When an elderly Malawian hears the Chichewa word mphini they might first think of incisions traditional healers locally known as asing’anga make to administer either herbs straight into the bloodstream or for protective charms hence // and similar slashes in opposite and various positions depending on the “treatment.”
Others will remember tattoos, traditional scars or marks ancestors in some cultures regarded as beauty in women from the head to toe.
According to Mayi Jarden, a local healer based in a Mulanje village who deals with the spirit world, some specific //slashes were also viewed as the click of the Abathwa where both the Pygmies and Bushmen in English were grouped together but locally known as Abatwa and Abathwa respectively.
Online sources show stone-aged tools indicating that people who are known as Abathwa, Akafula or Amwandionerapati lived in Malawi since around 8000 BC” making them the country’s first settlers.
Now healers who claim to know the ways of the AbaTwa in relation to herbs and healing also value Mulanje Mountain forest reserve including Dziwe la Nkhalamba and some areas near Lake Malawi and other areas in the country where there is water and ancient rain shrines.
It’s because of the definition of the word mphini that many Malawians concluded that the rock in Lake Malawi National Park Cape Maclear called Mwala wa Mphini was created by the ancestors.
“No” say some healers attributing its creation to an act of Chauta, Namalenga, Mphambe (God) hence natural and not mankind creating the marks on the rock.
But there are still rumours of ancestors somehow creating the marks on the rocks but that is not true.
In an email response, Samba Sarah Kambalame, Monuments Officer for Malawi’s Department of Antiquities said the Mwala wa Mphini monument is a tattooed geological structure.
“The name Mwala wa Mphini in literal translation means “Rock marked with traditional scars” Its geomorphic formation presents a picture of scars that amaze locals and visitors. It dates back to the Iron Age.
“Many myths are told about the rock’s origin and healing powers. Many believe it to be a sacred rock; local medicine men make healing and protective concoctions from chipping aggregates of the rock,” she explains.
Internet sources explain that geological structures as faults and folds are the architecture of the earth’s crust.”
“Geologic structures influence the shape of the landscape, determine the degree of landslide hazard, bring old rocks to the surface, bury young rocks, trap petroleum and natural gas, shift during earthquakes, and channel fluids that create economic deposits of metals such as gold and silver.
“Folds, faults, and other geologic structures accommodate large forces such as the stress of tectonic plates jostling against each other, and smaller forces such as the stress of gravity pulling on a steep mountainside.
The same website also explains how stress refers to the forces that cause rocks to deform and three three basic types of stress that deform rocks including compression (pushing together),tension (pulling apart) and shear (twisting or rotating).
“In response to stress, rocks will undergo some form of bending or breaking, or both. The bending or breaking of rock is called deformation or strain.
If rocks tend to break, they are said to be brittle. If a rock breaks, it is said to undergo brittle behavior. If rocks tend to bend without breaking, they are said to be ductile, further reads the same website.
Mystery, legend, imagination and myths more than concrete facts surrounds Zomba Plateau’s Chingwe’s Hole also nicknamed an abyss of nothingness by some Malawian bloggers.
The hole is the source of rumours ranging from alleged mentally disturbed people being thrown in to enemies of some ancient chiefs.
Some believe the place to be haunted by spirits (mizimu) whose origins are not known and whether they are believed to be ancestral spirits (mizimu yamakolo) or not.
Other Malawians assumed the mentally challenged or disturbed were also thrown down that pit in ancient times just because there is Zomba Mental hospital in the area.
But one thing remains clear and not as sketchy….which is the hole being known as a dumping site for deceased lepers.
Those who have attempted to climb inside, estimate it to be about 10 meters deep although villagers in the area reportedly estimated it at 30 meters before it was filled by dirt and other things.
So it has a bottom full of sand or dirt.
According to Samba Sarah Kambalame, the Monuments Officer in Malawi’s Department of Antiquities, officially Chingwe’s hole is a “historical place and known as an area where unwanted people were thrown including lepers and some with disabilities.”
But it is not known if research has been done to establish if there are indeed many bones inside the hole the way it was done with the “Leper Tree” of Malawi.However the hole still has a horrible reputation and is also viewed as a bottomless cave.
Some say it reaches the base of the Rift valley, others give specific depths writes Aku Kalizang’oma in his blog titled ‘The Abyss of Zomba plateau, Chingwe’s Hole’ in his Explore Malawi blog.
“Whatever the case, the secrets that the victims might have kept have long been taken with them beyond the plains. If you find yourself on the plateau, do you have the courage to gaze through the abyss?,” asks Kalizang’oma.
Another mystery is the origins of the chingwe name which means rope.
According to a Victoria Falls online Guide a Great Chief of Central Africa was allegedly Chingwe.
