Category Archives: General

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
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 https://commons.wvc.edu/rdawes/basics/structures.html

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.

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Mwala wa Mphini, eroded rock in Lake Malawi National Park, Cape Maclear, Malawi http://www.africaimagelibrary.com/media/526912b8-8980-11e1-acdc-09e228d701f5-mwala-wa-mphini-eroded-rock-in-lake-malawi-national-park-cape

 

 

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Mystery inside Zomba Plateau’s Chingwe’s Hole

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Chingwe’s hole photograph taken from the Malawian explorer website http://exploremalawi.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-abyss-of-zomba-plateau-chingwes-hole.html

 

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.

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Photo from Malawi Tourism website http://www.malawitourism.com/pages/attractions/the_attraction.asp?AttractionsID=25

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 http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/the-leper-tree

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 http://www.africatravelresource.com/ku-chawe-inn/

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

Dancing has its roots in Africa (parts of my first article published in 1996)

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Inu mayi ee, bwera, bwera ee, Sungamwana ee, uzamudalise ee….inu mayi ee, bwera, bwera ee” (oh you our mother yes, come, come yes, Keep the Child yes, bless this one yes….). –  part of a sacred Dziwe la Nkhalamba song by elders who held suspected Mibawa canes or walking sticks which might be a type of African Mahogany in English.

They would tap on the ground three times while moving their feet in rhythm with the sacred music while the seeds they wore around their ankles added more beats.

Music has been defined as the art of combining sounds or sequences of notes into harmonious patterns.  One tends to wonder if music can affect one’s soul which is the seat of emotion, sentiment and aspiration through dance, a movement of measured steps.

Dziwe pool
It took me more than an hour to walk up to Dziwe la Nkhalamba on a hot day so I had to rest twice as it was exhausting but worth seeing where elders used to dance and sing to summon a spirit called Chinsinsi Sungamwana they believed was in a pool to appear

Most countries in Africa use music in traditional rituals and rites to invoke various spirits which possess a host’s body, usually the dancer.

Drums are the main but not only instrument used, with the talking drum being dominant, conveying messages with each beat.  Only trained dancers and drummers would be able to comprehend the message projected.

Drums are common in Malawian traditional music with both men and women using these instruments.  Various dances are performed in rural areas for different occasions from maganje, nsembe to festive celebrations.

In the Northern region Vimbuza is a common dance in which spirits possess the body which shakes violently while using all muscles while following the beat of the music.

Only one who is guided by the spirit can perform this dance.  Watching vimbuza one can see some similarities with the 1980s craze which was known as break-dancing.  There was a certain movement in which one would shake the whole body from head to toe as if having a fit or being possessed.break-dance-silhouettes-file-eps-format-35775081

These were the robot and wave where one behaved as if they were having an electric shock.

Gule Wamkulu the secretive masked spirit dancers from Malawi were said to be sexually explicit in that song but no confirmation but anyway during the Kamuzu days till democracy many traditional songs became politicized with some even worshipping leaders.

Some can see some similarities between Michael Jackson’s  hit video ‘Thriller’ and some of Africa’s sacred masked dancers including the way he seemed to grab his front the way pop-star Madonna also did.

The yells and screams are also similar to some of Africa’s masked dancers so one can definitely conclude dancing has its roots in Africa with it touching the soul of the continent. Thriller

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Heart is like an All-seeing eye?

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Tired after walking a long distance in the hot October sun some seven years ago, a middle-aged woman almost falls when a bright light hits the roof of a building temporarily blinding her eyes.

As she looks down she sees all these red spots and remembers lessons in schools about prisms, white light and how the red waves are the longest or something like that.

When she looks up she is greeted by a very friendly watchman at the gate of her destination in Blantyre. Unknown to her, the occupants of the house don’t have a watchman.

However, the tired mother could not help but notice the eccentric watchman with a neatly cut beard and tidy dreadlocks hidden in a black fedora.  She recalled how without saying a word his eyes showed kindness and love, rare for pedestrians trying to visit high-profile places with guards.

Chances are high the friendly watchman was just genuinely God-fearing and had pure love in his heart and soul.

Eyes and their shapes have played an important role in African society with some beliefs associating witches and wizards with wide owl ones in contrast to slanted pigeon and dove ones.

In ancient Africa pigeons represented peace and were said to flee a home where there is conflict and constant arguments. A type of mphonda in the pumpkin family is placed by some healers near a village pigeon’s “home”.

Some mphonda are like African Wine Kettle gourds locally known as nsupa while others include gourds similar to the basket shape one on http://www.seedman.com/Gourds.htmImage

Eyes are also mentioned 502 times in the King James Bible and the word eye some 115 times.  The Big Brother show also has an eye for a logo like on http://www.36ng.com.ng/2013/05/26/big-brother-africa-season-8-the-chase-is-on-meet-the-28-housemates-for-2013/ and some currencies in western countries have a gazing eye as well as some television stations. Image

In Malawi, Mbona is known for his right protruding eye while ancient Egypt information online shows that the right eye of Horus, son of Osiris and Isis represented concrete factual information controlled by the left brain while the left eye controlled the right brain, dealing with esoteric thoughts and feelings responsible for intuition.

