Of ancient Malawi’s Abatwa (pygmies) and Langwani (giants)?


Travelling along a dusty road in a village in Mulanje, a young exhausted woman approaches the house of her destination where a small size woman welcomes her into a room.

The woman has a lot of ancient knowledge and wisdom and though she cannot read or write, she is able to read hieroglyphic writings just like some Sapitwa healers in the area.

After chatting, the visiting woman is about to leave when the host calls her “ngwazi”.  Startled the lady tells her she’s not a “ngwazi” but the small woman keeps calling her that name and then suddenly refers to her as langwani (meaning long one or tall one in English).

Puzzled the woman later discovers that the word “giant” in the English Chichewa – Chinyanja dictionary by Steve Paas is defined as “ngwazi, munthu wamtali wonenepa wa mphamvu and Goliath as a giant.”

In ancient Malawian myths and tales, the Abatwa (pygmy) oral stories spoke of them being spread throughout Africa and how giants who in their myths were winged spirits somehow had relations with human beings.

According to this woman who is a descendant of some Abatwa people, the other short people born in villages who are globally known as dwarfs are viewed as having a disability in villages although very able and deserving love from all but they are not Abatwa.

She somehow connects the Abatwa as being born of the spirit meaning the mountain. It’s not known if Malawi’s ancient Abatwa are the same as those using the same name in other countries.

According the unofficial online Wikipedia a pygmy is a member of an “ethnic group whose average height is unusually short; many anthropologists define pygmy as a member of any group where adult men are on average less than 150 cm (4 feet 11 inches) tall. Other anthropologists do not agree to group peoples based on stature as height is neither an accurate reflection of culture nor genetics.

A member of a slightly taller group is frequently termed “pygmoid”. The term is best associated with peoples of Central Africa, such as the AkaEfé and Mbuti”, partly reads http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pygmy_peoples

Wikipedia photo of pygmies with European explorers elsewhere taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:African_Pigmies_CNE-v1-p58-B.jpg

“The term pygmy is sometimes considered pejorative. The term pygmy, as used to refer to diminutive people, derives from Greek πυγμαίος Pygmaios via Latin Pygmaei (sing. Pygmaeus), derived from πυγμή – meaning a fist, or a measure of length corresponding to the distance between the elbow and knuckles.

However, there is no single term to replace it. Many prefer to be identified by their ethnicity, such as the Aka (Mbenga), BakaMbuti, and Twa. The term Bayaka, the plural form of the Aka/Yaka, is sometimes used in the Central African Republic to refer to all local pygmies. Likewise, the Kongo word Bambenga is used in Congo.”

The online sources also describes African pygmies as living in several ethnic groups in RwandaBurundiUganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Republic of Congo (ROC), the Central African Republic, Cameroon, the Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Angola, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia.

Most Pygmy communities are partially hunter-gatherers, living partially but not exclusively on the wild products of their environment. They trade with neighbouring farmers to acquire cultivated foods and other material items; no group lives deep in the forest without access to agricultural products.

“It is estimated that there are between 250,000 and 600,000 Pygmies living in the Congo rain-forest. However, although Pygmies are thought of as forest people, the groups called Twa may live in open swamp or desert.”

“There are at least a dozen Pygmy groups, sometimes unrelated to each other. The best known are the Mbenga (Aka and Baka) of the western Congo basin, who speak Bantu andUbangian languages; the Mbuti (Efe etc.) of the Ituri Rainforest, who speak Bantu and Central Sudanic languages, and the Twa of the African Great Lakes, who speak Bantu Rundiand Kiga.

This blog appeals to researchers to investigate some descendants of Abathwa in Malawi who don’t live in forests but in a village in Mulanje and spend most of their time on Mulanje mountain where they insist there used to be a thick forest in ancient times.

Others blogs like the Uganda Safari tour talk of the ‘The tales of the Batwa People – Pygmies of Uganda but some of them have been interviewed with photos to show.

“Located in Kisoro district Uganda — 20 years ago Uganda’s Batwa, or pygmies, were driven away from the forest to make space for a national park. But now the penniless Batwa are being allowed back as tour guides, showing hikers how they lived, this earning the some money in the process”, partly reads the blog on http://gorillastour.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-tales-of-batwa-people-pygmies-of.html

Photo from blog on http://gorillastour.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-tales-of-batwa-people-pygmies-of.html

A commonly held belief is that African Pygmies are the direct descendants of Late Stone Age hunter-gatherer peoples of the central African rainforest, who were partially absorbed or displaced by later immigration of agricultural peoples, and adopted their Central SudanicUbangian, and Bantu languages. This view has no archaeological support, and ambiguous support from genetics and linguistic

Now in Greek mythology pygmies were a tribe of diminutive humans. Their name in Greek was Pygmaioi, from pygmê, the length of the forearm. According to theIliad, they were involved in a constant war with the cranes, which migrated in winter to their homeland on the southern shores of the earth-encircling river Oceanus.

