SUPER longevity in any part of the world is almost a subject without many examples as people in their 40s and 50 are often considered as of fairly advanced age. Thus, octogenarians are arguably the equivalent of our heroes for strong stock. On the other hand, hitting a century in age is just pure marvel.
In many parts of Africa, the death of a centenarian is never considered a wake but rather, a moment to celebrate in the joy that the strong energy of the departed soul shall continue to live in those left behind.
Super centenarians, that is, people who live to 110 years and above are an even greater wonder. They are people without peers or direct descendants. Indeed, such almost appears to be the case of Bibi Zainabu Liveta of Mbagala in Dar es Salaam, whose granddaughter, Hajat Radhia Abdallah, believes she is now in her 121st year.
There is no precise way to verify Bibi Liveta’s date of birth. However, based on important milestones in her life, it has been possible to make an informed guess as to when she was born. According to Hajat Abdallah, who is herself 65 years old now, her grandmother was born in about 1898 in Newala District, Ruvuma Region.
Hajat Abdallah explains that Bibi Zainabu Liveta gave birth to her first child in about 1916 when she was around 18 years old. It was a male love child and he did not live long. However, in 1918, Bibi Liveta tied the knot with the heartthrob of her teenage romance, Selemani Kaula of Mtama village, from Lindi District.
It happened that Mr Kaula had travalled to Newala to visit a relative who had also gone there and married a Makonde woman just like Bibi Zainabu. According to tradition, a groom had to live and work for the in-laws for quite some time before he was finally allowed to go away with his wife.
Having caught the eye of Zainabu, Selemani too was ready to walk the same path but was conscripted into the German army to fight in World War l. Luckily, he came back in 1918 when the war ended and found Bibi Zainabu still waiting for him. They married that same year. It was Selemani who changed Bibi Zainabu’s name after they got married. Otherwise, she was born Nundipachi Liveta.
In marriage though, conception for Bibi Zainabu proved tricky and she had to take a lot of herbal fertility potions. Finally, matters ticked and the couple went on to have seven other children, making it a total of eight children, four male and four female. They included the one who died earlier before they were formally married.
Hajat Radhia Abdallah’s mother, the couple’s second born child, came in 1926. Bibi Zainabu would continue giving birth until 1938, when apparently her womb dried up. The child born that year, Hawa Selemani, is the couple’s only surviving child and lives in Mtama village, Lindi. Hajat Radhia Abadallah says her aunt also is too frail now and that is why she decided in January 2018 to take her grandmother to live with her in Dar es Salaam.
Otherwise, all along Bibi Zainabu had always resisted the idea of living in Dar es Salaam, saying she would feel terribly like a plant transplanted from its familiar surroundings. But slightly over a year ago, she finally agreed, even warning Hajat Radhia that if she (Hajat Radhia) left her behind, the bus she would board would not get anywhere!
Mzee Selemani Kaula died in 1983. Sadly, the couple had by then separated because Mzee Kaula had married another young wife who mistreated the senior wife. Rather than put up a fight for supremacy status, Bibi Zainabu simply opted to quit the marriage. Bibi Zainabu attracted the eye of another man, Usi Chinava who also died in 2000. They had no children together. But that marriage too never lasted long because of the same reasons of spousal rivalry.
Secret of longevity
Hajat Radhia attributes her grandmother’s longevity to four main factors. Bibi Zainabu is highly spiritual, has great love for other people, prefers eating organic food and she is highly hygienic. She hardly does anything without saying a prayer, which she implores all around her to also do the same. Indeed, when this author was conducting the interview about her, Bibi Zainabu asked for a cup of tea but insisted that all the guests should also have theirs!
Bibi Zainabu has only one tooth left in her mouth but Hajat Radhia says she likes meat and fish. She often jokes about her one tooth that the day it gets loose in her mouth, then those around her should know that her days of going the way of the ancestors are very near. So far it hasn’t so clock ticks on!
Bibi Zainabu is almost pathologically clean. Even after she has eaten, she wants the utensils to be removed from her presence immediately. And, once washed, they should not be left in the sun for too long “for they too have feeling,” she says.
Bibi Zainabu has a history of enjoying very robust health. Even now she hardly falls sick and has none of those ailments that come with old age. But the accumulation of years is also unmerciful. There was a time when she used to walk on her own with a forward bend, then it came to crawling on all her fours like a toddler. Now she has to be carried even for going to answer a call of nature.
She has very good eye sight although she is a bit hard on hearing and her talking also needs a bit of deciphering. Otherwise, she is a very jovial person. In Africa, it is common for grandchildren to be called the husbands of their grandmothers.
This writer was also introduced to her as such, a new husband come to see her to which she quipped: “Let him come after sunset.” Introduced to her again on a second visit, she wittingly replied: “He shouldn’t be a lot of talk, talk!”
The Slave trade
Bibi Zainabu spots pierced ear lobes, which she said was done purposely to void capture by Yao Slave traders. The slavers, she explained, were never interested in physically mutilated people. What the slavers didn’t know though was that the people had learnt a secret from them concerning what they considered good human merchandise, which they used against them to avoid capture!
Slavery was outlawed in the early 1880s in much of the western world but continued well into the early 1900s especially in the Arab and Asians arms of the trade. Therefore, it is kind of exhilarating to still have a person around with first-hand experience of that harrowing experience.
The world’s longest living person in modern history was Jeanne Calment of France who died in 1997 aged 122. She was verified to have been born in 1875. Currently the world’s verified oldest living person is Kane Tanaka of Japan who was born in 1903 and is now 116 years old.
However, birth verification is a relatively new practice much of the world such that our Zainabu Liveta could indeed be the world’s oldest person alive. Besides, for reasons of differences in life expectance, women tend to live longer than men.