: Inkosi Ya Makhosi Mbelwa V (King of Kings) and also in parts of Ntcheu in the Central Region, especially at the Nkosini[2] in Lizulu[3], headquarters of Inkosi ya Makhosi Gomani V, among the Maseko Ngoni.  Tumbuka typically has some characteristics, one of which is that it emphasises certain consonants when mixed with vowels such as “d” and “b”. To show this emphasis, I capitalise the consonant. So for example dolo would be pronounced with a light tongue on the “d” while Dolo would be with heavy “D”, like in dolus. I will provide the story translation into English at the end while attempting to preserve the richness of what it would sound like when told in the vernacular language. The story for all I know is made up. However Mkhulu[4] Village does exist, it is my village and so does the Group Village Headman Mkakabanthu[5] as well as Traditional Authority (T/A) Mtwalo.[6] Blantyre is the main commercial city in the South of Malawi. In Mzimba, and where I Come from, usually English names are not pronounced the English way. So for example my own father was named George when he was selected from Mzimba to attend Secondary School in Blantyre. His own mother could not pronounce George and called him Joroji. So in this story Samson is pronounced Samusoni.

Setup up of the story
So Dokiso trekked all the way from Mkhulu Village, Group Village Headman Mkakabanthu, T/A Mtwalo in Mzimba and visited his brother Samson in the suburb of Manja in Blantyre. He closely observed what his elder brother was doing and after a month he returned back home where he told his peers this story:

Banangwa, Samusoni ni munyathu yayi; Samusoni ni munthu! Ho! Mwini tauni Samusoni! Ni shasha Samusoni; mungafikako? Mungamkhwasa? Yayi, ni Dolo mwa zina lake, mwana wa muBaiBulo.

Mbwenu wakufika pa window la banki inyakhe; wakuwaphalila waka kuti, “Ine Samusoni nafika ine” mbwenu chinthu chinyakhe chikumupa vindalama! Nikuyowoya ma alovelatu, not za bweka-bweka cha!

Tilute ku golosale inyakhe ikulu, wenecho wakuti Shopwell; tanyamula vikatundu mula, iye wanyamula, nane nanyamula, tikududuza mu magaleta walimwenemumo. Kufika pakulipila, mbwenu Samusoni wakulemba waka kalata kuti “Ine Samusoni nangwiza pano”. Mbwenu msungwana wakutchena chomene, wakutowaso not vinyakhe ivi, wakuti jumphani. Ine ha, not even Chilembwe m’moza kuwapo?

Mbwenu Samusoni wakuluka mula wakuyimba nyimbo yakhe ya soja, ine shah, Samusoni ni Dolo chomene. Bulantaya yose ikumumanya. Ndipo nimuphalilani inu mose, na ku Bulantaye; zindaba zikuwa za Samusoni, mwenecho tauni. Magolosale na mabanki wose wakumumanya. Bigi mani mukulu chomene Samusoni!

Kweni banangawa, chimoza, Samusoni ni mtchisi, ha! Kugeza cha! Mwezi wose nikamutcheranga pa khomo la kwaku gezera. Munthu kuzako cha! Kugeza cha, kweni wakutuluka wavwala suti yake ya Piyere. Ukuti Piyere ni vichi? Ni suti yapachanya chomene, iyo wakuvwala pulezident, suti yamakopala ache, ungaiyigula iwe, pali wangaigula kuno? Nilekani nimphalireni nkhani yose, ndinamale. So, wavwala piyere, wakukhala pa thebulo kurya masumbi wake para, ma soseji na tchipisi chake apo; mbweno uyo; vuvumu wakuntchito pa galimoto. Kugeza cha!

The translation
My friends, Samusoni is not our friend,[7] he is the man! Yo! Man about town is Samusoni! He is the master, he is on another level, you cannot even get there, do not even attempt! Can you even touch him? Oh no, he is the consummate man of the town, just as his name, just like in the Bible.

We arrive at a window at a certain bank, he just tells them that “I am Samusoni, I am here” and immediately a certain thing just gives him money, lots of money! I am referring to aloe vera[8], not pennies!

We go to a certain big grocery, the owners call it Shopwell[9]; we carry groceries, he carries some, I carry some, wheeling some strange vehicles.[10] We get to the cashier, Samusoni just writes a note that “It is me Samusoni, I was here”. Then the well-dressed girl at the till, very pretty too, not like some of these local girls, says you can go ahead. I say, how, not even one Chilembwe[11] being paid?

