Monday, December 23, 2013

Myths & Tales: Mysterious veiled woman of Sapitwa?

Not actual beads of the myths and tales
It’s a hot day in October, the sun is burning as if it has lowered itself down to earth as a young sweating woman attempts to board a minibus in a small Malawian town in the warm heart of Africa.

Dressed in exotic traditional attire from her headgear to toes peeking out of her beaded sandals, the woman carefully lifts her blue chitenje attire skirt as she steps into a small hot minibus with people packed in fours like sardines.

On her neck she is wearing blue Ngoni like beads with matching bead bracelets which move and shake as if dancing to a silent tune.

As she watches her step, she senses piercing eyes staring at her and watching her every movement.  Curious, the young woman looks up to see the most beautiful woman she has ever seen in her life staring at her.

She’s out of this world looking like a queen, a light cloth tied like a turban covering her hair and a beautiful lace veil flowing down her shoulders like hair.  

The woman with brown piercing eyes flicks her long eyelashes and one can’t help but notice the black beauty spot on her smooth and flawless brown face.

Taken aback and feeling ugly, the young woman wishes she was that beautiful and starts daydreaming….only to be taken out of her trance by the mysterious lady who tells her in Chichewa that “you are one of us. We travelled through the desert and ended up here in Malawi.”

The veiled woman then startles the young woman by asking where her ankle beads are and mentions her by name. 

“I don’t know you, who are you?  Have we met before, please remind me,” asks the now curious and puzzled woman.

The lady breaks into a warm smile and answers, “I’m Miriam” while looking down at her own chitenje attire.

“Please can I have your phone number, where do you live, I want to know more,” asks the young woman.

But all the veiled woman can tell her in Chichewa is: “We will meet again…you will find me”.

And with that the minibus comes to a screeching halt and the young woman realizes it’s her stage and says goodbye to the veiled woman who has provoked her brain and triggered her thoughts.

She watches the minibus leave and wonders who the hell that woman is and how come she’s dressed differently from most Malawian women.  The young went on about her business…told her few friends about her “freak” encounter.

Puzzled the woman who lives with her granny tells her about the encounter with the strange woman before.

She’s taken aback when her suspicious granny suggests she might have somehow met a spirit calling her to healing.  

The woman is even confused and scared but her grandmother calms her down and tells her the story of the mythical veiled woman spirit of Sapitwa who sometimes appears to call people to healing so go the tales.

Got this photo from Menno Welling for a story I wrote about the discovery of a rain shrine at  Dziwe la Nkhalamba
She knows the name of the spirit but says it’s forbidden to say it in public but in a nutshell tells her grand-daughter that some who claimed to have been to the other realm of Sapitwa find this mythical female spirit all dressed in white and appearing near a rock and cave.

When approached tales suggest the mythical spirit also comes up and out from the bottom and around her is a lot of money those who somehow visit there leave as offering.  It is believed those who attempt to steal money “donated” there are thrown into a nearby body of water by the mythical spirits of Sapitwa.

Only a few people know the hidden two names of this mythical female spirit which somehow appears as male and female because some of the ancestors believed that such spirits don’t marry and can appear as either gender.

This mythical female spirit of Sapitwa is said to sometimes appear with breasts when it appears like a bearded man.

The above oral story is staged based on information told by a village woman visiting town. Ironically, in ancient Egypt among the aspects of their 'god' attributed to the Netcher associated with the Nile River was one called Hapi.

Image of Hapi, the Nile-deity from the Encyclopaedia Biblica, a 1903 publication

This said Hapi was portrayed as an elderly male with large flabby female breasts that symbolized one who had nursed or breast-fed an entire nation.

According to a Nile Valley Contributions to Civilization book by Anthony T. Browder, “Hapi was the original “Old Man River”, and his name was probably the source of the word “happy.”

According to the unofficial Wikipedia online Hapi was the "god of the annual flooding of the Nile in ancient Egyptian religion and "although male and wearing the false beard, Hapi was pictured with pendulous breasts and a large belly, as representations of the fertility of the Nile.

However in his book Ndebele Religion and Customs, Reverend Wallace Bozongwana wrote about the gender of spirits of healers affecting them in various ways.

He wrote that the insangoma spirit of the abeZansi people – people of the South usually revealed its presence before or shortly after puberty.

“It seldom will show after marriage.  If it is a female one, the host will marry but if it is a male one in a woman, the woman can’t marry or bear children as it will hinder sufficient development of sex organs,” partly wrote Bozongwana.

While some writers document the ancient history of ancient Egypt or Zimbabwe, more needs to be written and researched about ancient Malawi especially these oral stories about a mythical veiled woman somehow “haunting” the forbidden part of Sapitwa if one can put it that way. 

Who was this mythical woman and how many more mountains and hills in the world have mythical female spirits?  In the end there is a high possibility that myths and tales throughout the world are similar but from different cultures and beliefs.

Travelling along the Thyolo road heading to Mulanje





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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.

.....watch this space.


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