“GHOST ON THE ROAD”: THE MYTH OF ROSEMARY CHIBANDA
Myths and legends are part of every society; these stories are passed from one person to the other through word of mouth. In many cases, they spread like wild fire and in the course of time they become so embedded within the society that some people begin to regard them as true stories. It is important to remember that myths are based on someone’s belief system and are not an accurate account of events that may have happened. As a mythical story moves from one mouth to the other, some details about the story change as each person adds their own “spice” to the story. One mythical story which intrigued a lot of Zambians for a long time is the story of “Rosemary”, a female ghost that instilled fear in the hearts of men and became infamously known as “Rosemary Chibanda”.
As is the case with many myths, the story of “Rosemary Chibanda” has different versions. Each person tells the story based on what they heard from someone else and the wide arrear of rumours that spread across the country about this Ghost. These stories of “Rosemary Chibanda” are believed to have started in the late 1960s and peaked in the 1970s and 1980s. Most versions of the story identify Ndola as the first place where these accounts of a female ghost named “Rosemary Chibanda” became prevalent.
Accounts of how “Rosemary Chibanda” operated were based on the narration of those people who said they had encountered her. The story which most people told was that the female ghost “Rosemary Chibanda” was on a mission of vengeance. The tale that was told was that when Rosemary was alive she worked as a prostitute in some parts of the Copperbelt, particularly Ndola. In the course of her work as a prostitute she met a man who became her lover and that it was this lover of hers who ended up killing her in a brutal way near a road. Some versions of this tale actually say her lover run her over with a truck on one of the roads.
Following the death of Rosemary, the tale is that her spirit could not rest and it began wondering the roads looking for the man who had murdered her and in this quest Rosemary’s ghost began terrorizing every man it encountered on the road.
Men who openly declared themselves as victims of “Rosemary Chibanda” told stories of their encounters with Rosemary Chibanda. There were stories going around of situations were a motorist would be driving along the road at night and come across a beautiful young lady waving for a lift on the side of the road. Enchanted by the lady’s beauty the man would stop and give the lady a lift. While in the car the lady and the man would start caressing and kissing and then all of a sudden the man would realise that he had lost all the teeth in his mouth and the lady he had been kissing had vanished into thin air leaving the man traumatized. Other accounts were that after picking up a beautiful young lady on the road, a man would find himself in the middle of a graveyard without any of his clothes and with no sign of the lady anywhere nearby.
Many men also gave accounts of how they would see a lady on the road and then the next minute the lady was seated next to them in the car without them having opened the door for her. One of the narrations from a man who said he had encountered Rosemary Chibanda was that he was driving a company car from Kitwe to Ndola and that on the way he saw a woman who was waving for a lift. Because he was driving a company car, he had no inclination to offer the lady a lift and yet all of a sudden he saw the lady seated next to him in the car. He was shocked at how she had gotten from the road into his car without the door opening. To make things even more shocking, the car began to drive itself and actually turned and began moving in the opposite direction of where he was heading initially. He began to scream in horror for the lady to stop taking the car in an opposite direction and finally after some time the car magically realigned to the correct direction and the lady vanished mysteriously. Traumatized by this encounter the man failed to eat for two days upon reaching his destination and it was only after the two days that he managed to narrate what he had witnessed.
There were many stories told about how a man would be driving along the road and then all of a sudden a female figure believed to be Rosemary Chibanda would flash across the path of the driver and cause the driver to lose control of the car resulting in a car accident.
Some men also narrated how they had encounters where they would pick up a lady on the road without knowing it was Rosemary Chibanda and the lady they picked up ending up sucking blood from their body and living them unconscious on the side of the road.
Hearing such tales frightened men beyond believe, and for a long time many men avoided picking up strange girls on the road, no matter how beautiful or enticing the lady was. This myth of the ghost then spread to many other parts of the country including to the capital Lusaka where the ghost of Rosemary became the talk of the town in the capital. Other versions of the story began to include rumours that Rosemary Chibanda was actually killing some men as she went hunting for the man who had killed her.
These stories of a ghost roaming around became prominent features in media outlets and more people began to give their versions of the story. Some women also began to narrate how they had also encountered Rosemary Chibanda. The women narrated that on the occasions that they met Rosemary, she would always reassure them that they should not fear her and that she was merely looking for the man who killed her and nothing else.
As news of the mysterious ghost girl spread, government officials assured the public that there was no substance to the Rosemary story and that there was no need for anyone to worry. Despite these constant assurances given to the people by telling them that this story was not true, these rumors remained a part of Zambian society for many years.
Some people have asserted that women also played a role in popularizing this myth as a way to keep their husbands grounded and make them avoid picking up girls randomly. The stories were also seen as way of grounding young bachelors who may have started becoming too excited and excessively visiting beer halls. In Lusaka, the prominent rumor was that Rosemary went round visiting beer halls and that those men who frequented beer halls were the ones most likely to fall victim to her.
From time to time, police would receive tips from people claiming that Rosemary had been spotted somewhere and each time the police arrived on the scene, they would find that she had already vanished.
As time went by, these stories began to fade away and people began to realise that there wasn’t much truth to these rumours. Others are of the view that the stories did not just fade away on their own, they believe that it was a result of a series of daily prayers conducted at Rosemary’s gravesite which pacified the ghost and made it stop haunting people. Whether the stories simply faded away because people finally learned that they were just rumours or they stopped because the ghost was pacified, depends on which side of the story you to find suitable to your belief system.
This story is no longer as popular as it was back then. The legend only remains as story that some elders tell their young ones once in a while. Therefore this whole story of the Ghost on the Road should be viewed in its mythical context and not taken as something that actually happened.
There are some accounts that have traced the origin of this story to the escapades of a drunkard in Ndola. These accounts say that this whole story was created by a drunk man who was found sleeping in a cemetery located near a beer hall in Ndola. He had picked up a girl from the beer hall but he ended up drinking too much beer which made him fall asleep and the girl decided to leave him. On his own he had staggered towards the cemetery and spent the night there in his drunken state. The next morning, the caretaker of the cemetery was surprised to find the man sleeping there. When the drunkard was questioned about the circumstances that led to him falling asleep in the graveyard and because he didn’t have a more credible explanation, he gave the caretaker the “Rosemary Story”. It is believed that from this account the “Rosemary Story” began to spread and people began adding their own things to this story.
However, it is important to note that as is the case with most myths, it is hard to accurately pinpoint where the original story started from. People simply say what they heard and these accounts always get distorted as they move around from person to person.
Many Zambians have heard their own versions of Rosemary Chibanda’s story. Feel free to write in the comments section the things which you heard or read about regarding the story of “Rosemary Chibanda”. Do you think the stories you heard were true?