Public Hearings Held Across Malawi on Surestream Petroleum’s proposed Surveying Activities of Lake Malawi for Oil

Mining in Malawi

Surestream Petroleum ESIA Pic

The Malawian general public has been invited by the Environmental Affairs Department (Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Management) to provide feedback on the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) carried out by RPS Group on Surestream Petroleum‘s proposed surveying for the exploration of oil in Lake Malawi. Last week, public hearings were held in Karonga, Rumphi, Mzuzu and Nkhatabay. This week they are being held in Lilongwe, Nkhotakota and Blantyre.

At each of the public hearings, the Environmental Affairs Department (Juwo Sibande) has presented on the purpose of public hearings within the Environmental Impact Assessment process as defined within Malawi’s 1996 Environment Management Act. Following Sibande’s presentation, the RPS Group has provided an overview of the ESIA (led by head of the ESIA team Stuart Sharp), which is helpful as the ESIA is close to 500 pages. Following the presentations, the participants have had an opportunity to address…

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Is the Vundulamadzi bird the African Fish Eagle?

The Vundula (to stir up) or Vundulamadzi (stir up the water) bird is pictured on pages 56 and 57 of the Ulendo series Mtunda 3 Chichewa for Standard 3.

Vundulamadzi bird in the Mtunda 3 book

This blog wants to know its English name and to verify whether or not it is the African Fish Eagle?

African Fish Eagle:,_Great_Rift_Valley,_Kenya-8.jpg

Is Vundulamadzi a nickname for Nkhwazi which is a fish eagle and cries like “He-e-e in the same book? Is it also known for fishing (kuwedza nsomba).

The ‘Siyabonga Africa’  South African website on  titled Kruger Park Birding: Birds and Muthi (Medicine) lists the African fish eagle as being the most in demand as “all eagles are a symbol of power and will help one catch one’s prey or achieve specific goals.”

Other birds listed on that website include the Southern Ground-Hornbill (Nang’omba) for protection against lightning and the family among other muthi myths listed there.

According to the unofficial Wikipedia, the distinctive cry of the African fish eagle is, for many, “evocative of the spirit or essence of Africa. The call, shriller when uttered by males, is a weee-ah, hyo-hyo or a heee-ah, heeah-heeah”

According to the unofficial Wikipedia, the African Eagle mainly feed on fish “which it will swoop down upon from a perch in a tree, snatching the prey from the water with its large clawed talons. The eagle will then fly back to its perch to eat its catch.”

Who read this book and is this the African Fish Eagle?

This species is quite common near freshwater lakes, reservoirs, and rivers, although they can sometimes be found near the coast at the mouths of rivers or lagoons.

“As their name implies, African Fish Eagles are indigenous to sub-Saharan Africa, ranging over most of continental Africa south of the Sahara Desert. Several examples of places where they may be resident include the Orange River inSouth Africa and Namibia, the Okavango Delta in Botswana, and Lake Malawi bordering its namesake country MalawiTanzania and Mozambique.

“The African Fish Eagle is thought to occur in substantial numbers around the locations of Lake Victoria and other large lakes that are found in Central Africa, particularly the Rift Valley lakes. The African Fish Eagle is a generalist species, requiring only open water with sufficient prey and a good perch.

This is evident by the number of habitat types that this species may be found in, including grasslandswampsmarshestropical rainforestfynbos and even desert bordering coastlines, such as that of Namibia,” partly reads the Wikipedia.

The African Fish Eagle is a species placed in the genusHaliaeetus (sea eagles).

It’s feet has rough soles and are equipped with powerful talons in order to enable the eagle to grasp slippery aquatic prey. While this species mainly subsists on fish, it is opportunistic and may take a wider variety of prey such as waterbirds.

They breed during the dry season when water levels are low. African Fish Eagles are believed to be monogamous – in other words, they mate for life.

Photo borrowed from:

NOTE:  This blog does not have photos of the African Fish Eagle but has used some from the unofficial online Wikipedia encylcopaedia with necessary links.

