Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Speaking foreign tongues yet illiterate….ancient Africa’s wonders

Gondolosi (African Viagra) etc today described as evil and charms
A young illiterate Malawian man exhausted after drinking a locally distilled spirit called kachasu in a village in Mulanje staggers home his eyes red as if in a trance.

His torn black T-shirt and jeans are dirty and his feet and sandals full of dust after dancing the night away.

He barely manages to board a minibus and forces himself to sit up straight on his seat refusing to listen to the conductor who is pleading with him to get off.

The defiant young man who looks about 30 years of age does not move an inch and suddenly starts talking as if possessed by alcohol. He has no money but is determined to get a free ride home.

But for many in the minibus the man’s rumblings about symbols and his so-called predictions of the future are hallucinations resulting from his drinking.

Annoyed with the stench of the man and his non-stop talking, a more educated man on his way from town to his village reacts and speaks to the drunk man in both Chichewa and English with a Malawian accent.

He goes as far as using the F word only to be stunned when the drunk kachasu man answers him in perfect American English and adds more swearing words and then changes to perfect British English with the accent and talks non-stop.

The man fails to understand how this man whom those who know him in the minibus say does not know A,B or C can speak perfect English.  As he heads home to meet his grandparents, he is quick to tell them his experience in the minibus after greetings.
Some of the scenery when travelling to Mulanje by minibus

The grannies summarise it as spirit possession….in their minds the young man was possessed by spirits which according to them can speak foreign languages too.  

Some claim some of those involved in some traditional African dances for healing speak foreign languages including neighbouring African ones.  They also believed that the most powerful spirit is Chauta, Namalenga, Mphambe (God) where all good things come from.

In ancient Africa and among the elderly of ancient Malawi, spirits where believed to possess different types of people, hence the drinking of alcohol and sexual acts was not done anyhow the way it is done today.

Some of our ancestors believed that demons (ziwanda) spread through sexual immorality, so the more sexual partners one had the higher the changes of evil spirits multiplying through that encounter as families had bloodlines they claimed.

Then there were those who knowingly used these (demons) ziwanda for various purposes including power, self-satisfaction, fertility rites and orgy like behavior.  Such forces were believed to enter through the genitals, hence the grabbing of that area when dancing and getting possessed with such spirits.

It is that ancient belief which led to stories of a red female demon which was believed to dance and enjoy publicly showing her genitals in a position which is also documented online by some and used by those who specialize in showing the forbidden area of their body publicly.

The female genital also had a hand symbol used by healers who claim to use ziwanda in their rituals including making fire and magic tricks involving a sulfur rock.

Some of such healers who always clash with the mizimu (spirit) ones, would usually subscribe a sexual act with the administration of their charms, hence their telling those involved in their so-called magical acts to perform evil incest acts like animals.

But not all nyanga healers subscribe to such evil teachings and criminal acts.

There are different kinds of spirits that take possession of individuals, some good and others bad and these vary in strength and influence upon the person acting as a host or vehicle writes Reverend Wallace Bozongwana in his 1983 book ‘Ndebele Religion and Customs.’

Bozongwana back then was described as an Anglican Priest of the Diocese of Matabeleland whose grandfather was the ‘high priest’ at the court of King Lobhengula and his interest and expertise was “the impact of Christianity on traditional African religion and culture.”

The author when describing the different types of spirits in that culture wrote that the “indwelling spirit over-powers the host and then dictates terms suitable to it.

“The victim becomes its vehicle or spring-board for attacking its enemies.  The activities of the spirit may cause the person (host) to be hated by his or her neighbours (if it is a witch spirit) because of his or her night flights or night time activities.  If it is a good spirit, the host or hostess is loved by all in the community and looked to when there is illness in the home or neighbourhood – a doctor spirit.

“The good and bad spirits are continually at war with each other and there can be no reconciliation.  We have, therefore idlozi elibi (bad spirit) and idlozi elihle (good spirit) and the main difference between these two is that umthakathi (bad spirit) is bent on harming or killing, while the other fights against that,” wrote Bozongwana.

He also explained that in Ndebelele Religion and Culture a spirit is baptized into the host by parents while at times the ancestor spirit forces itself into the host.

“The activity in the person is marked by disturbances so that the hose becomes aware of what the intention of the spirit is.  The host normally acts under instruction backed by force.  Sometimes the disturbance occurs in the head, while at times it takes place in the body causing it to quiver or shake violently.  The victim may speak in the language of the indwelling spirit while he or she is in a trance, and may have supernatural power and perform wonders.

Of these ‘good spirits’, the author explains how in that culture the inyanga spirit’s role in a society is to “heal the sick, bring good luck, protect and drive away the evil spirits which cause suffering and death” and that this kind of spirit is often hereditary although at times one acquires it through invocation.

“Ordinarily, the ancestor who had the inyanga spirit, visits one of his descendants and shows him roots and herbs for healing different kings of diseases while the recipient is in his sleep. 

“He may be even told where he can find these plants – sometimes up to 50 kilometers away depending on where he used to find them himself during his life time on earth.  Dreams and apparitions become frequent particularly if the recipient is unwilling to take up the job. To herald this inyanga spirit, the benevolent spirit will make the host dislike certain foods and introduce an ailment, at times, which can never be treated even by a physician.  If this proclamation of the approach of the spirit is not heeded, the victim will continue to be tormented as long as he lives,” further wrote Bozongwana.

As most healing is psychological, the inyanga will be seen with various kinds of apparatus – horns, calabashes, snail shells and so on, to impress upon the patient’s mind that the process of healing has began.   These inyanga in the Ndebelele religion and culture were the backbone of the tribe and helped to strengthen the morale of the nation.

“The tribe was kept together in unity and morally and spiritually by cherishing these beliefs, hence together with other factors, they brought into existence what was called the “National Spirit” of the Ndebele which came under festivals like the iNxwala (New Year festival).

Bozongwana also wrote that under good spirits also comes the violent one – the isangoma and isanuse spirit, the “witch-hunting spirit dreaded by wizards and witches.  Sick people consult it to see who is harming them.  Good singing and dancing by a crowd will only lure the spirit to come out and speak through the host.”

Spirits in various ancient African traditions and cultures were usually defined as good or evil but today all spirits of Africa including our ancestors are all grouped as evil……because everything black is viewed as evil which is wrong.

Watch this space for Part 2 of this attempted analysis of ancient African beliefs and what the primitive healers of Sapitwa and “Kuba” say about their different types of spirit. 

Disclaimer:  This is not an attempt to endorse healers but just a platform for repeating oral history some of which has never ever been documented the way it's done in so many other countries including by some religious people.   
To be continued......

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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.