“Don’t criticize the king, even silently, and don’t criticize the rich, even in the privacy of your bedroom. A bird might carry the message and tell them what you said” – Ecclesiastes 10:20 Good News Translation (GNT)
I would be most grateful if holy people familiar with biblical verses would teach us outcasts what the above verse means as many in Malawi laugh at me when I pay attention to birds and consider that primitive though I’m trying to figure out local mythology about them.
Are those parrots which repeat words a person says?
My area of interest are the birds which Malawians don’t usually eat including owls, falcons, eagles, hornbills and the Sacred African Ibis. Yes some might eat those but they’re not that easy to catch unlike the others and many Malawians consider birds appearing in a home evil although they were all created by Chauta, Namalenga, Mphambe (God).
It’s just before the rainy season in Malawi when the sound of natures’ trumpets is heard….waaaaah! waaaah!! Waaaaah!!! cry the Trumpeter Hornbills in the busy commercial city of Blantyre startling me as I lay down on my bed in Soche East near Soche mountain.
I peak out of my room to see two huge Trumpeter Hornbills eating papaya from my tree with their big round eyes seeming to stare right through my soul. Even as I approach them they didn’t fly off but kept looking at me while moving their heads.
As if being guided by an invisible conductor the birds cry in unison like babies even louder again as if telling a story of sorrow which no man can understand.
Their constant cries can make those with creative minds wonder what they’re trying to say using bird language.
For me the way they cry varies and sometimes it sounds like sorrow but when some guests to my home saw the birds they freaked out and got scared with Chauta, Namalenga, Mphambe (God) creations.
For years these birds showed up at my former home and former workplace but these days I rarely see them landing but flying by. Previously I would hear them and as soon as I found the tree where they are, there would be silence so I figured they could somehow think but that cry was something else.
I would then assume that their cry was normal for everyone hence them not reacting unlike me who never grew in a village hence I would always be surprised when they went quiet when I found them and would stare at me.
I also see a lot of falcons, hawks and suspected eagles which seem to cry when something tragic is about to happen. I usually spot eagles near royal homes or traditional healers with royal blood and when they make their not so usual cry it alarms me as if fore-telling something while falcons or hawks flying in circles and other movements seem as if they’re writing something in the sky.
Eagles and falcons fascinate me and till this day I’m always happy to see them wherever I am in the world as they remain my favourite strong birds but the sacred African Ibis and Northern Bald Ibis are not seen as often.
The last time I saw suspected Northern Bald Ibis they were flying in a V-formation and flew above me for about 15 minutes giving me enough time to study them, their beaks and how they flew and how the last would end up first and so forth.
It was like watching nature’s jet show.
When visiting Mangochi I usually witness African Fish Eagles flying past and in my ears I can hear them flap their wings but there is another eagle looking bird which when it appears and cry I expect something specific to happen depending on where and how it lands.
I’m also told the term [m]vundulamadzi is African fish eagle in English and means the Eagle is so strong when it hits the water that it’s believed to make the fish at the bottom come up to the top in confusion.
So if there is one thing I will always remember about my former Malawi Housing Corporation home in Soche East, Blantyre; that would be the many birds that “kept me company” in thick and thin and made my garden beautiful.
I love gardening and would always plant different types of flowers and grass because the green helped sooth my migraine headaches so the flying birds always complimented the colours and I would love listening to their daily songs and watching them land before me.
The shrieking cry of the Hamerkop always alarmed me and gave me the creeps as it was like they were foretelling disaster and it’s one bird I can easily catch if I wanted to but I don’t as I see them really close including those that land near shopping places in Limbe.
The other colourful ones whose names I don’t know were like an alarm clock to wake me up in the morning and some were there right above the door at the entrance to my house to remind me it was getting dark hence they were ready to sleep.
“Rise up this mornin’, smiled with the risin’ sun, three little birds, pitch by my doorstep, singin’ sweet songs of melodies pure and true, saying’, (“This is my message to you”)….”Don’t worry ’bout a thing,’cause every little thing gonna be alright” sang Legend Bob Marley in his famous Three Little Birds song sounded real to me although unreal.
Of course the birds of the night like bats (mleme) once found its way into my house but I kicked it out and suspected they were attracted to the fruit trees I had outside but some were eventually uprooted including the banana tree.
Same with a white owl which once landed in front of me during the day near a home whose occupants were cruel to me.
It would stare directly into my eyes and a similar one appeared near my kitchen during the day when I opened the gate to let in a visitor who gave me the creeps.
The owl made a 360 degree turn and with one eye open and the other closed it stared at the guest who got nervous so we had to chase the damn owl away.
Same thing with pigeons and doves which showed up I would read into them and got the feeling pigeons prefer being around places where there is peace or people who have peace of mind.
However I never saw a parrot near my home although some claimed many could be found at a nearby Soche mountain but had “fled once human beings encroached the forest reserve or bush.”
Where there was “Long live Kamuzu” is no longer there and older healers who used to trek up the hill claim wild animals, birds and snakes that used to be there fled as humans replaced them.
Local birds known as Namzeze most likely swallows have fallen flat on their backs before me several times including in an office where I used to once work.
For some reason I fail to pick them up as their eyes make me feel sorry so it’s usually those near me who do that for me and let them go as I have no use for them.
It was also very normal for some birds to lay their eggs in my hanging flower pots near the entrance of my house or in many places on the roof of that former rented home.
But I never knew the types of birds they were as they varied and would always SING and DANCE even on gloomy days.
One that would sleep on a chord for my dish right near my bedroom would always stare straight into my eyes whenever I peaked unlike some others which would get startled….fly away and always come back to their resting place.
It was not unusual to always find white bird pooh on the doormat of my house as a bird always slept there and in many other holes near my bedroom.
There are so many other birds I have seen which would take a book to document so would like to hear other tales about them besides my personal experiences.
However there are some villagers in Malawi who claim there are a few “gifted” people who can somehow understand what such birds are saying and that it allegedly warns of something about to happen in the world.
How this is done remains a mystery but there are some people who still believe the behavior and sounds of some birds and animals can somehow foretell the future.
They also believe the Trumpeter hornbill is a mbalame yamizimu (spirit bird) with a natural horn (nyanga). Other beliefs about this bird and the spirit are not allowed to be shared on this blog.
This is in contrast to the Helmeted Hornbill with the “casque not hollow but is filled with ivory and is used as a battering ram used in dramatic aerial jousts.
Hornbills are locally common resident of the tropical evergreen forests of Burundi, Mozambique, Botswana, Congo, Kenya, the Caprivi strip of Namibia and eastern South Africa, where it feeds on fruits and large insects according to the unofficial and easily edited Wikipedia.