The book is based on material collected by missionaries at Kasenga Mission in Zambia. Edwin Smith began in 1901 to note each new Ila word, together with illustrative sentences dictated by his Ila informants. Later missionaries continued this practice, so that in 1959 the author found a mass of over 12,000 items already collected.
As the largest body of Ila ever assembled, the dictionary offers much of interest in several fields. The language has a consistent agglutinative structure of great sophistication, logical as Latin, flexible as Greek. The speakers reveal not merely the preoccupations of daily existence in Ila villages a century ago, but an outlook both sensitive and wryly humourous.
Feared in battle, fearful of spirits, revering God; hunters of lion and buffalo, polygamous, romantic, ribald in men's company, but highly proper in women's, tender towards children, with a high regard for the arts of hospitality, conversation, and love, the Baila spring with verve from these pages.
Appendices list nearly 2,000 synonyms, 276 proverbs, l64 metaphors, 216 customs, 400 trees with their medicinal uses, 290 plants, 150 birds, and grammatical tables.
"Without the dedication of Mr Fowler, none of the precious early notes on which this work is based would have seen the light of day. This work is outstanding in the way it brings together and adds value to the work of many contributors - and always identifies its sources. The work of Kayobe Syamatanga and his colleague at the beginning of this century would have had little value without the later annotations, and Mr Fowler has clearly harnessed the enthusiasm of his collaborator Pearson Likukela to great effect. In between, he has captured and preserved the contributions of a series of observers with diverse interest and a close sympathy for the culture."
Michael Mann, formerly School of Oriental and African Studies, London
After reading Modern History at Oxford and Theology and Ecclesiastical History at London, D. G. Fowler was ordained a Methodist minister. He worked as a missionary for eight years in Zambia, mainly among the Ila people in the Kafue Flats.