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Monday, 30 July 2018

Bookman on the Zambezi
  Some twenty kilometres along the good tarred road to the Copperbelt, north of the town of Sesheke in Zambia, which in turn is just across the border of Katima Mulilo near the eastern point of the Caprivi Strip in Namibia, you would pass the scattered huts of the village of Makusi. A few dozen thatched huts are dotted among the scrub mopani, kiaat, rosewood and other subtropical hardwood trees; a small school and clinic are situated a few kilometres further on. It is winter -  the maize has been reaped and summer-fat cattle wander through the dry stalks; the granaries are heaped with white cobs of corn and the only people to be seen are pedestrians along the road - on their way to who knows where.
The Plunder of the Forests - Logyard
A greenish rock barely marks a faint roadway disappearing into the bush, towards the great river that we have had odd glimpses of during the drive from Sesheke. The twin tracks wind through the shades of brown forest, past a clearing which is stacked high with huge squared-off cants of rosewood. A container acts as an office for the Chinese supervisor, who ducks behind the timber when we stop to take photos as a tractor-trailer unloads another instalment of loot destined for the fine mansions of the East. Hundreds of container loads of precious timbers leave the country every year to feed this insatiable demand; at best the locals get a few kwacha in wages; the bulk of the proceeds are siphoned off higher up in the tiers of government.
Entrance to Likaka House

We arrive at an imposing gateway. Within the fence two giant baobab trees flank the track on either side. A hundred metres further on the forest grows lush; lawns appear, then buildings - and the kilometre-wide expanse of the great waterway that drains  sub-equatorial Africa: the majestic Zambezi. It is just past the full flood and yet the waters are lapping underneath the deck of my cottage, one of three tucked away in the riverine forest, where my hosts install me. A hippo grunts nearby and the distant growl of rapids is ever present. The main house consists of a long, lofty room which encompasses a pub, the lounge, dining room and kitchen flowing into each other; a bedroom suite towards the river and scullery, pantry  and laundry on the west side form a T shape. A deep veranda faces the river across a shaded lawn. This is Likaka House. Adjacent, next to a giant rosewood tree is another small building in the same style - the library. The reason I am here.

Likaka House
 Some thirteen years previously, David Moir, CBE, a retired bank executive with roots in several countries of central Africa, as well as Britain and Asia, decided to realise his dream and create a little piece of Old Africa in the Barotseland bush. David was born in Zimbabwe, raised in Zambia and schooled in South Africa. He began his banking career in Livingstone and worked his way up from being a clerk to a main board director of the bank in London. Having worked in Zambia, Malawi, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore, in a career spanning 50 years during which time he experienced all the changes from Colonial environments to white outposts and finally black rule in Africa. He and his wife Jean were married in Livingstone, a mere 200 kilometers stone throw downstream. Their children were born in Zambia and raised in some of the out of the way places and many holidays were spent camping in the great outdoors. This is the environment the Moir’s wanted to create in part when they decided to build an “Africa House” in Zambia.

The Library
During his working life David had built many lasting friendships with people from all walks of life, among them  being the Royal Highnesses the Litunga or King of Barotseland and Senior Chief Inyambo Yeta of the Barotse Royal Family, who rules the southern region. So he began making inquiries about securing a piece of riverside by contacting the local Induna Sihole. Central African etiquette being what it is, many intricate negotiations followed to include all the persons in the tribal/royal hierarchy who needed to be consulted in the matter, but finally the Senior Chief gave his blessing to a 50 year old renewable lease on some 16 acres of prime riverside for a reasonable sum. Since he and David were friends, he did not see the necessity for any documentation, saying "you are one of us, it is for the grandchildren of your grandchildren." But the latter, being a canny banker, pressed for the need for some concrete proof of stewardship, to which the Senior Chief finally acceded, telling him to write the document himself - which he would then countersign. The only clause that was inserted was one which stated that if the property was sold, the Senior Chief reserved the right of vetting the new owner.  

Veranda with a View
David and Jean then met with the locals and identified a plot in the middle of nowhere by marking four trees with blazes, one at each corner. Then the real work began. Locals were employed to clear the undergrowth; many loads of earth had to be imported to fill and level the site. Then building materials were trucked in - the nearest source being Namibia across the border for bricks and cement; while most fittings, frames and porcelain had to come from the Cape or Johannesburg, almost 4000 km south. The architect who was entrusted with the project, designed buildings that were to be cool in the heat of summer, and cosy in the temperate winter. Ceilings were high and well insulated. The walls were mostly french doors to maximise the view through the trees of the river flowing only some fifty metres from the front door, but deep verandas and trees shaded the interior during the heat of the day.  While the building work progressed, the pair camped in a clearing a short distance upstream for long periods, an idyllic existence for people who loved the bush as they did. Sadly, Jean passed away a couple of years back, but she enjoyed their yearly winter stay in the tranquility of Likaka house for almost a decade.
Lounge Interior

