Lightning is unique in that it can inspire so much awe and wonder about the Earth in fractions of a second. Human fascination with lighting is, at least in part, due to the absolute raw power residing within the bolts.
Of course, as a consequence of this power and our fascination with it, humans have become intimately familiar with the effects that lightning can have on the human body. As we try to mitigate the damage caused by these seemingly random atmospheric discharges, myths have begun to take shape around the potential to do harm.
What we will explore here is some of the myths, and the science behind them, of lighting strikes and lightning injuries.
CLASSIFICATION OF MYTHS
Beliefs have grown up about these injuries that I will arbitrarily divide into the following groups:
Occurrence and demographics
Effects of the strike/types of injuries
a. Positive effects b. Negative effects
“It takes a witch (mfiti) to catch a witch (afiti) in the astral realm of ziwanda (demons) where evil spirits exist because both are dogs (galu).”
LESSON: Chauta, Namalenga, Mphambe (God) is above all mortal beings and evil spirits (mizimu) so why fear mortal man and not the immortal Creator?
If one travels throughout Malawi, they will discover that the majority of citizens believe that witchcraft (ufiti) exists and it’s not strange to meet many male asing’anga anyanga as in those specializing in charms and horns saying akhwiri nokumana to mean “witches we have met”.
So in a nutshell that in Chichewa means “ndakupezani afiti” meaning a witch has been caught and found by those who say they track them down and dilute their powers.
But many Malawians these days are against asing’anga giving Mwabvi concoction because they stress that sorcerers must live and it’s wrong to take a person’s life.
Another contributing factor is because in ancient times some royal families and healers used the Mwabvi ritual to get rid of innocent enemies who were not practicing witchcraft.
Today mwabvi concoctions are illegal and those who summon asing’anga to do such “cleansing” risk arrest.
African doctors today all grouped as asing’anga but called “witch-doctors” in Malawi have been in the news for several years now after efforts by some local NGOs to “stamp out witch persecutions in the country by launching a public education campaign against belief in magic and witches.”
The ancestors of this land believed witchcraft existed but did not believe that witches were more powerful than Chauta, Namalenga, Mphambe (God) so they counted on the Creator to protect them and expose all evil.
This is where the role of winged spirits (mizimu) believed to be close to the Creator and ancestral spirits (mizimu yamakolo) came in.
They also believed witchcraft as in ufiti involved bloodlines and happened within families especially the extended ones unlike what is believed today. Such issues were tackled by asing’anga who specialized in that area and had a specific name but unfortunately this blog does not have the name.
In ancient African traditional religions, witches could only be found where “evil spirits” were in the astral and not physical realm where mortal beings are supposed to be.
The teaching was that evil and good do not mix in the spiritual realm so for one to find evil they would have to travel to the evil realm among other things and also use the same evil demons to trace them.
So in other words the suspected witch accused of using evil and satanic spirits to harm innocent people including kutamba is tracked down by a witch who sees them in the world of ziwanda (demons) and uses charms to protect themselves in kukhwima rituals and other things.
As covens in witchcraft are said to involve a group are believed to fear those who “hunt” them down in the astral realm of evil spirits as such magic (matsenga) is said to only happen where there are demons (ziwanda) and not good spirits.
It is also said that covens have from 13 to more people with a “leader” whether it’s in a lichero (winnowing basket) “plane” or when travelling north to certain rivers to do their “rituals.”
Such wizards are said to use body fluids to propel their “flying baskets” and in many other rituals hence why women are usually encouraged to burn their sanitary pads, cloth or undergarments.
Such afiti are said to specialize in kutamba (a witch’s spell) and harming innocent people while the other type of ufiti involves sorcery where the narrow neck African wine kettle gourd dressed in beads and locally known as nsupa is not only used for protection but also to harm innocent people.
Afiti are also said to not react to stench like those of pit latrines or waste matter because many including the ones involved in kukhwima rituals do not bath because water is said to repel the power of such nyanga.
Some nyanga users are said to put ulimbo sticky sap inside their narrow neck African wine kettle gourd which works like glue for snaring birds but in the nyanga rituals it is said to work like a magnet and pull birds down so that it can be used for the nsupa or evil goat-horn maula.
Ulimbo is made from the seeds of a wild tree or “prepared from the milky rubber-like juice of some trees.”
This blog does not yet know which tree the nsupa’s ulimbo is sourced from but elsewhere among ordinary Malawians ulimbo is sourced from the nkhaze tree which grow very thick with branches covered in thorns or kachere tree.
Another tool this blog has been told about is the Ulongo clay pot but specifically the red clay one use as m’phika for washing nyanga tools or the face of ancient Malawi’s Malira Tapalia, one of the many ancient Nyangus.
Normally a mphika is used as a pot for cooking relish while mtusko is used for carrying or storing water among other items and mkhate is a large, wide-mouthed pot used for holding water for bathing as captured in this link http://www.travelmalawiguide.com/ancient%20trade.html
Others use charms washed in miphika for self-protection and for ancient battles but were not considered to be witches (afiti). Such types of people used to claim they used the power of Chauta, Namalenga, Mphambe (God).