Quoting information from a Zimbabwe farmer’s website the guide quotes a John recalling how as a child he was told “tribal legends by the son of a village chief, stories of a great and powerful Chief, Chief Chingwe, who ruled from what is today Zimbabwe to Tanzania, Uganda and beyond.”
“It was said that the Chief held court on Zomba Plateau and threw all his enemies into a vertical hole in the plateau. In the sixties the hole was discovered, full of human bones, however history has yet to be rewritten,” alleged the website.
So far most known evidence available online is about the trunk of the Leper Tree which reads: “The grave for people who suffered from leprosy in the past.” You can still poke your head into the hollow and see skulls and skeletons lying at the bottom.”
Time will tell if the suspected bottomless pit of Zomba Plateau also has evidence of lost human life inside its mysterious Chingwe Hole or if it’s ancient name really was a person’s name or just a phrase for a rope or string in the vernacular one might need to get out of there smoothly.
“Zomba Plateau is unique. A great slab of a mountain rising to 6000ft (1800m), it has vast tracts of cedar, pine and cypress but elsewhere the vegetation is wild and mixed.
“The plateau top is criss-crossed by streams and there are tumbling waterfalls and still lakes. There are driveable tracks right round the top from which are views of such splendour that they were described in colonial times as “the best in the British Empire”.
“Whether walking or driving, there is always something to see. Wildlife includes leopards, although sightings are rare. More in evidence are giant butterflies and, on the lower slopes, baboons. Birdlife includes the long-crested eagle and the augur buzzard.
Accommodation on the plateau includes a luxury hotel, the famous Sunbird Ku Chawe, set at the very edge of the mountain; and a large camping site. Fly-fishing for trout is possible in season and horse riding can be arranged,” reads the Malawi Tourism website about the so many breathtaking places to visit in beautiful Malawi including Chingwe’s Hole.
It was a very hot day a few months ago when I decided to hire a taxi from Limbe bus depot which is actually matola transport to travel to Phalombe at a discount rate since I lost my cars many years ago and have never had enough money to buy another one.
I was determined to get to Phalombe to meet an elderly nyanga healer as one dealing in charms so that I could ask for permission to take a photo of his nsupa magical gourd made from mphonda losadibwe to mean a kind of squash which is not eaten.
“The calabash, bottle gourd, or white-flowered gourd, Lagenaria siceraria (synonym Lagenaria vulgaris Ser.), also known as opo squash (from Tagalog: upo) or long melon, is a vine grown for its fruit, which can either be harvested young and used as a vegetable, or harvested mature, dried, and used as a bottle, utensil, or pipe,” partly reads https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calabash
However on my way to Phalombe I could not help but stare at the beauty of majestic Mount Mulanje and the water flowing down from it and the sight of some young men beckoning us to climb up to Dziwe la Nkhalamba (pool for the elderly) within an hour was too hard to resist so I told the car to stop.
Armed with a heavy handbag and wearing sandals I decided we should trek up to Dziwe la Nkhalamba as I badly needed my own photos although all I had was my phone camera which wasn’t of good quality.
I was also tempted to drink clean looking water coming out of a rock but luckily I did not and focused on walking up.
Despite that I ignored the heat and armed with a cedar cane with the words SAPITWA and Mulanje Mountain written on it we started our climb up and within 10 minutes I was sweating heavily as it was very hot.
As sweat covered my face and body I decided to rest for some 5 minutes half way through while I continued taking as many photos as possible.
The sun was so hot that I kept seeing rainbow colours or prism like things in the lens and when I asked the guide to take my photo the same effect was seen but not when he captured the mountain from another angle.
It was under an hour when I saw water roar past me as we climbed up and I had to make sure I balanced myself as my sandals were lose and got one of the gentlemen to carry my heavy blue handbag.
We climbed up and up and I felt as if I was doing push-ups and felt every muscle in my stomach react which made me feel good.
By the time we start descending somewhere on top I saw the Dziwe la Nkhalamba waterfall in a distance and screamed with delight as I could hear the roar of water.
It was breathtaking and out of this world when we finally reached the pool and all I could do was take photos but I feared standing on the rocks as I imagined myself falling into the water yet I cannot swim despite many years of lessons….I fear deep water and imagine a hand pulling me in.
After getting the guide and taxi driver to take some closer photos for me it was time to call it a day as the sun was beginning to set and we had to trek back down.
On the way back I saw some men with cedar tree logs which they probably cut down illegally from the mountain but I pretended not to notice that much because I did not know what they were capable of doing.
As we walked down I could feel my feet getting out of my sandals and the rocks scrapping them but I did not care as my mission to FINALLY SEE Dziwe la Nkhalamba had been accomplished and I felt so good to feel any pain.
