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Monday, May 5, 2014

Are You A Chongololo?

A Chongololo is a millipede. Sometime in the 80s and 90s, ‘Chongololo’ or ‘Chong’ came to refer to people who were enamoured of Western culture. Remember that Zambia in the 70s and 80s was during the cold war. Everyone knew if you travelled out of the country. Clothes, music, movies, TV programmes, mannerisms, food and how you spoke identified where you came from.

In the 1970s, as part of efforts to promote wildlife conservation, Chongololo Clubs were established in schools. There were various activities and trips that the clubs would participate in across the country, which meant only certain schools could afford to be active in the Chongololo Clubs – schools with their own buses. Naturally, only the elite government schools, church-run schools and private schools signed up and it made sense that it was the popular kids who joined the Chongololo Club and went on exchange visits to other schools, had study tours etc. The Chongololo Clubs also had a colourful magazine and workbooks as well as a radio and TV show where the presenters spoke with an ‘accent’. For your average Zambian, to just say ‘accent’ is explanation enough. But since this is a history lesson, when I asked, this is how Twitter explained it:


“Chongololo Club had a radio show with kinds speaking in ‘ma yardi’ English”.

“Intro song had kids singing chowngowlowlow. Thus, UNZA christened students with accents Chongololos”.

“The Chongololo theme song was sung with a curious accent (posh-ish) and that’s where Chongs came – trying to speak ‘better than’”.

But back in the day, to be a Chong was more than just about the accent. Chongs lived a certain lifestyle and had particular interests, among them basketball, pop music etc.

At the same time there are real deal Chongololos (who lived abroad). A Chongololo is also a wannabe or imitator, trying to be cool by association. The imitators includes the former real deals who came back from America when they were five years old and at 25 still speak with an American accent, despite being educated at Munali Boys and never having returned to America even once.

In conclusion, to be labelled a Chongololo is not derogatory, but it is unflattering and derisible. Meaning it’s not an insult, but neither is it a compliment.

I am indebted to the following in Zambian Twitter users for contributing to the history lesson: @simunza@LauraMiti@missbwalya and @kuwaha
You can follow me on Twitter: @masukamutenda.

This article is a side-bar to my review of Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that was published in the Bulletin and Record magazine in September 2013.


  1. Interesting history writeup on chongololos ba senior Chong. AKA CC(Comrade Chongololo)

  2. Interesting! My wife, Lorraine Legg, did the radio and TV programmes from 1976 to 1980, and speaks with a correct "BBC" type English accent. It is not correct that only rich kids listened to the programme. When visiting remote areas of Zambia, for example Pweto on Lake Mweru, Lorraine met people who were regular listeners, and who immediately recognised her voice. KK was an enthusiastic listener, and objected strongly when ZBC wanted to move the programme from its Sunday lunchtime slot! It did not move.

    1. Thank you for sharing. This is very interesting and in keeping with the natura of Radio being a mass medium that anyone can listen to, so long as you can access the signal. Back in the day, radio really was was the main entertainment. As I mentioned, the Chongololo radio show was only one activity of the Chongololo Clubs and featured children from clubs who, as stated, came from 'certain schools' and spoke a 'certain way'. Their speech, behaviour and interests is the essence of the term Chongololo and the premise of the blog post, and also why the term Chongololo continues to endure decades later.