Jim Dunning


I’m only too willing to contribute my experiences as an Education Officer in Northern Rhodesia and Zambia. I very much approve of the task you ‘ve undertaken and hope that the book you are writing will in due course be available to those participating. The following will provide a start, hopefully:-

Name:             Jim Dunning
d.o.b.              25 January, 1929
Status             Married (to Amelia)
Children          Four (all born in N.R.)
Nationality       British
Qualifications   B.A. (Liverpool);  Dip. Ed. (Liverpool)
Occupation      Education Officer (African Education)
Time in N.R.    October 1953 – July 1965
Postings          Livingstone, Broken Hill, Serenje, Balovale, Lusaka (H.Q.), Solwezi (as Provincial Education Officer)
Duties             Administration and inspection of African schools

I think back to our time in N.R. with great affection.  A good climate, many friends, with lasting relationships, and enjoyable and rewarding work.

I left Zambia in 1965 because my role as P.E.O. Solwezi was being taken over by an African.  This came as no surprise and in some ways was welcome since we lived on a bush station with no suitable schools for our children.  Our eldest, Carolyn, was attending a convent school in Ndola as a boarder.  My elder son, Robert, was limited to a correspondence course from Salisbury, so it was high time they got into suitable schools in England.

Life back in England was difficult at first.  I obtained a teaching post in a tough secondary modern school in Birkenhead – on roughly half the salary I’d received in Zambia.  We used to joke that the kids played tick with hatchets, but there was an element of truth in it.  During my first stint of playground duty I was called to the phone regarding a message from an estate agent, and returned to find one of the pupils had been slashed across the face with a knife…A year later I landed an administrative job in the Birkenhead Education Office.  Well, I was born in Birkenhead, wasn’t I?

The people I felt sorry for were District Commissioners and District Officers in the Provincial Administration whose only qualifications were degrees.  Some of them had great difficulty finding employment in the U.K., though a fair number seemed to end up as bursars in universities. This is all a bit rambling, but I’ll be happy to carry on tomorrow if this is the sort of material you’re looking for?  I could send as attachments one or two articles I wrote for my own amusement some years ago…

2. Innocents Abroad

3. A Strange Experience

4. The Reluctant Hero

5. The Hardships of Safari

6. A Piece of Cake

I’m glad you don’t feel my ramblings are a complete waste of time.  Things occur to me when I’m not at the computer and I try to remember them later.
For instance, our connection with a certain Australian, Phil Kohler by name. Phil was transferred from Serenje to Balovale in the Northwestern Province while we were doing a three year stint there.  He was an Agricultural Supervisor and he blotted his copybook in Serenje by hoisting his pyjamas to the flagpole instead of the Union Jack while the Governor, Sir Arthur Benson was visiting.  Phil was a great character and an excellent photographer.


There were only about 30 Europeans in Balovale in 1957 and we used to cross the Zambezi by boat or canoe during the dry season and picnic on the other side.  One day Phil betted me that I wouldn’t dare swim across instead of using the boat.  My response was:  ‘ I will if you will.’
So we both swam across, regardless of the danger of crocs.  Mad, totally mad.  Just 30 miles upstream, at Chinyingi Mission, an African fisherman was taken by a croc at much the same time. His family managed to retrieve his body, after which they cut off his leg and dangled it in the river with a large hook. They caught the croc and revenged the man’s death.

I wonder how many Europeans can say they once swam across the Zambezi?

When Phil’s leave was due, he set off for England by road in an old landrover.  The next time we saw him he was in an American film called ‘The Lion’ (1962).  Phil doubled for the film star, William Holden when their Land Rover was charged and butted by an angry rhino in Kenya.  Phil was blonde so he had to dye his hair to play the part.  We envied him for being on a set with the actress Capucine.

Happy days! Will write again when I think of something else.  Onomatopoeia in the Luvale language, for instance?


I thought I should perhaps mention the learning of African languages as part of one’s employment.

When I started work in Northern Rhodesia the authorities informed me that in order to proceed up the salary scale I would need to pass an African Language exam at the lower level within the first three years, followed by one at the higher level during the next three years.
After two years I took Chinyanja at the lower level and ( to my surprise) was awarded a Distinction.
Then I was transferred to Serenje where Chinyanja was of no use!

During my second tour, having transferred to Balovale in the North-Western Province, I had a go at Luvale and managed to pass at lower and higher level.  It was a most enjoyable experience.  Something I found particularly interesting was the Africans’ use of onomatopoeia. The words used for certain animals differed according to the language used.  In Chinyanja, for example, the word for ‘lion’ was ‘mkango‘, while in Luvale it was ‘ndumba‘.  Both legitimate representations of the sounds made by lions.  The Chinyanja for mosquito was ‘udzudzu’, while in Luvale it was ‘ngenyi-ngenyi’, which when pronounced nasally is a perfect representation of that annoying insect’s whine! Similarly, the Luvale word for cow was ‘ngombe‘, again requiring nasal intonation.  I was never over-familiar with the hippo, but have no doubt the the Luvale word ‘mvuu‘ was intended to represent the sound they make.  And so on.

Interestingly, animals and insects were not the only things represented by onomatopoeia.  My Luvale Manager of Schools, Willie Mwondela (later to become Zambia’s representative in China) taught me a phrase to use in disclaiming ability at doing something.  So, when an African ferryman taking us across the Zambezi complimented me on my Luvale, I replied casually:  ‘Chiku, mwane, nguchili ku njava, kanda nguhete kundupu-ndupu‘ – which translates as ‘No, sir, I’m still only up to my ankles (in water), I haven’t yet reached my chest.’  The sound of water lapping up against your chest in ‘ndupu-ndupu’ is pure onomatopoeia.

Stop me if I’m going on!




Jim Dunning died in 2013 and this has been published with the permission of Amelia Dunning

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s