“One story describes the origin of the age-old battle, speaking of a Pygmy Queen named Gerana who offended the goddess Hera with her boasts of superior beauty, and was transformed into a crane.In art the scene was popular with little Pygmies armed with spears and slings, riding on the backs of goats, battling the flying cranes. The 2nd-century BC tomb near Panticapaeum,Crimea “shows the battle of human pygmies with a flock of herons” The Pygmies were often portrayed as pudgy, comical dwarfs” partly reads the Wikipedia.

Now in Sapitwa mythology which this blog attempted to compile myths and tales are told of trainee healers trekking through the rocks, dark alleys and caves of the mythical realm of Mulanje Mountain on their journey to the so-called fantasy world of Sapitwa and suddenly meets a mythical “dwarf” armed with an axe, his protruding belly sticking out with pride as he asks the dreaded question, “Mwandionera pati.” (“From where did you see me?”).

They know if they answer the question wrongly, the strong Abathwa (short people spirits) will slap them hard on the right cheek and that could either cause death or seriously injury according to primitive beliefs.

The said spirits never liked being referred to as being short and were believed to be very strong and warriors. Their legend is told by many traditional healers in Malawi who source their herbs and concoctions from the mountain.

They advise it’s better to tell the strong spirits that they saw them from far so that they proceed to the next and final encounter before entering the so-called astral realm of Sapitwa entrance in the hidden land of ancient African ‘fairy-tales’ or nthano stories.

However in Malawi, Mulanje Mountain and its forest reserve is believed to have been home to the first Malawian settlers historically, known as Amwandionerapati or Abathwa according to http://hastingsmaloya.blogspot.com/2007/09/unveiling-beauty-mt-mulanje.html

A document posted online as “Malawi’s Cultural Policy – Unesco” states that “the Late Stone Age Period is the period that hosted the earliest inhabitants of Malawi locally called Akafula/Abatwa or Amwandionerapati, referring to their body structures.

“Toward the end of this period, Early Iron Age people migrated into Malawi from areas located to the northwest. The Iron Age people made and used iron tools. For several centuries, they coexisted with the Late Stone Age people but eventually they either forced the Late Stone Age people to move into remote areas or be assimilated by them…”

Middle stone age blade along Dziwe la Nkhalamba path – Photo from Menno Welling for a different story

These mythical dwarves are also believed to occupy Michesi Mountain in Phalombe and anthropologist Brian Morris in his book ‘Animals and Ancestors: An Ethnography’ writes that the mountain is not only associated with the spirits of the dead (mizimu), but also with the Batwa people….who still have a living presence.”

He writes that there are oral traditions relating to these people also known as Akafula, the diggers.

Other online sources about Superstition Mountains talk of the mountainous area in south central Arizona in the United States once being guarded by a race of pygmies while in fiction stories like ‘Lord of the Rings’ by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Hobbits are a fictional, diminutive, humanoid race who inhabit the lands of Middle-earth inJ. R. R. Tolkien’s fiction.

Hobbits first appeared in the novel The Hobbit, in which the main protagonist, Bilbo Baggins, is the titular hobbit. The novel, The Lord of the Rings, includes more Hobbits as major characters, Frodo BagginsSamwise GamgeePeregrin Took and Meriadoc Brandybuck, as well as several other minor hobbit characters. Hobbits are also briefly mentioned in The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales.”

And another website on http://lotr.wikia.com/wiki/Dwarves talks of dwarves being a race in Middle-earth called “Khazad, the Naugrim, meaning Stunted People, and Gonnhirrim, meaning Masters of Stone.”

Photo of this blog’s favourite Hobbit film taken from http://hobbit-cosplay.tumblr.com/

“The Dwarves were made by Aule whom they themselves call Mahal, meaning “maker”.  Aule was unwilling to wait for the coming of the Children of Ilvatar, for he was impatient and desired to have someone to teach his lore and his crafts.  Therefore, he made the first Seven Fathers of the Dwarves in secret in a hall under the mountains of Middle-earth”.


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