Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Tasting ancient Malawi’s sorghum grain and cassava (First published in Malawi Airlines Tiyende magazine)

Sorghum from https://theafricanpotnutrition.com/2014/02/04/sorghum-a-nutrition-packed-african-grain/grain/

Gone forever are the days of theka theka (half, half) sorghum and mapira flour offerings to Chauta, Namalenga, Mphambe at now extinct Malawi rain shrines.  But the grain seems to be making a comeback to complement maize during the constant droughts caused by the El Nino weather patterns.

Sorghum is a grain whose first recorded remains, dating back to 8000 BCE, were found in the Nabta Playa archaeological site in southern Egypt, writes Jane Summer in her article ‘Sorghum: The Must-have Gluten-free Ancient Grani.’

In Sudan, sorghum was also used as offerings at temples dedicated to Amun, a spiritual being they believed in.  The British Museum website reports that archaeo-botanical analyses of the mould shards excavated reveal that sorghum was the grain used to make offerings, not wheat and barley, as was used to make offering breads in Egypt.

However, pearl millet or black millet (machewere) was also used to make some local bread or cake for offerings in ancient Malawi.  Online records show the Sudanese farming it by 4000 BC before it spread to Egypt around 30000 BC and the rest of Africa. 


According to the only Sapitwa priestess in Malawi, Mayi Cecilia Jarden, sorghum (mapira) was also used in ufa (flour) offerings together with mawere (millet) while chikokeyani was the traditional beer put in mtsuko (clay pot) near a sacred tree, and thobwa the non-alcoholic drink one.

Both beer and the non-alcoholic drink were made using either millet or sorghum as well as for food offerings made during droughts.  She says when the Portuguese came between the 1500 and 1600s the maize they brought was also used as flour offerings, to cook nsima and for making some beer or liquor.

“Earlier ancestors didn’t know maize (corn) but makaka (dried cassava) and sorghum and millet, among other things when cooking nsima.  The youth of today don’t know these things and complain it sticks in the hand or is medicine, unlike in ancient times when children ate it like sweets.”

Ancestors knew nsima ya mtandaza from cassava and nsima ya mapira from sorghum which don’t need much water to grow and are healthy food products.

Raw Cassava

In Mulanje, southern Malawi, nandolo (pigeon peas) was prepared like porridge and a child would then drink water and feeling full, go to sleep.  Cassava as in mtandaza was sticky like glue (ulimbo) and was eaten with many things including bush ice locally known as mbewa, explains Mayi Jarden, adding that dried cassava was pounded as in kutibula or kusinja.

This issue was also raised by one of five journalists invited by the US Mission to the United Nations Agencies in Rome, Italy for meetings at UN agencies including WFP and the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. 

In response to a question, Alexandre Meybeck, an FAO food and security change officer, explained how sorghum, compared with maize, is more drought resistant and has greater nutritional characteristics.  

However, he said the yield is lower so farmers produce less income from it so from a livelihood perspective there’s not much profit.

“Ideally on your farm you can have a combination of sorghum and maize for drought reasons.  There are farmers in areas of Malawi who have maize, cassava and sorghum.  

"This is precisely the trade-off between being more productive….you take modern varieties of maize and you put fertilizers, you have drought and you have nothing or being more resilient either as a farmer or country you have sorghum, all varieties of maize which don’t produce much and finally cassava” he said.


Research also shows that countries where cassava was consumed had less impact on their food insecurity because the prices of the cereals were linked to world markets.

Sorghum, the nutrition packed African grain, beyond porridge and chibuku, is also made like popcorn, boiled together with sugar beans (pinto beans) to make Nyekoe, a traditional dish from Lesotho and used in place of “teff” to make the traditional Ethiopian Inuera”, writes Cordialis Chipo, a registered dietician and founder of The African Pot Nutrition centre. 
Raw cassava : FAO

A Malawian taste of Supplì alla Romana (first published in Tiyende magazine for Malawi Airlines but blog photos)



It was about 5:20 am when Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET702 touched down in the ancient city of Rome, Italy, on a rather humid day after a very smooth and comfortable flight from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

It was transfer route from Lilongwe, Malawi so when I saw the ancient ruins of Rome, I knew my visit at the invitation of the US Mission to the United Nations Agencies in Rome for meetings with UN agencies would be successful.

I was among five journalists invited to Rome from 10-15 July for meetings with World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Luckily, at the airport a WFP official was there to welcome us and immigration proceedings went smoothly so we were able to rest at Hotel Fortyseven Albergo in Rome before a brief orientation and lunch on the rooftop balcony.


Ben Jumbe took this photo of me on the balcony restaurant

Just when we were about to order pasta one of the women spotted rice and we agreed to order that dish. In between, when the waitress brought what I thought was a complimentary snack, I got excited but alas it was not meant to be!

What I thought was the ordered lunch meal turned out to be a very tasty and delicious Italian appetizer known as Arancinci or Suppli.  I could taste the cheese and tomato sauce inside the rice rolled up into balls coated with breadcrumbs.

My lunch that day

 One of the male journalists, before tasting the rice balls, stressed how he was "an African man who needed food".  After tasting the appetizer he was silenced by its delicious taste.

Speaking with a beautiful heavy Italian accent, the waitress explained how Suppli in Sicily includes meat and other things, unlike the Roman cuisine which is mostly cheese. Back home in Malawi we easily prepare spaghetti with meatballs and macaroni and cheese.

The closest to suppli was when we rolled the meatballs full of breadcrumbs in cake or bread flour before frying, but it was nothing close to the Italian masterpiece. 
Ben from Uganda was a lot of fun

I also witnessed how some pasta dishes are served as a 'first courses in Italy", while others are prepared "in light lunches such as salads". 

