Great North Road, various places on the internet and one drinking spree with an old codger who had a fund of stories of colonial Zambia. He is the one who told me about the evil place Chiengi and about Chiengi Charlie. Chiengi is the only Boma closed down because of witchcraft or more accurately because no one wanted to be posted there.
Chiengi District is right at the north eastern tip of Zambia and is inhabited by the Bwile people.
In Luapula and Northern Provinces Chiengi and Mununga have a nasty reputation. They have a reputation of being places where witchcraft, superstition and the supernatural are commonplace.
The wizards and witches of both Mununga and Chiengi are considered the most dangerous in Luapula Province with the Chiengi denizens considered the more dangerous.
The number of outsiders who died in mysterious circumstances in Chiengi is numerous. In recorded history the first to die after passing through CHiengi was Francisco de Lacerda better known as Luchele Nganga by the Bemba of CHitimukulu and the Lunda of Kazembe. He is reputed to have become sick in Chiengi before dying.
It is its unenviable record during the British Colonial record that bears close examination.
Chiengi, the ‘haunted boma’ on Lake Mweru, gained an evil reputation, like. One man after another died at the boma, not only from natural causes but sometimes mysteriously. As a result, it was closed down during World War 1 (1914-1918). It was reopened again several years afterwards and again Chiengi began claiming victims again. At least two officials had a nervous breakdown and went mad, while more than one died in unclear circumstances. They closed Chiengi for good after that. Chiengi was to only be reopened as a district in 1996 63 years afterward. A sub boma had been opened in 1973.
Chiengi even had a vicious man-eating lion called Chiengi Charlie that had lost half his tail and was possibly an albino lion because the locals called it “the White Lion”.
This lion terrorised CHiengi and the hinterland near Lake Mweru in the decade between1900 and 1900.
The locals insisted it was inhabited by an evil spirit because of its cunning and apparent intelligence. Even white hunters failed to kill Chiengi Charlie and a legend was born. For a long time, attempts to bring him to book failed, on one occasion he actually leapt into the courtyard of Sealy the District Officer’s house, but escaped before Sealy could get in a shot.
Efforts to bring Chiengi Charlie’s reign of terror to an end increased with villagers sleeping around fires and setting up guards all night and yet Chiengi Charlie just kept on killing. The lion did not fear anything and broke through the thatched roofs or walls smashed down doors and on occasion just walked straight into huts with open doors.s.
Eventually, Chiengi Charlie was joined by two other lions and the mayhem almost threatened to destroy the local fishing trade It was reported to have killed and eaten over 100 people in one year including the gunbearer of a white hunter who he savagely mauled before killing his servant.
Only one person successfully fought off Chiengi Charlie and was in turn regard with awe and admiration. A woman was rudely awakened from her sleep when the lion tore open the wall of her hut. She thrust a firebrand into its face.
In 1909 after a decade of terror a combined British and Belgian hunting team hunted down and killed Chiengi Charlie.
I subsequently learnt that Chiengi Charlie was really Chiengi Chali and was the unsettled spirit of a man called Chali accordign to local witchdoctors of the time. Teh name Charlie was because the white colonial administrators mispronounced Chali.
It was not just the lions that caused Chiengi to be the subject of much discussion in the then Northern Rhodesia. White district Commissioners died in large numbers when posted to Chiengi and not just that they also went mad. This trend made Chiengi the stuff of speculation and the source of much folklore.
In 1895 Sir Harry Johnston based in Blantyre sent two agents Kidd and Bainbridge to create a fort called Rhodesia in the CHiengi area to ensure the British presence in the area was enforced and to keep the Belgians out.
Kidd and Bainbridge both died in unclear circumstances. They were rumoured to have sickened and died under the curse of a local wizard or perhaps less prosaically were poisoned.
Kalungwishi Boma was to be later established right over their graves.
In 1917 the newly appointed DC PCJ Reardon and his wife Reardon went mad and ended up in an asylum. It was rumoured they had a dispute with a local chief who bewitched them and drove them mad.
In 1927 G H Morton another DC also went mad and was sent to Cape Town asylum. He had reported seeing ghosts and apparitions.
In 1929 FO Hoare who replaced G H Morton became seriously sick and delirious and eventually died from blackwater fever a particularly virulent form of malaria which destroys the liver and the victim urinates dark red blood similar to the colour of ripe mulberries.
53 years after Independence I still cannot find a place with a more evil reputation than Chiengi in Zambia.
Compiled by Brian Mulenga