Life and Work in Northern Rhodesia: Godfrey Wilson and Xavier Kofie

  • Mary Mbewe Mulungushi University Kabwe - Zambia
Keywords: African research assistant, biography, Rhodes Livingstone Institute, iciBemba, field-notes, fieldwork method, Godfrey Wilson, Northern Rhodesia, Xavier Kofie.


This essay narrates the biography of one migrant labourer in interwar Northern Rhodesia (modern Zambia), which he shared with social anthropologist Godfrey Wilson in vivid detail when he was Wilson’s language tutor in Livingstone in 1938 and again when they met in Broken Hill in 1939-1940. The essay presents Xavier Kofie’s recollections of growing up in Kasama and Mpika in the Northern Province of Northern Rhodesia, being educated at a succession of mission schools until the level of Standard Three, and then of his working life, successively in Mazabuka, Lusaka, Wankie and Livingstone as research assistant to an agricultural officer, farm worker, cobbler, court messenger, football player and mission school teacher. In addition, the notebook record contains in much greater detail the story of his three months of intensive daily work in Livingstone teaching Wilson iciBemba and sharing often remarkably incisive sociological insights about African migrant labourers in Northern Rhodesia. Although partial and incomplete due to the limits of the archive present Xavier Kofie’s life history as emblematic of the experiences of migrant labourers in colonial Northern Rhodesia. I view his life history through his interaction with the anthropologist. Thus, this essay also reflects the relationship between an African informant and an anthropologist in interwar Northern Rhodesia. It demonstrates how multi-lingual collaboration was crucial to the work of anthropologists and underscores the need for more studies on relationships between ‘professional’ anthropologists and research assistants like Xavier Kofie.