Myths & Tales: Nang’omba: ancient Malawi’s trumpet birds?

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 some in a nearby room.
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.

An example of it’s baby cry is posted on You Tube

But some villagers in Malawi 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.”
The Trumpeter Hornbill (Bycanistes bucinator) is a medium-sized hornbill, with length between 58 and 65 cm (23 and 26 in), characterized by a large grey casque on the bill, smaller in females partly reads the unofficial Wikipedia.
“The eyes are brown or red, with pink surrounding skin. Body mass is reported between 0.45 and 1 kg (0.99 and 2.2 lb). They are similar to Silvery-cheeked Hornbill. Distinguishing features include an all-black back, white belly and white underwing coverts (in flight, wings present white tips), and red facial skin.”
In the West, the Trumpeter Hornbill, Bycanistes bucinator is also believed to be the mystery bird photographed in a classroom of the fictional Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the children’s novel and film Harry Potter somewhere in Scotland according to some online sources.
For others in Malawi these are just the usual myths and tales of this land which make entertaining story telling. 
The Trumpeter Hornbill is defined on as a “gregarious bird, usually living in groups of 2 to 5 individuals, although sometimes as many as 50. 
This hornbill is a locally common resident of the tropical evergreen forests of BurundiMozambiqueBotswanaCongoKenya, the Caprivi strip of Namibia and eastern South Africa, where it feeds on fruits and large insects.
“Like other hornbills, the females incubate 4 to 5 white eggs, while sealed in the nest compartment.”
It’s range is from south central and southeastern Africa from north central Angola east across south central and southeastern Zaire, Burundi and Tanzania to south central and southeastern Kenya, and south through Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, northeastern Zimbabwe, extreme northeastern Namibia and northern Botswana to eastern South Africa.
“Found in humid forest, well developed riverine forest, lowland forest, moist woodland, edge, savanna, and second growth woodland habitats,” further reads the same website.

“The medium sized hornbill is typical of coastal and riverine forests. The call is a loud, high nasal braying noise that is often prolonged and resembles the cry of a baby. They also give a low gutteral croak when feeding.”

Now for those who hear music in their ears when these birds “cry” like a baby this could be like the earliest form of a “primitive” trumpet made from the hollowed-out horn or shell of an animal, into the end of which a hole was bored for the mouth.
According to some online sources this kind of “trumpet” had neither a mouthpiece nor a bell, and was not so much a musical instrument as a megaphone into which one spoke, sang, or shouted. The intention was to distort the voice and produce a harsh, unnatural sound to ward off evil spirits or disconcert one’s enemies.
“Only later was the trumpet used to invoke friendly gods or to encourage one’s own warriors on the battlefield. 
Typically only one or two different pitches could be produced on such an instrument, though sometimes a small fingerhole was bored in the tip to provide the player with an extra pitch,” further reads
It adds that: “Primitive trumpets were mainly used in religious ceremonies and magic rituals. As they were played only by men, they probably acquired strong phallic overtones; among certain aboriginal tribes, for example, it was a capital offense for a woman to look at a trumpet. The tradition of playing trumpet or bugle fanfares at sunrise (Reveille), sunset (Last Post), and at funerals (Taps), probably evolved from these ancient rituals.
“The use of the trumpet as an instrument of warfare and the chase is probably as old.

Its strident sound and animal origins must have suggested a wild or belligerent nature at a very early date, while the ritualistic uses to which it was put only served to strengthen its associations with death and male-oriented activities,” further reads the unofficial Wikipedia online.

The modern day trumpet also makes a wah-wah sound which is an instrumental sound similar to a baby’s cry as defined on

An example of a wah-wah is a sound made by opening and closing a trumpet’s bell with a plunger mute and popularized by many Jazz artists among others.