Although I spent money though I’m self-employed to get someone to drive me to the place I felt it was worth it and next time I want to conquer the physical Sapitwa where many tourists go before attempting to see if I can be “kidnapped” into the mythical kingdom one and be able to come out after taking photos…..only time will tell indeed!
“Inu mayi ee, bwera, bwera ee, Sungamwana ee, uzamudalise ee….inu mayi ee, bwera, bwera ee” (oh you our mother yes, come, come yes, Keep the Child yes, bless this one yes….). – part of a sacred Dziwe la Nkhalamba song by elders who held suspected Mibawa canes or walking sticks which might be a type of African Mahogany in English.
They would tap on the ground three times while moving their feet in rhythm with the sacred music while the seeds they wore around their ankles added more beats.
Music has been defined as the art of combining sounds or sequences of notes into harmonious patterns. One tends to wonder if music can affect one’s soul which is the seat of emotion, sentiment and aspiration through dance, a movement of measured steps.
Most countries in Africa use music in traditional rituals and rites to invoke various spirits which possess a host’s body, usually the dancer.
Drums are the main but not only instrument used, with the talking drum being dominant, conveying messages with each beat. Only trained dancers and drummers would be able to comprehend the message projected.
Drums are common in Malawian traditional music with both men and women using these instruments. Various dances are performed in rural areas for different occasions from maganje, nsembe to festive celebrations.
In the Northern region Vimbuza is a common dance in which spirits possess the body which shakes violently while using all muscles while following the beat of the music.
Only one who is guided by the spirit can perform this dance. Watching vimbuza one can see some similarities with the 1980s craze which was known as break-dancing. There was a certain movement in which one would shake the whole body from head to toe as if having a fit or being possessed.
These were the robot and wave where one behaved as if they were having an electric shock.
Gule Wamkulu the secretive masked spirit dancers from Malawi were said to be sexually explicit in that song but no confirmation but anyway during the Kamuzu days till democracy many traditional songs became politicized with some even worshipping leaders.
Some can see some similarities between Michael Jackson’s hit video ‘Thriller’ and some of Africa’s sacred masked dancers including the way he seemed to grab his front the way pop-star Madonna also did.
The yells and screams are also similar to some of Africa’s masked dancers so one can definitely conclude dancing has its roots in Africa with it touching the soul of the continent.
“Don’t criticize the king, even silently, and don’t criticize the rich, even in the privacy of your bedroom. A bird might carry the message and tell them what you said” – Ecclesiastes 10:20 Good News Translation (GNT)
I would be most grateful if holy people familiar with biblical verses would teach us outcasts what the above verse means as many in Malawi laugh at me when I pay attention to birds and consider that primitive though I’m trying to figure out local mythology about them.
Are those parrots which repeat words a person says?
My area of interest are the birds which Malawians don’t usually eat including owls, falcons, eagles, hornbills and the Sacred African Ibis. Yes some might eat those but they’re not that easy to catch unlike the others and many Malawians consider birds appearing in a home evil although they were all created by Chauta, Namalenga, Mphambe (God).
It’s just before the rainy season in Malawi when the sound of natures’ trumpets is heard….waaaaah! waaaah!! Waaaaah!!! cry the Trumpeter Hornbills in the busy commercial city of Blantyre startling me as I lay down on my bed in Soche East near Soche mountain.
I peak out of my room to see two huge Trumpeter Hornbills eating papaya from my tree with their big round eyes seeming to stare right through my soul. Even as I approach them they didn’t fly off but kept looking at me while moving their heads.
As if being guided by an invisible conductor the birds cry in unison like babies even louder again as if telling a story of sorrow which no man can understand.
Their constant cries can make those with creative minds wonder what they’re trying to say using bird language.
For me the way they cry varies and sometimes it sounds like sorrow but when some guests to my home saw the birds they freaked out and got scared with Chauta, Namalenga, Mphambe (God) creations.
For years these birds showed up at my former home and former workplace but these days I rarely see them landing but flying by. Previously I would hear them and as soon as I found the tree where they are, there would be silence so I figured they could somehow think but that cry was something else.
I would then assume that their cry was normal for everyone hence them not reacting unlike me who never grew in a village hence I would always be surprised when they went quiet when I found them and would stare at me.
I also see a lot of falcons, hawks and suspected eagles which seem to cry when something tragic is about to happen. I usually spot eagles near royal homes or traditional healers with royal blood and when they make their not so usual cry it alarms me as if fore-telling something while falcons or hawks flying in circles and other movements seem as if they’re writing something in the sky.
Eagles and falcons fascinate me and till this day I’m always happy to see them wherever I am in the world as they remain my favourite strong birds but the sacred African Ibis and Northern Bald Ibis are not seen as often.
The last time I saw suspected Northern Bald Ibis they were flying in a V-formation and flew above me for about 15 minutes giving me enough time to study them, their beaks and how they flew and how the last would end up first and so forth.