In the Ulendo Series Mtunda 8 Chichewa for Standard 8, in the tale, Mbona’s red eyes on p37 is described as sticking out like a snake.  In ancient times, the ancestors of this land did not view all snakes as evil but goat spirits.

Healers and other spiritual enlightened people were said to either have the right eye of an upright snake or the left eye of a goat which was considered evil.Image

In ancient Malawians teachings the eyes for seeing spiritual issues and spirits was believed to be in the heart, globally known by some as the “seat of the soul.”

It’s with those “eyes” that some Sapitwa healers like saying “ndakuona (I see you)” whenever they catch a person in the spiritual realm doing something evil like using magic to rob or harm innocent people.

They claim they can see the physical world with their two eyes but they use the eyes of their hearts to see the spiritual world or spirits so they say.  For them it’s like removing a cloth of one’s face to enable them see things of the spirit closely in dreams or visions (masophenya) could that be the reason for the saying “Kadaona maso mtima suyiwala” which in a nutshell means something like “seeing is believing” but literally something like what the eyes has seen the heart does not forget?

The Eye is also attributed to Masonry with the all-seeing eye representing God referred to as the Great Architect of the Universe.  Internet sources also show that the Eye of the Providence is a symbol showing an eye often surrounded by rays of light and usually enclosed by a triangle.  It is sometimes interpreted as representing the eye of God watching over humankind.

However Bishop Mark Kambalazaza of Charismatic Redeemed Ministries in an interview on August 29, 2010 cautioned that in ancient Egypt, the eye only represented a god watching over people who cannot hide because he sees them.  But he asked whether it was the “God of Jesus Christ or just an imagination.

“In Egypt there were gods and goddesses.  The true God in the scriptures is the God of Jesus Christ, the way and life and truth as indicated in John 14:6-7.  Looking at Big Brother and the eye of God, what happens is not religious or spiritual, it’s secular.  There is o morality or eye of heaven.  King David in Psalm 139 said there was no way he could hide from God, in the sea or mountain showing He watches,” explained Bishop Kambalazaza back then.

There is also a popular saying globally that liken the eyes to the windows of the heart and biblically Matthew 6:22-23 talks of the lamp of the body being, the eye.

Jesus Christ in various internet biblical verses says: “The eye is the lamp of the body.  So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

According to the US based Got Questions Ministries online, Jesus meant that since the eye is a lamp which lights the entire body, “our eyes are the entrance to our hearts and minds and as such, they provide a doorway to our very souls.

“Our eyes can be used to see that which is good or evil, that which is beneficial or harmful and the things we see and perceive affect our whole being.  If we perceive goodness, that will radiate outward from within our hearts and minds.  But if we allow our eyes to linger on evil, we are so affected by what we see that darkness actually begins to emanate from within and can corrupt us and those around us.

“The Bible tells us that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.  That’s his great deception, to make people think they’ve found the light when in fact it’s the darkness of false light (2 Corinthians 11:14).  His intention is to blind us to truth and corrupt our minds, and he uses our eyes to gain entrance to our hearts…we guard our hearts and souls by guarding our eyes,” partly reads www.gotquestions.org

So as Bette Milder sang some 20 years ago that “God is watching us” in her Grammy Award winning song ‘From a Distance’, the question would be whether or not drawings of the Eye of God watching us are the Almighty One’s and only Creator or weaker gods in various ancient religions.

Only time will tell!

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Inspiring few seconds with Nelson Mandela in Malawi

SadcIt was September 1997 and we were young new journalists on the scene and one of many in a pioneer TV team sitting in Unit House with a “toy” camera but still going out and doing stories if I may put it that way and we would proudly say we work for Television Malawi although it was not launched till April 1, 1999.

We spent about 2 years in that room becoming a family and having hope for our future.

I remember watching Nelson Mandela in 1997 during the Sadc Summit in Blantyre and it was like a dream for me because I remembered watching him on TV in 1990 when he was freed from prison and I cried.

I was nowhere near the front of the room during the Sadc summit but wishing I could greet Mandela. I struggled so hard to get close to the front to no avail.

When he was about to leave the hall, we tried to be near the red carpet so that we could see him close up but all I remember was security officers roughly pushing us into a corner or the crowd and I was scared of a stampede.

In defeat I looked down to watch my step then I heard Mandela greeting us and looked up to see that he had left the red carpet and came towards us and shook our hands. I was stunned and all I remember him saying is something like “how are you” and I can’t even remember what I answered because I felt like crying with happiness.

I also remember watching Madiba at Chileka airport leaving the red carpet to greet ‘ordinary’ Malawians behind a fence who went crazy with excitement.  That really touched my heart and taught me Mandela was not proud but a humble man who seemed to value life and human beings and for me he was like a man of the people.

That image helped me during my TV journalism career and I tried my best to feature a lot of vox pops and would at times just let the people speak.  A brief meeting but a valuable lesson I learned from Madiba’s actions. RIP