After that Samusoni goes out of the shop singing his (popular) tune by Soldier[12]. I say, Samusoni must indeed be a king here. The whole Blantyre knows him. I am telling you, the whole Blantyre is full of stories about Samusoni, he owns the town. The groceries and the banks all know him. He is a big man[13] Samusoni. He is the big man.
But one thing folks, Samusoni is unhygienic! Eish! He does not bath! The whole month I was there, I was checking the bathroom door (to see which time he had his bath). The man never went into the bathroom! He would just get out (of his bedroom), dressed in his Pierre[14] … You ask what Pierre is? It is a top notch suit, worn by presidents, very expensive, can you even afford it! Is there anyone who can afford it here? But let me finish the story, he is dressed in his Pierre, sits on the table eating his eggs with sausages and chips and after that vrooom! Of he goes in his car. Having had no bath! Ah!
Indeed Dokiso may have been perplexed with the operations of an ATM machine, payment by cheque, but how was he to know that in town we have self-contained bedrooms!

Payment System? 
So how is this a story of the modern payment systems. Well I am currently doing research of payment systems and whilst thinking about the impact of new methods of payment systems on people in the village, I recalled this story.

Simply put, if we remove the last part about having a bath in his master bedroom which is en-suite, the whole story is indeed one of the shocks of a modern payment system to an unsuspecting villager. Dokiso is confronted with an Auto Teller Machine (ATM) machine for the first time. He has no idea what it is. He has never seen one. To him, the only payment system he knows is cash. You transact in cash. You either have the cash or you do not. So the ATM presents a challenge to Dokiso. He does not know that the ATM is actually linked to Samson’s account and that Samson is only accessing his own money.[15] He does not know that he is dealing with an electronic payment system. He exaggerates what actually happens because he is not close enough to see (as does happens when someone is withdrawing money from an ATM machine). In his view the machine has just given his brother money. Welcome to the electronic payment system Dokiso!

Secondly when his brother goes to shop, he does not pay with his plastic card, but chooses to pay using his chequebook. To Dokiso this is something he has never come across. Paying by cheque? What is that! To him you pay for goods with money in the form of cash. Nothing else will do. Like in Mkhulu is simple. Cash is the means of payment. If you do not have it, you you cannot get the goods you want. You must exchange goods with cash. In his mind, he envisages that Samson must be a certain powerful well known and well-connected person that he can just issue a note and get things. His mind cannot process this. He does not fully understands what Samson is doing by writing on the cheque and signing it and to him it is just like any other paper. And yet this is what exactly happens with a cheque, it is an IOU note of sorts, a promise to pay, money in another form. Dokiso does not know that he is dealing with a payment system that involves a cheque clearing house. He does not know that this paper is actually a negotiable instrument. Welcome to the world of the cheque payment system Dokiso!

[2] Nkosini is the place of the Inkosi or ‘King’s place’
[3] Lizulu comes from kuliZulu meaning “where Zulu is”.
[4] Mkhulu literally means ‘big’ in Ngoni/Zulu and reflects to a village that is deemed the ‘big’ village in a group of villages. Usually in a polygamous situation, this is usually the where the senior wife of the local chief stays.
[5] Mkakabanthu means ‘binder of people’ or ‘uniter of people’. It comes from two words kukaka meaning to bind or tie together (it can also mean to arrest) and banthu, a well known Banthu phrase for people.
[6] Actually called Inkosi Mtwalo, one of the chiefs under Inkosi ya Makhosi Mbelwa V.
[7] The phrase does not mean literally that; rather that Samusoni is on another level
[8] Aloe vera is the local name that refers to the highest denomination in Malawi. It is a K1,000 note and is green like an aloe vera plant.
[9] Actually there is one called Shoprite, owned by Shoprite Checkers of South Africa
[10] trolleys
[11] John Chilembwe is the best known earliest freedom fighter who died in 1915 fighting against colonial rule and oppression. He has been immortalised by having his face as the face of all banknotes in Malawi. A reference to Chilembwe is therefore a reference to money.
[12] Soldier is the musical nickname of a famous Malawian Musician Lucius Banda. He once used to sings protest songs as a soldier of the poor. This permanently endeared him to most Malawians, especially during times of oppression and hardship.
[13] Actually the real phrase is an exaggeration which reads “he is a very big man”
[14] Pierre Cardin. Obviously he just overheard the name and did not fully understand what it meant other than that it was a very expensive suit.
[15] Malawi does not yet have a credit card regime, only a debit card one