Do Lizard Love Charms Work? By Agnes Mizere (First published in Fairlane Magazine)

Malawians, is this monitor lizard called kwakwananda here? Photo from

No…no…no! Our ancestors and “witch-doctors” got it all wrong…women should not use magic spells to control men, it’s evil and I will tell you why.  Yes I’m aware love charms are as historical as Malawi itself but I have my reservations.

First of all, love the oldest emotion known to mankind should not be confused with lust! Simply put, love is a strong liking for someone or something; a passionate affection for another person; or the object of such affection.

Love is supposed to be natural, without barriers and affecting various sectors of society including cases where one partner is doing all the loving.  This has created an unusual need especially amongst some Malawian women just like other African ones to use external substances like charms to cast spells, control and magically induce love in cold men.

Instead most of these men are turning into zombies or becoming kind of brain dead!  Others end up hating the pursuer even more! The first such horror story I came across involves thirty-four year-old *Susan a married mother of two (a boy and girl) but a very lonely woman although she has all that she could possible dream of having: a beautiful home, cars, free air tickets for annual shopping sprees to Asia and Europe etc.  

Shockingly, this young mother still feels emptiness in her heart as she claims that the challenging very alert out-going man she married six years ago has now been replaced by a boring introvert whom she has to force to go to work.

Why? *Susan in the early days of their relationship rushed to get mankhwala achikondi  (love charms) from a witchdoctor in Thyolo where she received specific instructions to mix the herbs with her fresh faeces then mix them with relish especially dried fish like matemba, meat or beans.  Nasty!
Now chances are high that her ‘very obedient’ husband will soon lose his job because every morning he apparently clings on to his wife ‘like a maggot’ if I may use her own words.

Ironically, this has forced her to have an affair with a ‘younger more challenging’ man a college student?  One can only wonder what the point of all this was.  

What is disturbing is that *Susan is not alone.  More African women these days seem to be turning to love charms and spells to grab the men of their dreams.  Some are very satisfied.  In Area 18, 27 year-old *Nankhoma is proud that “her man sticks to her like glue or a zombie and they “definitely have a Till Death Do Us Part Affair.”

Her secret recipe?  The outspoken woman burns a small cloth soaked with her menstruation blood and mixes it with mankhwala achikondi  which she then conceals in relish.  Sometimes she uses a piece of thread from her underwear or blanket which is burnt then the ashes mixed with herbs to be cooked with nsima or chips.

You might be wondering what the secret ingredient in these women’s love charms is? Well many women in townships have been chasing after buluzi (lizards) thinking their tails are sacred love potions but my investigations show that it’s in the tail of Namakala Vamulango or Kwakwananda which sounds like a monitor lizard found in the hills of Nsanje and Chikwawa. 

The whole animal is bought but only the tail is pounded into powder or burnt into ashes for use.  It’s then mixed with 13 roots and barks with the animal parts being the fourteenth. These potions/charms which are believed to cause rapid weight loss, hair shredding and suspected brain damage involve blood which is unclean.

Imagine, some women somehow soak mawele  (millet) in their private parts until it sprouts after several days then they cook thobwa for their husbands to drink!  Talk of disgusting…on the other hand, I am told that there are other mixtures which do not involve body fluids or blood but two types of ground nyenyezi mixed with oils.

One is supposed to be the bark of a tree found at Sapitwa, the highest peak of Mulanje Mountain, with a glittering inside which shines when facing the sun.  The other is what some locals call nyenyezi (a star) which apparently falls at night only once a year during the month of October.  It sounds like a meteorite but in their opinion, the star is actually just a rock which shines brightly and when it hits the ground the whole area is well lit even though it’s at night.

Elders foretell a chief’s future using these while others call them ‘lucky stars’ which some women use when looking for a husband.  So as the hunt for the tail of Namakala Vamulango  still continues in the remote hills further down south, some look for falling stars while others are plainly opting for good old-fashioned real love in a give and take situation instead of using external factors for enhancement. 

Which one are you?