Finally the edifice had to be furnished. The extensive built-in cupboards as well as some of the loose items were made from local timbers by an Indian craftsman, other things were bought in the distant Cape, or came from David's other homes. Three chalets were built to house any number of visitors, children and grandchildren. These were spaced at roughly sixty metre intervals along a meandering pathway through the forest. Each had a deck which cantilevered over the water when the river ran high, and one was warned to beware of grazing hippos at night, when these massive beasts came up into the dambo which always has long grass growing in it. The staff quarters, garages and generator, as well as solar installation were tucked away a little further inland, but well within call. A fully enclosed vegetable garden (to deter monkeys and birds) was also laid out, but this had been completely flooded a few days before my arrival, so everything was dead - except the crocodile that was found in it on one fine day not long ago. 

David Moir, CBE
The master of Likaka ( the Lozi word for guinea fowl) is a local historian of note. He was inspired to a great degree by that great missionary explorer and humanitarian, David Livingstone; his travels, the places he visited and the people he came in contact with. After the explorers came the pioneers; the Europeans who arrived to exploit the supposedly fabulous riches which lay scattered about in the soil or walked through the bush on two or four legs. Then the inimitable Rhodes came on the scene with his grand vision of a red streak from south to north across the continent; the British South Africa Company reigned supreme for over thirty years. Then the British crown stepped in and ruled from Whitehall until 'the natives got restless' and demanded - and got - their independence back in 1964. In the meanwhile, Barotseland had been a separate Protectorate, but for a number of reasons, they were reluctantly incorporated into the new republic of Zambia - with guarantees of special treatment, a larger measure of independence and the right to continue their culture and traditional rulership. All these privileges were to gradually disappear, causing smouldering secessionist sentiments which linger on to this day. All this history makes interesting reading, so David proceeded to amass a probably unequalled library of works dealing with Barotseland, Zambia in general, as well as the neighbouring states of Zimbabwe, Malawi, Botswana and Namibia. These books, booklets, ephemera and maps, numbering close to 2000 items,  are housed in the library at Likaka House. He has a never-ending font of stories, anecdotes and biographies about the history ancient and recent, the people and politics of the region. Get him started and he can keep you enthralled for hours. If his encyclopaedic knowledge falters, there are all the reference works at hand. The problem that has arisen is knowing what is already there; where is it, and how can the information be found - as well as catering for the next generation of curators. David is a hale 78 years old; a man with wide-ranging dreams of travels and further experiences, but one has to think of the future and very few people have enough random access memory to recall 2000 items, so a little help was called for. The now retired bookman from Africana Books, yours truly, packed his bags in Port Nolloth at the Namaqua Archive, drove up to Oranjemund and caught two flights via Windhoek to Katima Mulilo, where David and his good friend, Rose Hunt, collected me for a two and half week working sojourn on the banks of the Zambezi.
Bookman and Twambo at work
A simple task lay ahead: catalogue each item by author, title, date of publication, publisher, ISBN, subject speciality, if any, region and period covered, and an indication of value range for older, more valuable books. It doesn't sound such a big deal; as an antiquarian bookdealer I have had over twenty years experience doing just that - but never before continuously on this scale. To assist me, David had engaged a young lady, Twambo Mebelo, who was studying for her A-levels, to be my legs (climbing up ladders and fetching books), hands to hold open the covers at the relevant places to enable me to read the information, and eyes, to spot the most glaring typos as I made them. In all three these tasks she proved to be invaluable. It would have taken me several weeks longer without her help. 

After establishing a range of subject headings, as well as the four periods of history in which the books were to be organised alphabetically, ie Pioneer (pre 1890), British South Africa Company (1891-1924) Colonial (1925-1964) and Independence (after 1964), I was ready to start. Sunrise over the Zambezi; a wonderfully peaceful way to start the day, sitting out on the deck, coffee in hand, listening to the gentle gurgle of water, its distant groan over the rapids and the calls of a myriad of birds. Seven o'clock, and work calls. Twambo is awaiting and we get on with it. The hours fly past. Stacks of books grow on the tables; then wane. David pops in; then Rose calls to breakfast. Back to work. It is hard, concentrated effort; my eyes water from the bright light that my aging eyes need to read, even if aided by a Sherlock Holmesian magnifying glass; my back hurts from sitting in the same position for long periods and my feet swell under the table. But it is never boring. Many of the volumes are familiar; I am tempted to type the titles from memory - but that is fallible, as I discover. Better to painstakingly read, then write. The endless, flowery Victorian subtitles, while giving a fair idea of the contents, are wearisome after a while. One soldiers on; Twambo is up and down the ladder - she never complains. We are called to lunch. A quick sandwich on the lawn under the majestic trees; a cold drink, then an hour's lie-down to recuperate. Back to the salt mine until dusk. On my first full day I have catalogued 200 books - the most I have ever managed in one day - so I am well-satisfied with our efforts. At least I know what to aim for so as to be able to complete the job in the budgeted time.
Jetty & Cruiser
We go off to visit a 'neighbour', one of some five or six European households along the river between Livingstone and Mongu - nearly five hundred kilometres. This is Makusi Island, dubbed Zambelozi by the lessors, a couple running a luxury fishing camp. All very swish with crystal chandeliers, white linen, deep sofas and hot and cold running servants. The part that interested me most was the ferry crossing: two pontoons with planks across them; a loop of wire onto a cable stretched across the river to the bank, and a single oar - that was all it took for one man to steer the ferry halfway across the current and 'sail' the boat through the swift current to the island. Ingenious! We share a delicious meal with the couple and a brace of fishing outfitters who have come to sample the tiger fish - which are biting well. We hear of a seventeen-pounder that has been pulled from the river above the falls recently. That must have been quite a fight.

