It’s in the afternoon some centuries ago and its cloudy as dark clouds and fog cover Mount Mulanje…then a beat is heard in the distance as if a secret song of those in the spiritual worlds unknown chanting.
This is the beginning of Napolo, a mythical slithering serpent spirit which when upright is believed to talk and two of its “teeth” visible in front.
On hearing that song, villagers in the area know Napolo is on the way and rush to the nearest shelter to avoid its angry wrath in some tales from Mulanje about ancient landslides in the area.
These are associated with slithering serpent spirits re-locating to water bodies by moving in a straight line like a tractor removing everything in its path so they say.
It’s not rare to hear some female traditional healers in Malawi talking of winged spirits (mizimu) living in various water bodies and others together with ancestral spirits in mountains and hills.
The ancestral spirits are usually defined by them as those that were once human beings on earth and passed on to the other world. Of these are ‘gods’ who once were feared ancient kings who walked this earth.
Then there are the winged spirits that have never been human before. One of these is the mythical Napolo of Mulanje Mountain.
The serpent spirit in oral stories sometimes relocates from mountains to lakes and the ocean by moving in a straight path and removing everything in its way claim Mulanje villagers.
Ancient priestesses who abstained from sexual relations so that they were “cold” and not “hot” when trekking to “sacred” areas would rush to mountain tops to offer nsembe (sacrifices) of mapira (sorghum) among other things when they saw bubbles forming at a certain spot to prevent Napolo so go some tales.
Scientifically such occurrences are defined as landslides, flash floods and some suggest the movement of water down the hills or mountains looks like it’s slithering hence tales about serpent spirits.
But for the ancient people around the mountain a certain song and drum beat would be heard before the said Napolo erupted which again some scientists attribute to the movements of rocks.
Other parts of Malawi also have Napolo stories.
Blogger Aku Kalizangoma on his blog writes that “Napolo was further described as having torn up trees and having separated or detached the earth or soil from the mountain causing landslides. Like other spirits it is said it cannot be seen but if one does see them, the person would surely die.
For more information check his blog on http://exploremalawi.blogspot.com/2012/03/chewa-story-of-napolo-ancient-rain.html
However there are other occurrences which science has not yet explained including some people entering “forbidden” places and finding themselves stuck in the same place despite walking for hours.
There is also a tale of an elderly foreign religious man once visiting Sapitwa while armed with a rifle.
As he sat there watching the beautiful view he suddenly noticed black clouds gathering and the place getting dark. He stared in fascination at the clouds when suddenly he saw a huge serpent spirit looking to the left then right goes one tale told to this blog some years ago.
The man is said to have been so frightened that he somehow ran down the mountain without looking back while tripping and falling, leaving his rifle behind!
Now this mythical Napolo leads other upright serpent spirits which included ancient kings given new bodies when they passed on claim some stories from Sapitwa.
They also claim of various kingdoms there being ruled by the deceased ancient kings who appear as many different serpent spirits.
Such serpent spirits ranged from cobras/mambas to pythons which stood upright and spoke like human beings in their spirit form. This is unlike snakes created by Chauta, Namalenga, Mphambe (God) on earth which do not talk say the Sapitwa healers.
They also talk of a kingdom behind a mythical astral realm of the mountain comprising of many beings who passed on. This blog is not endorsing such beliefs but just narrating oral stories told as they are, word for word.
Now with that background there also came a rare occurrence over the centuries were a powerful healer would somehow be born from the Indian Ocean where they somehow spent three days underneath.
When asked to explain, a female healer described the earth as a symbolic Mother Earth and the ocean as a womb because of the water representing the amniotic fluid of a pregnant woman.
According to ancient beliefs Mother Earth would go into labour pains like an earthquake and expel the powerful healer through water breaking like floods within the ocean in which were winged spirits.
But they claim the last such mythical occurrence happened centuries ago and the ancient priests and priestesses prepared for it. In their words no such occurrence will happen again soon although many healers reportedly visit the Indian Ocean for Nkungwa spiral sea snail shells and other items.
This blog will keep bringing more myths and tales of ancient Malawi as soon as they are made available but again not for endorsement but just a way to document oral history.
Plans are underway to also record story-tellers once funds are identified.
Scientifically, a landslide, also known as a landslip, is a geological phenomenon which includes “a wide range of ground movements, such as rockfalls, deep failure of slopes and shallow debris flows, which can occur in offshore, coastal and onshore environments.”
“Although the action of gravity is the primary driving force for a landslide to occur, there are other contributing factors affecting the original slope stability. Typically, pre-conditional factors build up specific sub-surface conditions that make the area/slope prone to failure, whereas the actual landslide often requires a trigger before being released,” reads the unofficial Wikipedia.