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
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.

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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. this space.