Back home I can't wait to get to bed. The next few days are all pretty similar. Up at seven; finish at six. Have a drink in the lounge with my hosts, watch a little inane television, which I don't normally do, have a late supper and fall into bed. There is a bit of a commotion during one night: a pair of  hyaenas attacked some loose cattle in the village and killed two. The villagers retaliate by poisoning what is left of the carcases. During the previous couple of years two village women who were washing their clothes in the river behind a makeshift screen of a few thornbushes chucked into the water, were taken by crocodiles. Yet the locals bathe in the river, though they tend to prefer rapids where the monster reptiles are less likely to be looking for lunch. Latest word from the river is that two marauding lions are causing havoc among the cattle herds just across the Zambezi. This is still the wilds of Africa.
We go for a sunset cruise on Likaka's own pontoon. The captain is major domo Edwin, an engaging local lad sporting his yachting cap and a broad grin. He takes us up to the Ngambwe rapids upstream; almost an hour's trip against the current, but the river flows so swiftly that we make it back in ten minutes. Over the weekend we drive a hundred kilometres to the village of Sioma through the autumnal countryside and on to the Ngonye Falls - which we never get to see as the river is too full and the path to the falls is flooded. We have a look at the little museum and curio shop, but most of the items on sale are too bulky to fit into my limited luggage space, so I decline. We drop in on a fishing lodge/restaurant called Whispering Sands and meet the new owners who hail from Pretoria, of all places. Lunch? No, afraid not, but you can have oxtail for supper. We can't wait that long for sustenance, so we have a cold and very welcome beer instead and make our way back to Likaka House.
Capn' Edwin

Another day we need to go and buy some bread. The nearest bakery - only twenty kilometres down the road in Katima (the Zambian version - not the Namibian Katima Mulilo). We pop into Sesheke to have a look what the south-western capital looks like. There is a main street; there are shops, mostly of the informal type - very informal, but at least there is a hospital - of sorts, a bank, and a proper filling station, as opposed to the few plastic bottles stacked at the side of the road elsewhere, where you can purchase fuel in very small quantities if you're desperate. The town reflects Central Africa; vibrant, noisy, somewhat dirty and poor, but the people are friendly, unthreatening and polite. I am struck by the greater number of pedestrians everywhere along the roads in the countryside; much fewer cyclists than we encountered in Malawi. Cars are also quite scarce outside towns; at times you drive ten or twenty kilometres before seeing one. During the week, much heavy traffic crosses from Namibia en route to the Copperbelt as this road north is the main supply artery.
Work progressed well. The Zambian book section was completed, then came a few hundred bits of ephemera; copies of articles, booklets, souvenirs - mostly very difficult to categorise, but Twambo and I ploughed through the mountains of paperwork. Then it was the turn of Namibian stuff; mainly works dealing with the Caprivi Strip; then Zimbabwe, Malawi and Botswana. After some ten days we had beavered our way through all the bookcases, we were left with a table full of maps. Now I bade Twambo farewell as her work was completed and all the books were back in their correct places. This is where I decided that David had better learn the rudiments of catalogueing himself so as to be able to add any future acquisitions to his library. David, Rose and I sat down together at his computer and I urged him to open his browser.
"What is that?" He asked. Oh dear, this was going to be a long session. We persevered and by lunchtime we had completed the job to our best combined capabilities. I took a day to proofread the best part of two thousand entries. They are not perfect, since I am not good at spotting errors, but they are vastly improved. Then I had to write what is unflatteringly called an 'idiot's manual' (no reflection on my host - since I write these all the time as aide memoires for my own use as well). David and I spent a further morning working our way through that - and then the job was done. We took another sunset cruise upriver, and this time I dangled a lure in the water, half hoping an errant tiger fish would swallow it. One did and almost yanked the rod out of my hands, but then he thought better of it and spat out the spoon. We returned in the gloom and then sat out on the veranda watching an unbelievably beautiful full moon rise over the breadth of the majestic river. Next morning the bookman of the Zambezi took the bookman of Namaqualand to the airport over the border. A memorable stay in the spell of this great African artery, where its own bookman is the temporary guardian of its written history and traditions.
Likaka Baobabs

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