High-Hanging Fruit

Unless you care about Africa, you probably haven’t heard much news about Zambia recently. Snugly ensconced in the South-Central neighborhood of Earth’s sunlit Dark Continent, landlocked Zambia hasn’t been afflicted with/affected by the Ebola epidemic, and thus is of little current interest to media fearmongers. Although President Michael Sata died ten days ago in a London hospital after a long illness, the cause of death was widely believed to be cancer rather than a virulent infectious disease.  News of his passing was briefly mentioned in big-city U.S. news outlets, but the media spotlight on Africa –such as it is– quickly shifted back to Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Meanwhile, in Africa, life –and death– goes on:

An 86-year-old woman in Itezhi tezhi District of [Zambia’s] Central Province has died after a pawpaw fruit fell on her head.  The deceased –identified as Kalumbu Mundunga— was sitting under a pawpaw tree in Lilanda Township when the incident occurred.  She died instantly.  Central Province Police chief Standwell Lungu confirmed the incident, which happened on Thursday morning around 09:45 hours.  [Lunghu’s note: this is the day of November’s full moon. Just sayin’.]

The death was reported by her grandson Cephas Kambeu.  A postmortem will be conducted to establish cause of death.

Here in the United States, there might be two schools of thought about this unusual manner of demise.  Suspicious minds might wonder whether whether grandson Cephas bopped Granny Mundunga upside the head with a 2×4 and then placed a large unripe pawpaw fruit beside the corpse.  Thus the coroner’s postmortem: a British colonial tradition.  More trusting souls would merely lament the tragedy and point out what might seem obvious: if Isaac Newton had been seated beneath the shady canopy of a pawpaw, today’s Europeans would have no Theory of Gravity.


In Africa, these crude binary options clearly lack the necessary subtlety that provides true explanatory power.  Where there’s an effect, there must also be a cause.

Meanwhile, investigations into the burning death of an 80-year-old woman in Itezhi tezhi District have continued.  Esily Mulilo of Lazo Village was burnt beyond recognition in the incident, which happened around 02:30 hours on Monday.  [According to police sources,] unknown people set her house ablaze after tying her door closed with wires.  Police have suggested that the deceased could have been suspected of practicing witchcraft.



Traditional African societies understand that recourse to street justice is a perilous undertaking.  If someone is unjustly accused and wrongly punished, omnipresent spiritual forces (if properly invoked) will ensure that harm and retribution rebounds upon those who perpetrated the injustice –or their clansmen.  Viewed through this lens, the “accidental” death of Kalumbu Mundunga might prompt an additional question in suspicious African minds: had Cephas Kambeu or his kinfolk been playing with matches in Lazo Village just a few nights earlier?  Perhaps Esily Mulilo wasn’t actually a witch … or, on the other hand, maybe she was powerful enough to take revenge from beyond the grave.  There are many possibilities in Africa, and many opportunities for oblique, guarded discussions about the invisible configurations of the spirit world.  It’s what makes life interesting.



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