Saturday, November 30, 2013

African Myths & Tales: Born of the ocean, fire and spirits

She stands with a bright presence, her veil covering her dreaded long hair as her wide eyes stare blankly at those who visit her and seek guidance.

Her name is hidden, her colour blue like the deep ocean and the origins of her sad mythical story a mystery. 

She’s said to be the subject of a few people’s wild imagination but a reality for those few who claim there is life in the so-called astral realm of Sapitwa, the highest peak of Mulanje mountain.

This cannot be verified as this author has never been to the claimed astral realm of Sapitwa but is willing to document some tales and myths of this ancient land ignored by many historians and writers who write off as "irrelevant" some ancient African “priests” and “priestesses” today known as traditional healers of Sapitwa.

These were the men and women; some who were celibate and responsible for “nsembe” sacrifice offerings at Mulanje Mountain of mapira sorghum among others during ancient times for various reasons so go the stories.

It is believed in ancient times such “priests” and “priestesses” who were also like “fortune-tellers” predicting the future and giving advise on the way forward whenever there were calamities among other things, worked closely with kings of that ancient land.

If there is one thing in Malawi that has not always been documented then that must be the myths and oral history of some of the Sapitwa healers of this ancient land.

Others trek to what they call “Kuba” in Mozambique and many sacred places in various ancient lands guided by what they claim are “royal spirits” and “guides”.

Most of their rituals and beliefs have been kept secret and close to their hearts for centuries as they were forbidden to boast or let themselves known to society so they claim.

They are also not allowed to charge for their services but they have been receiving tokens or gifts no matter how small or big from those who seek their services. 

These healers also claim to leave some of the money given to them by those seeking help at Sapitwa as a token of appreciation to their “spirit king.”

It is believed that whoever accidentally finds themselves in the forbidden areas and takes or steals the money will face the wrath of the "spirits."

Some of the money “patients” or “clients” chose to give them is left at the rock where this female “spirit” is claimed to appear near a waterfall.
One of many Sapitwa rocks


The claimed spirits of the mountain are said to also appear in water and hence some of the beliefs that a royal Napolo serpent spirit causes flash floods when it relocates from the mountain to the nearest water body.

Mountains and water bodies are also believed to be a source of rain and various herbs and healing algae.

It’s also in water especially oceans where some healers are believed to be taken by a “spirit” for 3 days and to come out like a flood with an earthquake to resemble an expectant woman in labour giving birth.

The so-called flood is believed to represent the water breaking and the earthquakes, the labour pains to symbolize the re-birth.  

Within all these myths and beliefs it’s the re-birth ritual that some of these healers of this ancient land called Malawi played through numbers and female and male energy.

They believed in 4 positive male “spirits” and 3 negative female ones to create their sacred number of 7 spirits which they claim pull each other to create light.

They also believed female healers use male spirits hence most dealing with mizimu (spirits) and that male healers use female energy if they’re using the magical narrow necked gourd locally known as nsupa which is dressed with beads around its “hourglass” waist.

Many magic stories and tales have been told about these nsupa gourds including claims that they somehow talk and that the sing’anga healer somehow uses his mortal powers to make it move, but in reality, its power is believed to be sourced from demons and not from Chauta, Namalenga, Mphambe (God) or mortal beings.

There are also myths and tales of mortal beings in Mozambique somehow being put into fire to come out stronger?

To be continued……





Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sapitwa…where no man goes?

Sapitwa symbol meaning it's done
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 22x26 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 which myths claim is home to ancestral spirits and their god.

For centuries it was forbidden to reveal secrets about the place so as to avoid the wrath of the spirits. 

But this time some traditional healers locally known as asing’anga who practice ancient knowledge passed down from African ‘priests’ and priestesses have started talking and sharing treasures from the place including writings which resemble hieroglyphics.

They say the mountain is full of treasures including precious stones and it must not be touched to avoid a natural disaster like Napolo.

Villagers believe landslides that happen there are somehow caused by a serpent spirit when it is somehow relocating from the mountain to water by travelling in a straight path and like a tractor removing and throwing anything in its path.

When bubbling water in the past was noticed on the mountain, elders would rush with sacrifice offerings (nsembe) and sprinkle maize flour on the spot to prevent it erupting so go the tales.

In a beautiful house not far away from the main road in Chisitu, Mulanje, a traditional healer locally known as a sing’anga, Mayi Emma Jaden catches some visitors unawares by showing a sign made popular by American rapper Jay-Z. 

The symbol is eyed with suspicion by many Christians and associated with evil although it is said to be a sign of the Levites, the original 12 tribes of Israel if what some online sites are claiming is accurate.

“It’s a very powerful symbol in religious circles indicating to be God’s chosen soldiers in His spiritual warfare and protect the Tabernacle, as described in the book of Numbers in the Old Testament, and throughout the Torah,” claims one Jay-Z fan online.