Malawi’s Lake of Stars highlights precious to me


The ‘Malawi Lake of Stars’ by Michael Mutisunge Phoya and with photography by Frank Johnston which I took a photo of above, describes how it’s  ‘discoverer’ explorer David Livingstone, described Lake Nyassa  as The Lake of Stars when he first marveled at the sunlight dancing on its ripples.

Here are some major points in the book this blog would like to share:

The Eastern African Rift

“Africa is the cradle of mankind and nowhere have geological transitions been as cataclysmic as which created Africa’s Great Rift Valley.  Some 400 million years ago, the African tectonic plate began to split into two and the result was the East African Rift, an active continental rift zone which is, in turn, part of the larger Great Rift Valley.

So named by British geologist and explorer John Walter Gregory, it originates in northern Syria and runs for approximately 6000 km to central Mozambique.  Starting around the Horn of Africa, the Eastern African Rift runs through eastern Africa to the coast of Mozambique.

It contains the oldest, largest, and deepest Lakes and freshwater eco-regions of great biodiversity such as Lakes Tangayika and Malawi.  Lake Malawi, for her part, has continued to evolve due to a number of reasons including further geological shifts in the Great Rift Valley.

Lake Malawi is believed to have come into existence over a hundred million years ago when dinosaurs still roamed.  Heavy rains covered the valley caused by the cataclysmic movements.

The collected water formed a large swamp which later, as the years went by, grew into the Lake we know today. A small gap developed in the confining walls of the Lake and a stream escaped to snake its way to the great sea.

Later it grew into the river we know today as the Shire.  Fortunately for the Lake, the formation of this river ensured that it avoided the fate that befell its sister Lakes to the immediate north; that of becoming alkaline with only a few species surviving.

The fresh waters of Lake Malawi brought about the development of a myriad of species, so numerous that it can boast of having the most freshwater fish species in the world.

The human drama believed to have taken place along the Great Rift Valley is well documented.  Rapidly eroding highlands filled the valley below with sediment, turning it into a favourable environment for preservation.  Several hominid ancestors of modern humans have been found there, some dating back as much as three million years.”

The Bantu

“Around 1000 BCE, man started migrating from the area between present day Cameroon and the Sahara.  There were several reasons for this, but the main one was the expansion of the desert which left little land to cultivate and to make use of the hoes and other products of the Iron Age.  They migrated eastwards and settled in Central Africa before again proceeding eastwards where they continued to grow and search for greener lands to till.

Meeting the Hamites from East Africa, they united and produced a mixed people called Bantu.   Characterised by the dark skin of the Hamite and the tilling skills of the Negroes, the Bantu soon, and not surprisingly, overran their land.

Soon it was time to migrate and search for greener pastures.  Reaching the area around present day Lake Tanganyika, the Bantu intermarried with the pygmies of Equatorial Africa and produced a tiny hybrid soon to be etched into African folklore in general and Malawi’s folklore in particular as the Mwandionera pati, ‘whence did you see me?’  The wrong answer, “from a short way off,” could have devastating consequences for the unwitting traveler.”

The Akafula

“The Mwandionera pati or Akafula lived amicably with their Bantu ancestors before demand for land led their larger neighbours to displace them.  Migrating southwards, they chanced upon the water of Nyasa.

Although a wandering tribe, they soon settled by the Lake and for almost 2000 years made its beaches, and the highlands above, their homes.

When the second century Alexandrian geographer Ptolemy compiled his ‘map’ of the interior of Africa according to stories recorded by Marinus of Tyre, the Akafula were already settled on the Lake.  Marinus recorded that around 50 CE the Greek trader Diogenes ventured inland from a coastal city in what is today Tanzania and travelled for almost a month before encountering two great Lakes.

It is widely believed that he happened upon what we no know as Lakes Malawi and Victoria.  In any case, the travels of Dogenes found their way into Ptolem’ys canonical Geographical eographica and we see the first appearance of the Lke, albeit in a very distorted way, on a world map.

