About 100 kilometres south-east of Blantyre and less than an hour drive, is Mulanje mountain with its famous Sapitwa peak majestically beckoning people to see its beauty.
Mulanje Massif is said to measure approximately 22×26 kilometres with a maximum elevation of 3,002 m at its highest point, Sapitwa Peak.
Sapitwa which basically means “don’t go there” in the vernacular and also known as the mountain where “no man goes” is a place said to be home to ancestral spirits and their god.
It is also forbidden to reveal secrets about the place so as to avoid the wrath of the spirits but this writer will take the risk and try and disclose a little until the right time comes and the spirits decide.
Anyway traditional healers say this god does not allow anyone to approach sacred places but follow several rules including fasting, not going there while drunk, not eating certain foods like pork and mice and not going there while “hot” which basically is after intimacy.
Those who disobey are said to “disappear” into the spiritual realm while others who tread near places said to have certain herbs are said to suddenly find oneself naked and having to be intimate with the nearest person. Other rituals include walking backwards in certain areas to avoid facing the wrath of the spirits.
The key of all this is said to be at Dziwe la Nkhalamba at a certain hidden white rock said to be the foundation of all their beliefs but no man can find it they say.
The place was once known as a swimming pool for the elderly and those who saw an elderly man with white hair and wrinkles were said to be lucky and “blessed.” Clothes were also said to appear some times for the lucky few.
Some villagers also believe some parts of the mountain are always cloudy in some areas with black clouds. Black is the colour of a cloth used in rain rituals and the sign of black which absorbs heat more than any other colour and believed to signal rain.
Some traditional healers who live near the mountain claim the colour white is the colour of the dead like in ghosts. They also believe that all spirits appear as white and they claim the female ones have their hair covered as it moves like snakes when shown in public.
This is why many of them claim that once a spirit covers a person with a white cloth, that person disappears and joins the spiritual realm.
For some traditional healers known as asing’anga amizimu who claim to practice Mbona’s teachings, Mulanje Mountain is the source of rain and they believe there is also a Mbona spirit there besides the Bona one.
They usually draw a cross with ufa woyera (maize flour) to represent the 4 winds of Sapitwa as in north, south, west and east but it’s only now that the actual names of the 4 are known.
The names of the mythical 4 Napolo winds of Sapitwa were Nangumi as in the Chinyanja name a Mermaid but actually also a Whale found in the Indian Ocean and most likely the Blue Whale.
Nangumi was believed to be a mermaid in white with long dreadlocks as in uncut hair bending her back and lifting rocks followed by Chivomelezo meaning all agree, Kwawa as in to crawl and Thawa ndiyende meaning run away while I walk which is something people usually do when it starts raining heavily.
Now of these four Napolo winds, Nangumi (whale) was of the East Chivomelezo (agree) of the West, Kwawa (Crawl) of the North and Thawa ndiyende of the South.
In ancient Malawi Myths and Tales Kwawa also meant Mstinje as in River in the same why some Americans call strong winds that frequently blow across Greak Lakes in autumn November witch while ancient Malawi’s were not but believed to be mizimu (spirits).
Children of Napolo included Biton of the South believed to be on “Kuba” mountain which is actually Mt Namuli in Mozambique near the Indian ocean.
These winds are said to bring rain after being provoked by a two-edged sword or the pointing finger and the recital of certain words as most of their rituals involve sending words and requests to the 4 winds with lubani (incense) to their god.
This is what the Mbona practicing healers of Mulanje believe and oral information that has never been documented before about ancient history long gone.
A lot of tales are connected to the place and well-documented in various books, documentaries and research ranging from mysterious food appearing which one must eat alone to spirits “kidnapping” people who seem to disappear forever.
Now ancient Malawi’s Napolo’s real name was Tomasi Bona the spirit (mizimu) responsible for the North wind and connected to myths and tales about rain, floods and landslides.
Napolo is a destructive serpent spirit believed to live in mountains, hills and mounds but he is NOT Chauta, Namalenga, Mphambe (God) who only does good and does not harm his creation in ancient oral stories.
Ancestors believed that the Creator lived beyond the sun and way up in the sky.
Tomasi Bona’s name means he has the “world in his hands” and a “feast”. In myths and tales he was believed to fight to get back what he lost in the end.