Others claim it might have been used by the secretive Lemba tribe whose tradition says that they are of Jewish descent and their ancestors migrated to Africa from Israel via Yemen.
“Nowadays they mostly live in Malawi, South Africa and Zimbabwe, and they still follow many Jewish religious practices,” read some online reports.
Although for a long time scientists and historians were skeptical about the Lemba's claims, DNA tests have since shown they do indeed have Jewish genetic links according to a BBC online report dated March 8, 2010 on http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/africa/8550614.stm.
But Mayi Jaden is a very secretive woman who had not yet revealed what the symbol really means in her tradition.  According to her, she practices rituals passed on down from a royal African priestly clan whose origins remain unknown.
She however talks of a spirit or the god of Sapitwa not allowing people to approach ‘sacred places’ before following 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 sexual relations.
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 themselves 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.

Marked with special tattoo marks locally known as mphini and used by traditional healers to administer medicine straight into the bloodstream or for making incisions to put self-protecting charms, the elderly woman emphasizes that Sapitwa is a “forbidden place” because it is home to a royal spirit family who get offended when certain rituals are not followed when one goes there.

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 claims Jaden.

She claims 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.”  In ancient times clothes were also said to at times appear there on the rocks.

Some villagers also believe some parts of the mountain are always cloudy 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.

Jaden says their ancestors believed that the colour white is the colour of the dead like ghosts and spirits.  They also believed that all spirits appear as white and they claim the female ones have their hair covered as it moves like snakes like Medusa 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 centuries Mulanje Mountain has also been a source of rain says Mayi Jaden who practices teachings said to originate from the mythical figure Mbona which include drawing a cross with ufa woyera (maize flour) to represent the 4 winds as in north, south, west and east.

The northern wind in their rituals involve heavy rains and the south showers, while the west represents the darkness and tainted while the east is holy and represents God locally known as Chauta, Namalenga and Mphambe among other names.

These winds are said to bring rain after being provoked by a two-edged sword and the recital of certain words as most of their rituals involve sending words and requests to the 4 winds with lubani (incense) to Chauta, Namalenga (God) claim the traditional healers whose ancestors were ancient "priests" and "priestesses" whose major role was nsembe (offerings) rituals.

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.

However for the small group of ancient royal priests and priestesses, Sapitwa is not only what is seen with the naked eye, but a different world behind the astral realm they claim.

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 do but one fact remains, Sapitwa Peak remains a beautiful mystery and it is hard if not impossible to trace the spirits that live there. Tales and stories of hauntings will continue for generations to come and that is one element that will keep Sapitwa unique and a tourism attraction.


Black is not evil....it's the colour of rain clouds for farming


Black in ancient Egypt was said to be the colour of the life-giving silt left by the Nile inundation, which led to the ancient name for the country Kemet meaning the "black land".

The colour black was seen as symbolizing fertility, new life, and resurrection as seen through the yearly agricultural cycle and it also was the colour of Osiris, the "black one" and the "resurrected god of the dead" and "Dweller in the Funeral Mountain" according to various internet sources.

It’s also a fact that some religious men in several traditional religions have for centuries worn black clothing without being labeled negative names.

Some beliefs pointed at black scientifically being the absence of colour and showing one’s lack of concern for the dictates of fashion.

In ancient African spiritual beliefs, black was the colour for rain and hence a black cloth, black goat or black cattle were sent to various deities as a price for rain during droughts among other things.

Rain clouds appear black and in some ancient Malawian beliefs they believed in Chauta, Namalenga, Mphambe (God) and went through royal spirits they believed to be close to the Creator when asking for rain among other things. 

In what many online sources and authors call the "Mbona cult" a black cloth was also used and said to "cover the bed in the hut of Mbona" in the books Animals and Ancestors by Brian Morris and Rivers of Blood: The Genesis of a Martyr Cult in Southern Malawi by J.M. Schoffeleers.

Travelling to Mulanje in the month of October or November along the Thyolo road one is bound to notice black clouds forming in the sky to indicate the beginning of the rainy season.  

As the majestic Mulanje mountain appears in a distance, it’s Sapitwa peak appearing to beckoning chosen ones, one cannot help but notice what looks like clouds or fog surrounding it.

For some Mang’anja Sapitwa healers, the formation of black clouds are an indication the rains are near and they study the clouds to figure out where it’s raining and where it will rain next.

This is also done by studying the formation of black clouds on hill tops and activities in water bodies.  A specific black cloud which seems to glow with the sun is also believed to guide some healers to chosen places for what they call their spirits (mizimu).

The healers who tell myths that the astral realm of Sapitwa peak is home to ancestral spirits hence the dead claim to follow the greyish/black cloud to where their “royal spirit” takes them and stop where it stops. 




Sacrifice to Mbona from http://exploremalawi.blogspot.com/2013/02/how-to-make-it-rain-malawian-ancestral.html


Black for them is also the colour of their version of Mbona, a serpent spirit associated with Napolo flash floods.

But their claims have never been researched or investigated despite their existence for centuries maybe because such healers locally all grouped as asing’anga are viewed as ignorant, uneducated, primitive and backwards. So their stories remain myths and legends.

However, the official and accepted Mbona story by the valuable custodians of that culture is documented under Unesco’s Khulubvi and Associated Mbona Sacred Rain Shrines world heritage site.