This was also a major debate during Mbona’s era with colonialists capturing some of the debate and revealing their disbelief in their “Nyasaland” writings captured online.
In one document they wrote that “the chief superstition among the natives is the belief that the spirits of the dead can influence nature for the good or ill of the living, and those spirits are propitiated by making sacrifices (nsembe) to them, generally of native beer.
This belief is specially strong as regards Mbona, who is considered to be the “patron saint “of his district, with control of the rainfall, and conse- quently the food supply. “Mbona lives in Mlawi hill, Avhich is considered sacred to him, but his ” temple ” is a hut in a thick clump of forest known as Kuluvi, in section C, almost at the foot of Mlawi. A woman lives in this hut who is known as Mbona’s wife. Offerings must be made in this hut only and must consist of blue or black cloth.
“The persons making the offering, or anyone who approaches the hut, must be clothed in blue or black. Europeans are not encouraged to visit this “temple,” and very few have done so.
“There are several versions of the history of Mbona which differ in many particulars, but the following notes were communicated by Ngabu and Chipwembwe (principal headmen), who are Mbona’s ” High priests,” and who received the tradition from their fathers. ‘It is impossible to ascertain, even approximately, when the events occurred.
“Mbona probably is not credited with possessing any special powers himself, but he intercedes with “Mulungu ” on behalf of the Amang’anja people, when he is pleased, and leaves them to suffer from droughts and floods when they have neglected or offended him : — “Mbona came from Mala we, Kukambiritiya.O) near the Achipeta country.
“His father’s name was Chingale and his mother’s name Chimbe. He had four wives called Sawawa, Samisanje, Chungwe and Tiza. “Mbona came down to this country on account of a ‘ Mlandu ‘ regarding an accusation brought against someone of being a witch, to whom a headman named Msumpi ordered ‘ mwabvi ‘ to be given.
“The accused drank the mwabvi and did not die, so the headman ordered a feast to be given to celebrate the event, and Mbona refused to take part in it as he objected to the ordeal trial. “He told the people that he had power from ‘Mulungu ‘ to tell when people were guilty and that poison was unnecessary. They wanted to kill him, so he ran away and came towards this country, and across the Shire into what is now Portuguese territory.
Malawi National Commission for Unesco in 2011 submitted that Mbona according to Mang’anja oral tradition was a “legendary figure with super human powers who lived in the area during the rise of the Lundu Kingdom.
Mbona is said to have had magic powers of bringing rain, creating wells of water on sandy lands, creating forests where they did not exist and hiding from enemies by turning into other creatures such as guinea fowls”, further reads the Khulubvi and Associated Mbona Sacred Rain Shrines website onhttp://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5602/
In Malawi magic is defined as ‘matsenga” and all forms viewed as evil and not openly accepted by many cultures in the country. However in Europe and the Americas magic and witchcraft are defined differently with magic involving good and bad.
Maybe that is why some African doctors claim that dogs have witchcraft spirits and are able to see afiti when they walk passed so they howl and bark at them.
This is because in some ancient beliefs those who did evil in life were reincarnated into animals including dogs. All those who practice ufiti or claim to catch or see them in the astral realm are also labeled dogs (galu) by Sapitwa and other healers.
However, in British mythology the dog is seen to be faithful, loyal seen to serve it’s master well. ‘Cabal’ wasKing Arthur’s trusty companion and symbolises how the animal has continued to be considered through to modern times whilst there are also many references to ‘BlackDogs’.
“Perhaps the most powerful universal belief associated with dogs is that they possess the ability of second sight. It is said that a dog can see apparitions and sense if death is imminent. This may be because we now know that the dog can sense chemical changes in the air, and it is known that the human body undergoes such changes close to death.
“Evidence abounds that supports this with dogs howling when the owner is ill. It is understandable then that to hear a dog howling has long been considered to be a death omen, and the same is said to be true if the dog howls by an open door.
“Just before the moment Abraham Lincoln was assassinated his dog is said to have howled and run about the White House. The explorer, Lord Carnarvon, discovered Tutankhamen’s tomb; he died in Cairo and his faithful dog is said to have died within a few hours.
“Dogs, being able to sense death close-by were also believed to be able to see earthbound spirits and ghosts, and this can be sensed when a dog snarls. Visions of dogs have also been seen and are indeed famous the world over commonly known as ‘spectral black dogs’. These dogs normally have flaming red eyes and are known as servants of the Devil. What seems to be common to all the sightings is that the person being hunted initially seems unaware of their presence until they actually meet.
“Horror stories indicate that the victim is often aware of them much sooner. They were thought to be most common in country lanes and in areas of wilderness in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Reports alleged that the hounds appeared to be restricted within an area as if bound by invisible walls, hedges, or roads. Perhaps one of the most famous is the ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’bySir Arthur Conan Doyle. The headless ‘Yell Hounds’ are alleged to have influenced his writing, said to appear only during twilight hours.