According to oral stories, he originated from one of the M’manga Mudzi termite looking mounds somewhere in Malawi and a lake and plenty of water is believed to be underneath it.
His symbol is a circle with a cross inside meaning complete and what goes around comes around meaning in the end there would be destruction using water.
As explained in an earlier blog, Tomasi Bona also known as atom or aTomu is the mythical elderly spirit believed to lead 7 others known as Tagoneka Mbona of the West wind and sunset, Chandiona Goneka of the South wind and Nthanda mwana wa mwezi of the East wind and the sunrise.
These included 4 spirits of positive charges and 3 of negative charges which are Sungamwana, Dziwe Ntambamwana and Ife Zonse pulling each other to make light.
Now what is interesting is that when said in Chichewa, Tomasi’s abbreviated name is atom or should we say Atom like in the same way this author’s name would be amizere or Amizere when addressing her name in Chichewa.
Now an atom is a basic unit of matter that consists of a dense central nucleus surrounded by a cloud of negatively charged electrons. The atomic nucleus contains a mix of positively charged protons and electrically neutral neutrons. The electrons of an atom are bound to the nucleus by the electromagnetic force.
“Likewise, a group of atoms can remain bound to each other by chemical bonds based on the same force, forming a molecule.
“An atom containing an equal number of protons and electrons is electrically neutral, otherwise it is positively or negatively charged and is known as an ion.
“An atom is classified according to the number of protons and neutrons in its nucleus: the number of protons determines the chemical element, and the number of neutrons determines the isotope of the element,” read online sources.
Ironically there are other foreign cultures with similar myths suggesting atoms including in ancient Egypt.
The ancient Egyptians believed that Atum was the first god to exist on earth and that he “rose from the waters of chaos (Nun)” just like ancient Malawians believed that Atom was the first god (mizimu) to exist on earth and that he also rose from the waters of chaos hence his current name of Napolo.
The unofficial Wikipedia online encyclopaedia describes Atum as being the ‘complete one’ and also the finisher of the world, which he returns to watery chaos at the end of the creative cycle.
Now Atum in the Heliopolitan creation myth, Atum was considered to be the “first god, having created himself, sitting on a mound (benben) (or identified with the mound itself), from the primordial waters (Nu).
“In the Book of the Dead, which was still current in the Graeco-Roman period, the sun god Atum is said to have ascended from chaos-waters with the appearance of a snake, the animal renewing itself every morning…”
“Atum was a self-created deity, the first being to emerge from the darkness and endless watery abyss that existed before creation. A product of the energy and matter contained in this chaos, he created his children—the first deities, out of loneliness…and he’s also known as the finisher of the world,” further reads the unofficial and easily edited Wikipedia on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atum
The spirits whom scholars call gods also do things according to plan and it is believed they relocate from the mountain to a lake hence Napolo said to be a serpent spirit known as Mbona working its way to water where it lives for some time and creating landslides.
According to the Wikipedia, scientifically the “mountain island” rises up more than 2500 meters above the plains around.
“This setting is responsible for the Massifs role as a rain barrier that forces the clouds to come down in the form of rain. This becomes very visible if we take a look at the annual normal rainfalls, on and around the massif.
“On plateau level, at around 2000 m.a.s.l., we annually experience more than 100 inches of rain, however, in the low plains around the foot of the Massif, the annual rainfalls, range around 40 inch. In the plains around the Mountain, it normally only rains in the rainy season, while it rains all year long, on plateau level. The rains are just more intense and frequent then in the dry season,” partly reads the on-line encyclopaedia.
It adds that there are “still differences in the amounts of rain, around the Massif. The south-west face of the Mountain, is the weather side, around Likhabula, Lichenya and Mulanje Boma, which experiences the highest amounts of rain, due to the south-east trades of the southern hemisphere, that drive the moist air from Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo into the Mulanje region.
“Therefore the North-west face of the Massif experiences lesser rains, as it is situated in the shadows of the high Peaks of the Massif.”
It is not known why villagers belonging to a priestly clan have always connected Sapitwa to rain way before books and the internet were created but one fact remains, Sapitwa Peak remains a beautiful mystery and it is hard if not impossible to trace the spirits that live there, but there is something on that mountain beyond it’s astral realms say the herbalists.
Sapitwa Peak is also a tourist attraction and it is important for one to go up there with a guide and travel safely to see nature’s beauty.