It was like watching nature’s jet show.
When visiting Mangochi I usually witness African Fish Eagles flying past and in my ears I can hear them flap their wings but there is another eagle looking bird which when it appears and cry I expect something specific to happen depending on where and how it lands.
I’m also told the term [m]vundulamadzi is African fish eagle in English and means the Eagle is so strong when it hits the water that it’s believed to make the fish at the bottom come up to the top in confusion.
So if there is one thing I will always remember about my former Malawi Housing Corporation home in Soche East, Blantyre; that would be the many birds that “kept me company” in thick and thin and made my garden beautiful.
I love gardening and would always plant different types of flowers and grass because the green helped sooth my migraine headaches so the flying birds always complimented the colours and I would love listening to their daily songs and watching them land before me.
The shrieking cry of the Hamerkop always alarmed me and gave me the creeps as it was like they were foretelling disaster and it’s one bird I can easily catch if I wanted to but I don’t as I see them really close including those that land near shopping places in Limbe.
The other colourful ones whose names I don’t know were like an alarm clock to wake me up in the morning and some were there right above the door at the entrance to my house to remind me it was getting dark hence they were ready to sleep.
“Rise up this mornin’, smiled with the risin’ sun, three little birds, pitch by my doorstep, singin’ sweet songs of melodies pure and true, saying’, (“This is my message to you”)….”Don’t worry ’bout a thing,’cause every little thing gonna be alright” sang Legend Bob Marley in his famous Three Little Birds song sounded real to me although unreal.
Of course the birds of the night like bats (mleme) once found its way into my house but I kicked it out and suspected they were attracted to the fruit trees I had outside but some were eventually uprooted including the banana tree.
Same with a white owl which once landed in front of me during the day near a home whose occupants were cruel to me.
It would stare directly into my eyes and a similar one appeared near my kitchen during the day when I opened the gate to let in a visitor who gave me the creeps.
The owl made a 360 degree turn and with one eye open and the other closed it stared at the guest who got nervous so we had to chase the damn owl away.
Same thing with pigeons and doves which showed up I would read into them and got the feeling pigeons prefer being around places where there is peace or people who have peace of mind.
However I never saw a parrot near my home although some claimed many could be found at a nearby Soche mountain but had “fled once human beings encroached the forest reserve or bush.”
Where there was “Long live Kamuzu” is no longer there and older healers who used to trek up the hill claim wild animals, birds and snakes that used to be there fled as humans replaced them.
Local birds known as Namzeze most likely swallows have fallen flat on their backs before me several times including in an office where I used to once work.
For some reason I fail to pick them up as their eyes make me feel sorry so it’s usually those near me who do that for me and let them go as I have no use for them.
It was also very normal for some birds to lay their eggs in my hanging flower pots near the entrance of my house or in many places on the roof of that former rented home.
But I never knew the types of birds they were as they varied and would always SING and DANCE even on gloomy days.
One that would sleep on a chord for my dish right near my bedroom would always stare straight into my eyes whenever I peaked unlike some others which would get startled….fly away and always come back to their resting place.
It was not unusual to always find white bird pooh on the doormat of my house as a bird always slept there and in many other holes near my bedroom.
There are so many other birds I have seen which would take a book to document so would like to hear other tales about them besides my personal experiences.
However there are some villagers in Malawi who claim there are a few “gifted” people who can somehow understand what such birds are saying and that it allegedly warns of something about to happen in the world.
How this is done remains a mystery but there are some people who still believe the behavior and sounds of some birds and animals can somehow foretell the future.
They also believe the Trumpeter hornbill is a mbalame yamizimu (spirit bird) with a natural horn (nyanga). Other beliefs about this bird and the spirit are not allowed to be shared on this blog.
This is in contrast to the Helmeted Hornbill with the “casque not hollow but is filled with ivory and is used as a battering ram used in dramatic aerial jousts.
“One of the earlist evidence of the game are fragments of a pottery board and several rock cuts found in Aksumite Ethiopia in Matara (now in Eritrea) and Yeha (in Ethiopia), which are dated by archaeologists to between the 6th and 7th century AD; the game may have been mentioned by Giyorgis of Segla in his 14th century Ge’ez text “Mysteries of Heaven and Earth”, where he refers to a game called qarqis, a term used in Ge’ez to refer to both Gebet’a (Mancala) and Sant’araz (modern sent’erazh, Ethiopian Chess). The similarity of some aspects of the game to agricultural activity and the absence of a need for specialized equipment present the intriguing possibility that it could date to the beginnings of civilization itself; however, there is little verifiable evidence that the game is older than about 1300 years. Some purported evidence comes from the Kurna temple graffiti in…
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.