“These hounds were thought to be hunting either a person or a spirit, some believe it was the Devil. Yet some believe the quick moving hounds it is the Devil himself who is controlling the hounds, in some cases the huntsman. The idea of the hounds being out on a hunt is often an occasion associated with ‘black dogs’ also known as‘fairy dogs’(also known to lead people to safety on occasion).
Now in Malawi when a dog has normal manthongo as in the mucus which forms crust just outside the inner eye and not a eye discharge because of an infection.
Our ancestors believed the ones appearing within the eyes meant spiritual headaches (mutu waukulu) or problems with the eyes or normal headaches and the one on the outer eyes meaning good luck. This manthango is like the ones dogs (agalu) have amongst other animals.
And this was the basis of the name Nyangu especially in relation to mutu waukulu and ulosi wakale as in ancient Africa prophecy and prophetesses also known as priestesses. This was part of ancient African spirituality involving the Creator but not witchcraft.
Some of the ancient Nyangu women had “magical” chants and “spells” to protect tombs which the communities back then thought was vital but not today.
In the West this is summarized as Black Magic and White Magic….terms many people of colour are not comfortable with. In western nations what is called “Black magic” has traditionally referred to the use of supernatural powers or magic for evil and selfish purposes while White magic” has traditionally referred to the use of supernatural powers or magic for good and selfless purposes.
“With respect to the philosophy of left-hand path and right-hand path, white magic is the benevolent counterpart of malicious black magic. Because of its ties to traditional pagan nature worship, white magic is often also referred to as “natural magic”, partly reads http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_magic
Some of these debates are captured in the Journal Article titled ‘UFITI. Foundation of an Indigenous Philosophy of Misfortune: The Socioreligious Implications of Witchcraft and Sorcery in a Central African Setting’ by E. R. Wendland.
In his classical study of the Azande of colonial Sudan, Evans-Pritchard (1937) distinguished between ‘witchcraft’ and ‘sorcery’ by their technique. He defined the former as the innate, inherited ability to cause misfortune or death and by contrast sorcery as the “performance of rituals, the uttering of spells, and the manipulation of organic substances such as herbs, with the conscious intent of causing harm.”
“There is a recurrence of widely shared details in witchcraft beliefs cross-culturally. (1) Though human, witches incorporate non-human power. Witches are possessed by Satan; have pythons in their bellies; work with animals such as snakes, cats, baboons and owls, that they own as familiars; or witches themselves change into the shape of familiars. (2) Witches are nearly always adults. They may bear physical stigmata like a red eye, a Devil’s mark, or a special witchcraft substance.
“(3) Witches tend to become socially important in times of crisis, when all sorts of misfortune are ascribed to them. (4) Witches harm their own kin and neighbours rather than strangers. (5) Witchcraft is motivated by envy and malice, rather than by the pursuit of material gain. (6) Witches reverse usual expectations of behaviour. They work at night, commit incest, practice cannibalism, go naked instead of clothed, or may stand backwards when they knock at doors. (7) Witchcraft is nearly always immoral,” further reads http://what-when-how.com/social-and-cultural-anthropology/witchcraft-and-sorcery-anthropology/
But the laws of Malawi do not recognize witchcraft and those that accuse a person or label one a witch could find themselves in trouble with the law if they are not careful.
But so far this law seems to have applied to asing’anga with their ufiti beliefs and not other beliefs or religions that openly label people afiti.
“The belief in witchcraft in Malawi permeates all sectors. Most Malawians regardless of age, education or social position hold the belief that witchcraft exists and that witches are real. In a study by NSO (2008), 76% of sampled Malawian households said that they know of witches in their community, and 62% said they know someone accused of witchcraft.
“The Constitution of Malawi does not mention the word witchcraft in any of its provisions. However, it provides for the fundamental right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought and belief (Section 33, Constitution of Malawi). While the Constitution allows the right to belief, it prohibits any criminal activity or harm to anyone as a result of belief.
“In order to protect people from harm, the Witchcraft Act of 1911, prohibits witchcraft accusations towards anyone and the calling of witch finders by chiefs and individuals for witch hunts and cleansing. It calls upon DCs to summon chiefs that allow witch hunts. It is a crime to participate in witch hunts and to pretend witchcraft, which in effect, is not in tandem with the Constitutional right to a ‘belief’.
“The Act is, however, being reviewed by the Law Commission”, further reads a research paper titled ‘The Extent and Nature of Witchcraft-Based Violence against Children, Women and the Elderly in Malawi’ by Dr Charles Chilimampunga, Sociology Department, Chancellor College, University of Malawi and George Thindwa, Association for Secular Humanism which was submitted to The Royal Norwegian Embassy.
Witchcraft has created heated debates in Malawi as most citizens believe it’s real and some also talk of seeing them or being attacked by them. However despite some disturbing things the forces of evil are known to do, the fact remains that Chauta, Mphambe, Namalenga (God) remains Almighty and everything else below the Creator and not as powerful as the One who sees all.
Behind colourful masks: Telling stories through words, pictures and videos….traveling with me back to ancient times