Italy and its food were also in the back of my mind when the US Mission to the United Nations Agencies in Rome gave us a Roma 48 hours pass to visit historical sites in the city.

These included the Colosseum known as Colosseo, the biggest amphitheatre which started  in 72 AD by Vepasiamo of the Flavia family hence it is also known as the "Amphiteatrum Flavium".

Other tourist attraction sites included the Panteon, Fontana di trevi Piazza di Spagna and the Basilica San Pietro.

According to Agata D. Francesco of Blue Italy tour guide, the Colosseum’s ancient builders obtained volcanic dust, sand and lime mixed with cement like material to build the strong structures.

She said the ancient Romans built a foundation on volcanic rock and animal games were played inside during the morning and gladiator ones in the afternoon. 


“The arena was made of wood covered by a thick layer of sand to absorb blood.  The Romans got lions, giraffes and ostriches from Africa and found wild animals in the Saharan desert.

“They imported them and were paid and financed by rich people to get the exotic animals.  The red marble was from the south of Egypt, the yellow from Tunisia and the others from parts of Africa”, she said.

Ancient Rome was influenced by Egypt which it conquered after the Greeks hence the slaves were also likely used to carry things for building.  Egyptian style architecture is also seen among the Roman arcs.

Agata D. Francesco of Blue Italy tour guide

One well-known Roman figure in Africa was Julius Caesar, a Roman politician and politician. Caesar also connected to ancient Egypt’s Cleopatra was assassinated on March 5, 44 BC by Marchus Junius Brutus.

Caesar’s body was cremated, and on the site of his cremation, the Temple of Caesar was erected a few years later (at the east side of the main square of the Roman Forum. 

We saw the altar that remains during our historical tour of the ancient city which left us breathless and experiencing the best of Italy. 



A Malawian taste of Supplì alla Romana (first published in Tiyende magazine for Malawi Airlines but blog photos)



It was about 5:20 am when Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET702 touched down in the ancient city of Rome, Italy, on a rather humid day after a very smooth and comfortable flight from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

It was transfer route from Lilongwe, Malawi so when I saw the ancient ruins of Rome, I knew my visit at the invitation of the US Mission to the United Nations Agencies in Rome for meetings with UN agencies would be successful.

I was among five journalists invited to Rome from 10-15 July for meetings with World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Luckily, at the airport a WFP official was there to welcome us and immigration proceedings went smoothly so we were able to rest at Hotel Fortyseven Albergo in Rome before a brief orientation and lunch on the rooftop balcony.


Ben Jumbe took this photo of me on the balcony restaurant

Just when we were about to order pasta one of the women spotted rice and we agreed to order that dish.  In between, when the waitress brought what I thought was a complimentary snack, I got excited but alas it was not meant to be!

What I thought was the ordered lunch meal turned out to be a very tasty and delicious Italian appetizer known as Arancinci or Suppli.  I could taste the cheese and tomato sauce inside the rice rolled up into balls coated with breadcrumbs.

My lunch that day

 One of the male journalists, before tasting the rice balls, stressed how he was "an African man who needed food".  After tasting the appetizer he was silenced by its delicious taste.

Speaking with a beautiful heavy Italian accent, the waitress explained how Suppli in Sicily includes meat and other things, unlike the Roman cuisine which is mostly cheese. Back home in Malawi we easily prepare spaghetti with meatballs and macaroni and cheese.

The closest to suppli was when we rolled the meatballs full of breadcrumbs in cake or bread flour before frying, but it was nothing close to the Italian masterpiece. 
Ben from Uganda was a lot of fun

I also witnessed how some pasta dishes are served as a 'first courses in Italy", while others are prepared "in light lunches such as salads". 

Italy and its food were also in the back of my mind when the US Mission to the United Nations Agencies in Rome gave us a Roma 48 hours pass to visit historical sites in the city.   These included the Colosseum known as Colosseo, the biggest amphitheatre which started  in 72 AD by Vepasiamo of the Flavia family hence it is also known as the "Amphiteatrum Flavium".

Other tourist attraction sites included the Panteon, Fontana di trevi Piazza di Spagna and the Basilica San Pietro.

According to Agata D. Francesco of Blue Italy tour guide, the Colosseu’s ancient builders obtained volcanic dust, sand and lime mixed with cement like material to build the strong structures.

She said the ancient Romans built a foundation on volcanic rock and animal games were played inside during the morning and gladiator ones in the afternoon. 


“The arena was made of wood covered by a thick layer of sand to absorb blood.  The Romans got lions, giraffes and ostriches from Africa and found wild animals in the Saharan desert.

“They imported them and were paid and financed by rich people to get the exotic animals.  The red marble was from the south of Egypt, the yellow from Tunisia and the others from parts of Africa”, she said.

Ancient Rome was influenced by Egypt which it conquered after the Greeks hence the slaves were also likely used to carry things for building.  Egyptian style architecture is also seen among the Roman arcs.

Agata D. Francesco of Blue Italy tour guide

One well-known Roman figure in Africa was Julius Caesar, a Roman politician and politician. Caesar was also connected to ancient Egypt’s Cleopatra was assassinated on March 5, 44 BC by Marchus Junius Brutus.

Caesar’s body was cremated, and on the site of his cremation , the Temple of Caesar was erected a few years later (at the east side of the main square of the Roman Forum. 

We saw the altar that remains during our historical tour of the ancient city which left us breathless and experiencing the best of Italy. 




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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