Sunday, July 28, 2013

Understanding Freemasonry …. with George Nnensa (originally published in newspapers)

Do the names Sir Winston Churchill, George Washington, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Nat ‘King’ Cole, George VI, Harry Houdini, Henry Ford, Rudyard Kipling, John Wayne, Peter Sellers and Clark Gabel ring a bell?

Well, the United Grand Lodge of England (UGLE) lists these men among many others as famous Freemasons through the ages. UGLE describes organised Freemasonry as beginning with the founding of the first Grand lodge on June 24, 1717 at the Good and Gridiron Ale House in St Paul’s churchyard.

In Malawi, the Grand Lodge of Antient Free and Accepted Masons of Scotland website lists Lodge Nyasa based in Namiwawa as being established on August 6, 1903. We can also reveal that the Worshipful Master (WM) for the St George Lodge (one of the six Masonic Lodges in the country) in 2013 was George Nnensa.
George Nnensa current Worshipful Master for the St George Lodge

As for the origins of Freemasonry, globally, there is general agreement amongst historians and researchers that Freemasonry developed either directly or indirectly from the medieval stonemasons otherwise known as Operative Masons who built the great cathedrals and castles.

Those who favour the theory, say there were three stages to the evolution of Freemasonry including the stonemasons who gathered in huts or Lodges to rest and eat. These Lodges gradually became meetings for stonemasons to regulate their craft and eventually, and in common with other trades, developed primitive initiation ceremonies for new apprentices.

“As stonemasons were accustomed to travelling all over the country and as there were no trade union cards or certificates of apprenticeship, they began to adopt a private word which they could use when arriving at a new site to prove they were properly skilled and had been a member of a hut or Lodge.

“It was, after all, easier to communicate a secret word to prove who you were and that you were entitled to your wages, than it was to spend hours carving a block of stone to demonstrate your skills.  It is known that in the early 1600s these operative Lodges began to admit non-stonemasons. 

“They were Accepted or Gentlemen Masons.  Why and what form the ceremony took is unknown. As the 1600s drew to a close, more gentlemen joined the Lodges, gradually taking them over and turning them into Lodges of free and accepted, or speculative Masons,” states a theory posted on the UGLE website and based on information from Scotland where there is said to be ample evidence of Scottish operative Lodges.

A more recent theory places the origin of Freemasonry within a charitable framework.  In the 1600s there was no welfare state, so anyone falling ill or becoming disabled had to rely on friends and the Poor Law for support. In those days many trades had what have become known as box clubs.

“…….From surviving evidence these box clubs are known to have begun to admit members not belonging to their trade and to have had many traits of early Masonic Lodges. They met in taverns, had simple initiation ceremonies and passwords and practiced charity on a local scale.  It is possible that Freemasonry had its origins in just such a box club for operative Masons.”

Malawian Freemasons

Whatever the myths or theories, it’s a fact that Freemasonry has existed in Malawi for more than 100 years.

George Nnensa, as the Worshipful Master for the St George Lodge, is in charge of the Lodge during his one year tenure of office and acts as its chairman. The next position is the Immediate Past Master followed by the Senior Warden, Junior Warden, Chaplain, Treasurer, Secretary and Director of Ceremonies among others.

Lodge officers include a chaplain who leads members in prayer before and after meetings. Others are the steward, Inner Guard, Almoner, Organist, Charity Steward and Junior and Senior Deacons.

“The Master is elected by the Lodge members every year and is then installed into his office.  He is usually Master for one year and normally conducts ceremonies in the Lodge.  Being elected and installed as Master is the highest honour a Lodge can bestow on any of its members,” explains the tall and charming Nnensa.

According to him, the dress code is a dark lounge suit, an appropriate tie, a white shirt, white gloves and black shoes.  Aprons involve the Three Degrees in Freemasonry and are attached round the waist of the wearer.

But what exactly is Freemasonry?  With a smile, George describes Masonry as consisting of a body of men brought together for the “sake of mutual intellectual, social and moral improvement.”

“Masonry recognizes no distinction of religion and emphasizes the duties of citizenship.  Religious or political discussion is not permitted in Lodge meetings.  Masonry offers no monetary advantages and supports a wide range of charities, both Masonic and non-Masonic,” he says.

Other reasons some men are said to enjoy Freemasonry is a sense of Brotherhood where they are said to make new friends and acquaintances from all walks of life, every background and age group.

Nnensa also lists charity where they can contribute to deserving causes and education and knowledge as being attractors to the body as they “learn from peers and mentors and find out about the history and mysteries of Freemasonry.”

George emphasizes that there is nothing sinister about Freemasonry and he says he enjoys the company of his friends in the brotherhood as they always care for each other. 

He says on Open Days, their wives and friends are allowed to visit the Lodge and ask questions if they desire.  The Lodge in Malawi has members from all walks of life and mostly reputable gentlemen.

These days Freemasons are usually mentioned in religious circles in Malawi with some accusing them off all sorts of bad things ranging from Satanism to being blood-sucking vampires.

Most of their accusers are said to be women and children although Freemasonry has existed in Malawi since 1903 without any documented incident or complaint.

It is said to be an association with secrets but not a secret society.  It’s also believed to have some similarities with secretive African groupings (e.g. Gule Wamkulu) only for men but not labeled satanic.

Malawi has only six lodges compared to Nigeria with 43, South Africa 75 and Zimbabwe 14 internet sources show and none of them are registered as satanic churches.

According to, the Grand Superintendent and overseer of Scottish Malawi Lodges is “Brother Gordon Sheppard”.  Four local Scottish lodges are listed mainly Nyasa, David Livingstone and Viphya in Blantyre and Angoni in Lilongwe.

Masons are globally known for their charity work and in Malawi, among other things, they rebuilt classrooms at Lusako Primary school which was damaged during the 2009 earthquake in Karonga.

At the time, Sheppard granted the media an interview, he said Freemasonry traces its history to 500 years ago and started in Scotland. He also said the Freemasons follow a code of practice in life which starts with "a firm belief in Almighty God".

There are over 330,000 Freemasons in England and Wales with nearly six million worldwide.  In Malawi, there are about 200 Freemasons. There are also nearly 8000 Lodges spread throughout England and Wales.  - By Agnes Mizere

Overseer for Scottish Malawi Lodges is “Brother Gordon Sheppard”

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 the Sirius star. this space.