The Akafula continued to live in peace until the ever changing winds of time stirred more migrations from east and central Africa.  First to come were the Makaranga people who fought and slaughtered large numbers of the Akafula before continuing southwards to form the Monomutapa Kingdom.

Next were the Maravi who, unlike the Makaranga before them, had no intention of leaving the Lake.  Fierce battles ensued but the Akafula, outclassed in almost every way, vanished from the face of the earth though not before their resilience left a lasting impression on their Bantu conquerors, soon to be formally called Maravi.

It was left to the Bantu to commemorate these little people, reputed to be very good hunters, in the folklore.’

The Maravi and others

“The descendants of the population of the former Maravi empire constitute today a cluster of culturally and linguistically related communities, the so-called Maravi cluster.

They migrated eastwards from Luba in the Congo basin at a place called Kapirintiya which they believed to be a place of creation.  Economic reasons made them settle near the Lake, displacing the Akafula in the process.  Family squabbles and political factors brought smaller migrations where some settled in the high plateau bordering the Lake while others settled in the swamp areas of what is now the lower Shire Valley.

Like the Akafula before them, the Maravi learned to harness the Lake and this led to their prosperity.  With the cultivating skills acquired from their ancestors, they farmed the fertile Lakeshore areas and produced millet, their staple food.

Later the Portuguese introduced maize which replaced millet.  Using more skills from their ancestors they became experts at smelting iron.  Kilns put up during this time are still evident in many parts of the country.

The women became experts in pottery and basketware. Dugout canoes were perfected until the men could, with skilful handling, ply the frequently dangerous waters of the Lake.  Soon they were fishing the Lake, leaving the women to till the land and prepare food at home.

In the fifteenth century trade with the Portuguese and the increasing demand for ivory on the east coast led to prosperity for the Maravi, which in turn, led to the bundling together of their several tribes to form the Maravi Kingdom, soon to cover southern Malawi, northern Mozambique and eastern Zambia.

With its ruler, known as the Kalonga, the Maravi Kingdom reached its peak in the seventeenth century before slowly breaking down into smaller and less powerful groupings.

Around this time, more Bantu tribes descended on the Lake.  In the seventeenth century, the Tumbuka arrived from Tanzania and settled in the north.  Another tribe called the Bawoloka came to the Lake from eastern Tanzania and settled on its shores, to trade with the Tumbuka.

But it is the arrival of the Yao which brought a lasting impact on both Lake and countryside.  They migrated from present day Mozambique at the turn of the nineteenth century and slowly displaced the Nyanja (Amaravi) on the eastern shore of Lake Nyasa.

Traders by heritage, they created a chain of trading centres, all the way back to the coast.  This coincided with the capturing of Mombasa by the Sultan of Muscat and, inevitably, the end of Portuguese dominance along the east coast of Africa.

But unlike the Portuguese, who were mainly interested in gold from the interior, the Omani Arabs, soon to move from Mombasa to Zanzibar, were more interested in the lucrative slave trade.

Another tribe to have a lasting influence on the Lake region were the Ngoni people from South Africa.  Fleeing from Shaka the Zulu king and the mfecane (the word actually means pillaging!) he brought about, the Ngoni robbed and looted their way up the continent.

Destroying and conquering, they finally settled in the Shire Highlands and the Viphya and Nyika Highlands towering immediately above the Lake. A warring people, they continued, here as elsewhere, to give trouble to all their neighbours and especially to the Tumbuka and the Tonga.

When David Livingstone stepped on the Central African stage, all these tensions were growing and the whole area had the makings of a real tragedy.

David Livingstone, explore extraordinaire and the man forever credited with letting the world know that the interior of Africa was actually a very fertile land and not a barren desert, first set foot on the shores of Lake Malawi in 1859.

This seemingly small act of exploration was to entirely define the future of the soon-to-be-born country.  Prior to this, Livingstone had discovered, much to his horror and that of the world he was to alert, that the Arabs and Portuguese were practicing a new kind of slavery.”