Nature’s Beauty: Mwala wa Mphini (rock with traditional scars)

Mwala wa Mphini
Photo from Malawi’s Dpt of Antiquities for a similar published story I wrote

When an elderly Malawian hears the Chichewa word mphini  they might first think of incisions traditional healers locally known as asing’anga make to administer either herbs straight into the bloodstream or for protective charms hence // and similar slashes in opposite and various positions depending on the “treatment.”

Others will remember tattoos, traditional scars or marks ancestors in some cultures regarded as beauty in women from the head to toe.

According to Mayi Jarden, a local healer based in a Mulanje village who deals with the spirit world, some specific //slashes were also viewed as the click of the Abathwa where both the Pygmies and Bushmen in English were grouped together but locally known as Abatwa and Abathwa respectively. Mphini 2.jpg

Online sources show stone-aged tools indicating that people who are known as Abathwa, Akafula or Amwandionerapati lived in Malawi since around 8000 BC” making them the country’s first settlers.

Now healers who claim to know the ways of the AbaTwa in relation to herbs and healing also value Mulanje Mountain forest reserve including Dziwe la Nkhalamba and some areas near Lake Malawi and other areas in the country where there is water and ancient rain shrines.

It’s because of the definition of the word mphini  that many Malawians concluded that the rock in Lake Malawi National Park Cape Maclear called Mwala wa Mphini was created by the ancestors.

“No” say some healers attributing its creation to an act of Chauta, Namalenga, Mphambe (God) hence natural and not mankind creating the marks on the rock.

But there are still rumours of ancestors somehow creating the marks on the rocks but that is not true.

In an email response, Samba Sarah Kambalame, Monuments Officer for Malawi’s Department of Antiquities said the Mwala wa Mphini monument is a tattooed geological structure.

“The name Mwala wa Mphini in literal translation means “Rock marked with traditional scars” Its geomorphic formation presents a picture of scars that amaze locals and visitors. It dates back to the Iron Age.

Mphini besides medical traditional incisions are also used as beauty or tribal marks in Africa and more common among the elderly in Malawi

“Many myths are told about the rock’s origin and healing powers. Many believe it to be a sacred rock; local medicine men make healing and protective concoctions from chipping aggregates of the rock,” she explains.

Internet sources explain that geological structures as faults and folds are the architecture of the earth’s crust.”

“Geologic structures influence the shape of the landscape, determine the degree of landslide hazard, bring old rocks to the surface, bury young rocks, trap petroleum and natural gas, shift during earthquakes, and channel fluids that create economic deposits of metals such as gold and silver.

“Folds, faults, and other geologic structures accommodate large forces such as the stress of tectonic plates jostling against each other, and smaller forces such as the stress of gravity pulling on a steep mountainside.

“An understanding of the structures that shape the earth’s crust can help you see when and where the crust was subjected to pushing or pulling,terrane accretion or crustal rifting,” further reads

The same website also explains how stress refers to the forces that cause rocks to deform and three three basic types of stress that deform rocks including compression (pushing together),tension (pulling apart) and shear (twisting or rotating).

“In response to stress, rocks will undergo some form of bending or breaking, or both. The bending or breaking of rock is called deformation or strain.

If rocks tend to break, they are said to be brittle. If a rock breaks, it is said to undergo brittle behavior. If rocks tend to bend without breaking, they are said to be ductile, further reads the same website.

Mwala wa Mphini, eroded rock in Lake Malawi National Park, Cape Maclear, Malawi




Mystery inside Zomba Plateau’s Chingwe’s Hole

Chingwe’s hole photograph taken from the Malawian explorer website


Mystery, legend, imagination and myths more than concrete facts surrounds Zomba Plateau’s Chingwe’s Hole also nicknamed an abyss of nothingness by some Malawian bloggers.

The hole is the source of rumours ranging from alleged mentally disturbed people being thrown in to enemies of some ancient chiefs.

Some believe the place to be haunted by spirits (mizimu) whose origins are not known and whether they are believed to be ancestral spirits (mizimu yamakolo) or not.

Other Malawians assumed the mentally challenged or disturbed were also thrown down that pit in ancient times just because there is Zomba Mental hospital in the area.

But one thing remains clear and not as sketchy….which is the hole being known as a dumping site for deceased lepers.

Chingwe's hole
Photo from Malawian Explorer Blog

Those who have attempted to climb inside, estimate it to be about 10 meters deep although villagers in the area reportedly estimated it at 30 meters before it was filled by dirt and other things.

So it has a bottom full of sand or dirt.

According to Samba Sarah Kambalame, the Monuments Officer in Malawi’s Department of Antiquities, officially Chingwe’s hole is a “historical place and known as an area where unwanted people were thrown including lepers and some with disabilities.”

But it is not known if research has been done to establish if there are indeed many bones inside the hole the way it was done with the “Leper Tree” of Malawi.However the hole still has a horrible reputation and is also viewed as a bottomless cave.

Some say it reaches the base of the Rift valley, others give specific depths writes Aku Kalizang’oma in his blog titled ‘The Abyss of Zomba plateau, Chingwe’s Hole’ in his Explore Malawi blog.

“Whatever the case, the secrets that the victims might have kept have long been taken with them beyond the plains. If you find yourself on the plateau, do you have the courage to gaze through the abyss?,” asks Kalizang’oma.

Another mystery is the origins of the chingwe name which means rope.

Photo from Malawi Tourism website

According to a Victoria Falls online Guide a Great Chief of Central Africa was allegedly Chingwe.

Quoting information from a Zimbabwe farmer’s website the guide quotes a John recalling how as a child he was told “tribal legends by the son of a village chief, stories of a great and powerful Chief, Chief Chingwe, who ruled from what is today Zimbabwe to Tanzania, Uganda and beyond.”

“It was said that the Chief held court on Zomba Plateau and threw all his enemies into a vertical hole in the plateau. In the sixties the hole was discovered, full of human bones, however history has yet to be rewritten,” alleged the website.

So far most known evidence available online is about the trunk of the Leper Tree which reads: “The grave for people who suffered from leprosy in the past.” You can still poke your head into the hollow and see skulls and skeletons lying at the bottom.”

Leper tree
Leper Tree photo taken from

Time will tell if the suspected bottomless pit of Zomba Plateau also has evidence of lost human life inside its mysterious Chingwe Hole or if it’s ancient name really was a person’s name or just a phrase for a rope or string in the vernacular one might need to get out of there smoothly.

“Zomba Plateau is unique. A great slab of a mountain rising to 6000ft (1800m), it has vast tracts of cedar, pine and cypress but elsewhere the vegetation is wild and mixed.

“The plateau top is criss-crossed by streams and there are tumbling waterfalls and still lakes. There are driveable tracks right round the top from which are views of such splendour that they were described in colonial times as “the best in the British Empire”.

“Whether walking or driving, there is always something to see. Wildlife includes leopards, although sightings are rare. More in evidence are giant butterflies and, on the lower slopes, baboons. Birdlife includes the long-crested eagle and the augur buzzard.

Accommodation on the plateau includes a luxury hotel, the famous Sunbird Ku Chawe, set at the very edge of the mountain; and a large camping site. Fly-fishing for trout is possible in season and horse riding can be arranged,” reads the Malawi Tourism website about the so many breathtaking places to visit in beautiful Malawi including Chingwe’s Hole.

Sunbird Ku Chawe
Sunbird Kuchawe photo not connected to this blog from

Avoiding Sun Rays to reach Dziwe la Nkhalamba (pool for the elderly) on Mulanje Mountain