From a distance as she walks gracefully down the dusty rocky path in an old pair of jeans and plain T-shirt, the healer spots her, the eyes right on this being shining brightly on her forehead ignoring her “western” attire go some tales in a Mulanje village.
Some traditional healers of Malawi who practice ancient ways of Sapitwa viewed as “primitive” by many, do not judge a person by the way they look or the clothes they are wearing but claim to be able to somehow tell a good person from an evil one by the way they shine on the forehead?
According to one healer based in Mulanje, when she somehow sees a bright cross on the forehead of a person which resembles the Nthanda yaku m’mawa (Sirius), she claims that person is good unlike those who have another symbol which remains hidden till this blog gets that information.
The healer daily holds her hands to the chest as a sign to remind her of three spiritual beings she treasures and holds dear in her heart.
Now for the Sirius symbol, the hands imitate taking fire from the three stone/rock open fire traditional cooking place to support a pot (mafuwa) to draw the 2 triangles that make a bright star on one’s chest.
One would be an upright triangle to symbolize the highest peak of Mulanje Mountain, Sapitwa and the other would be an upside side triangle, the opposite which for them is “Kuba” apparently a mountain in Mozambique whose name will remain hidden.
When probed further, the huge village woman who speaks with authority says their “Nthanda” which is a bright morning star is from their version of the East and shines brightly on New Year’s Eve to symbolize a new beginning and different from Venus also known as a morning star.
She blunty says, “kuwala ngati nyenyezi” (shining like a star). This symbol is drawn by some who follow such teachings with ufa woyera (white maize flour) or within a circle to symbolize all.
This African cross for them also represents the 4 winds of Sapitwa which are North, South West and East and symbolize rain and the Creator in their beliefs.
The African cross drawn with maize flour was also symbolic of a key to the so-called underworld of Sapitwa which some call an astral realm and like a compass for a map they say.
This symbol and brightness also represents Fire which is in their words symbolically shared when one shines brightly by doing good to remove the darkness which symbolizes bad.
Again here they play with the words right, left, west, east and Sun and Moon which symoblize opposites but a reality in existence.
Fire is also believed to scare evil spirits away in their teachings so they symbolically pass on fire like the way one would light a candle till many lit. The fire also represents their Sirius bright star of December.
Now the evil spirits chased away include those who were once human but passed on to the astral realm in their beliefs but wander on earth.
These are different from the winged spirits of ancient times the Sapitwa and Kuba healers believe in.
In what may be Sacred Science they believed that 4 winged positive male spirits charged the right side and that three winged negative female spirits charged the left side and together that made a total of 7 pulling each other to create light which to them was like the sun or lightning.
Some other town based healers use the symbol but without that same meaning or knowledge.
In the Sapitwa mythology, ancestral spirits of the dead live in the astral realm of Mulanje Mountain and spirits which have never been human so go the tales. This blog will explain this in detail once the tale is told.
Of these are 7 winged spirits guided by their god of which four are believed to mythically control what is believed to be 4 winds used by healers to send requests with incense (lubani) by facing East where the sun rises.
In the myths the royal spirit family consists of Tomasi Bona of the North wind, Tagoneka Mbona of the West wind, Chandiona Gonekela of the South wind and Nthanda mwana wa mwezi of the East which in English would be the Sirius star and child of the moon.
These four include the ancient Malawi god of rain and there are ancient rain shrines on Mulanje mountain.
Tomasi Bona in their beliefs was summarised as meaning the whole world in his hands and feast while Tagoneka Mbona meant put to sleep/serpent spirit.
Chandiona Gonekela was summarised as it’s seen me put to sleep and Nthanda mwana wa mwezi of the East which in English would be the Sirius star and child of the moon.
In Chichewa Nthanda yaku m’mawa means the African cross from the East. Kum’mwawa in Chichewa means the East and m’mawa the morning so during a certain season and depending on its location it becomes a bright morning star.
Mwezi means the moon both seen in the sky and drawn by the ancestors of healers of this land so go the tales.
The other three spirits include Dziwe Ntambamwana named after a pool/witchcraft but not to be confused with the Ntambanana River in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and Ife Zonse meaning something like us all. The last is Sungamwana meaning keep the child for good.
NOTE: This blog would appreciate if Malawians correct any wrong spellings or translations since the Sapitwa healers speak Chinyanja.