“Khulubvi sacred shrine is located in Nsanje District, in the lower Shire Valley in Southern Region of Malawi, It is an important spiritual place among the people of Mang'anja tribe. It is a place where the Mang'anja worship the spirit of Mbona.

“According to Mang'anja oral tradition, Mbona 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.

“It is said that Mbona's uncle Mlauli, who was also a magician envied his nephew and wanted to kill Mbona. Mlauli, however, failed to kill Mbona because he wished to die on his own by telling Mlauli and his enemies to cut his throat with a leaf of a reed after other weapons had failed to harm him.

“His head was cut and placed at Khulubvi sacred groove, where the shrine exists today. People who knew his magic works began coming to the place periodically to worship the spirit of Mbona. A traditional hut within Khulubvi natural thicket of approximately 100 square metres was constructed as a worshipping site,” further reads the Unesco cultural heritage website about Mbona.

Some ancestors believed Mbona was "gifted with powers from the heavens" and would invoke the rains during a drought using his two-edged knife/sword locally known as kandalanga to point to the north to provoke the four winds which consist of the north, south, west and east to form the ancient African cross used by some village "Mbona healers".

For centuries such healers have believed that Mulanje Mountain and it's Sapitwa Peak are a source of rain and rivers. 

The unofficial online Wikipedia claims that "most affected by the ITCZ in the Mulanje Area, is the Mulanje Massif, because its unique position as a “mountain island”, rising up more than 2500 metres 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 metres above sea level, we annually experience more than 250 mm (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.

But, there are still differences in the amounts of rain, around the Massif. The south-west face of the Mountain, is the weather side around Likhubula 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,” further reads the unofficial Wikipedia.

The unofficial online encyclopedia also claims that "the elevation of the mountain is high enough for it to disturb upper level air flow and induce rain clouds to form around it, making it an important source of rain water at the head of almost every river that runs through this part of Malawi."

Scientifically it's pretty well-known that most clouds are white, while rain clouds dark and black.

According to http://www.livescience.com, the air around us is full of water in its gaseous form, called water vapor. When the air near the ground warms, it starts to rise, taking the water vapor along with it.

“The air starts to cool as it rises higher into the sky, causing the water vapor to condense onto atmospheric dust from volcanoes, car exhaust and other sources. The resulting water droplets and ice crystals coalesce, or join together, to form clouds.

“Unlike atmospheric particles that scatter more blue light than other colors (making the sky blue), the tiny cloud particles equally scatter all colors of light, which together make up white light. However, rain clouds are gray instead of white because of their thickness, or height.

“That is, a cloud gets thicker and denser as it gathers more water droplets and ice crystals — the thicker it gets, the more light it scatters, resulting in less light penetrating all the way through it.

“The particles on the underside of the rain cloud don't have a lot of light to scatter to your eyes, so the base appears gray as you look on from the ground below. This effect becomes more pronounced the larger the water droplets get — such as right before they're large enough to fall from the sky as rain or snow — because they become more efficient at absorbing light, rather than scattering it,” reads the Live Science website. 


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Symbol of Sirius or two triangle star?

Hands drawn to the chest to symbolize two triangles and fire
According to some Sapitwa healers who trek to Mulanje mountain in Malawi for herbs, holding their hands to the chest is a sign to remind them of three spiritual beings they treasure and hold dear in their heart.

It is a secret story of ancient kingdoms memorized for centuries and passed down they claim including the names of their ancient kings and queens and captured mostly in oral stories and drawings we will for now call the "Sapitwa Book of the Dead."

The hands imitate taking fire from the three stone/rock open fire traditional cooking place to support a pot (mafuwa) to draw the 2 triangles that make a bright star on one's chest.

One would be an upright triangle to symbolize the highest peak of Mulanje Mountain, Sapitwa and the other would be an upside side triangle, the opposite. 

These healers believe in a Creator of this Universe they call Chauta, Namalenga, Mphambe etc and they also claim there are 4 male spiritual beings with a positive charge and 3 female spiritual beings with a negative charge to make a total of 7 pulling each other to create light including lightning. 


Picture of Triangle taken from the Internet


The below picture is not the actual fire but similar to the way a traditional cooking place is set up in the villages of Malawi.

Now for the healers, the fire symbolizes the brightest star in the universe which for now we will assume is Sirius. 

This symbol said to be of ancient kings also symbolized the foundation of their kingdom to ensure order in their villages with people living in harmony and peace. The star symbolized by fire was held closely to the chest.  

Internet photo taken from http://www.mrhpngo.com/traditional blog


Took this picture of children in Milange, Mozambique admiring visiting Malawian children

Tracing footsteps to lead me home

Greetings from the Warm Heart Africa, Malawi.

I'm a Malawian journalist who grew up in many countries including South Africa, Belgium, then West Germany, UK, Washington DC and New York in the US and I love New York.

Trying to come up with the production of my life and by compiling some of my 1000 poems into a book called ‘Tracing Footsteps’ to lead me Home with excellent photography.

I also plan to film award winning documentaries based on the history of this ancient land called Malawi and the mysteries of Sapitwa and the Sirius star.

.....watch this space.


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