Thursday, January 30, 2014

Of donkey kicks, tail fly-whisks and minibus rides

Donkey kick photo as an example of one taken from:

It was a rainy dull day in Blantyre when I wanted to board a Highway minibus on my way to Limbe to run some errands.

As usual touts breathing into my face each tried to convince me to board the minibus they would eventually get money for and as usual I asked them not to touch me and they obeyed.

One then rushed to the minibus he was calling passengers for and opened the front door.  Noticing that the minibus was almost full I started boarding when I noticed a male passenger in the front seat quickly getting out and giving me way to sit in the middle.
I usually don’t like sitting in the front seats of minibuses and worse still in the middle but on this day I was exhausted and anxious to get to my destination on time.
As the minibus departed after a 20 minute wait with us passengers packed like sardines, I could not help but notice that the man next to me had a fly-whisk.
Man in the front seat of minibus with a donkey tail fly-whisk?
I gasped when I noticed it didn’t have a stick oh my and yes I didn’t grow up in the village but abroad so I was also shocked later with the stories he started telling me about donkeys throughout the journey.
In my mind I started debating how to ask him about his fly-whisk which resembled a wig and all sorts of fake hair in town. 
When he raised the fly whisk up I could not resist and asked him what the hell he was doing with a fly whisk in a minibus and what for.
He turned out to be a funny story-teller and told me about his ancestors and how they were fighters and from a royal family so he claimed.  But looking at his fly-whisk I noticed it looked different from the few I’ve seen in Malawi so I asked the million dollar question.
Côte d’Ivoire horsehair fly-whisk from:
“What is your fly-whisk made from,” I asked inquisitively and waiting for the answer which I did not expect.
 He answered “bulu [donkey]”.

Now curious, I noticed his fly-whisk did not have a stick and wondered how on earth he got it from those vicious scary kicking donkeys.

He answered me vaguely saying it’s easy but I did not want to know how and could only see donkeys kicking with their back legs!  When asked if he’s a sing’anga (traditional healer), he answered no and that he was only a carpenter so I was even more confused.
He then started explaining the behavior of donkeys, how it relates to other animals, beasts etc and how some in ancient times ate it and used its foot for disappearing acts when being chased or something like that.
What type of a donkey tail [fly-whisk] is this?
After explaining various concoctions we are left stunned in the minibus and some of us especially me trying not to laugh.
Confused and the minibus driver now listening in, I’m like how on earth can a person disappear so I conclude and laugh it off as “one of those Malawi matsenga (magic) stories” which are myths.
The man then caught us unawares when he suddenly said although he’s not a healer but had a dream of where to find a cure for HIV and Aids and that he found it and cured 25 people so far.
Immediately after that other passengers in the minibus rebuked him calling him a “mfiti” [witch/wizard] out to cheat people including the minibus driver and conductor while I told him bluntly there’s no cure for HIV and Aids but only for opportunistic diseases.
The man then claimed when educated people say they can reportedly cure HIV through “Garani MW 1Herb”many rush to buy it and believe but when a carpenter like him says so he’s accused of witchcraft.
The minibus suddenly went quiet as he kept saying Garani MW 1Herb with confidence and we just looked at him.  Before we realized it he disembarked from the minibus and not a soul discussed him as is usually the cases in minibuses after heated debates.
It made me think how under-rated most of our traditional healers are so instead many would rather buy or import well-researched Chinese herbs to sell to fellow Malawians.
Maybe it’s time to use Science and Technology in regards to herbs using labs and having a factory preferably in Mulanje if land is available?  Who knows but one thing is for sure, Malawi with its various mountains is known for various herbs but with a new anti-herb movement these days when it’s Malawians doing it, chances of local herbs for healing being taken more seriously remains very slim.
Ancient Egypt donkey painting taken from

This is one of many funny minibus ride stories I will be sharing on this blog after travelling in so many minibuses for years and learning so many things, myths and tales which I never hear when driving a car. Many story-tellers cheers to them.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Is the Vundulamadzi bird the African Fish Eagle?

The Vundula (to stir up) or Vundulamadzi (stir up the water) bird is pictured on pages 56 and 57 of the Ulendo series Mtunda 3 Chichewa for Standard 3.
Vundulamadzi bird in the Mtunda 3 book
African Fish Eagle:,_Great_Rift_Valley,_Kenya-8.jpg

This blog wants to know its English name and to verify whether or not it is the African Fish Eagle?
Is Vundulamadzi a nickname for Nkhwazi which is a fish eagle and cries like “He-e-e in the same book? Is it also known for fishing (kuwedza nsomba).
The ‘Siyabonga Africa’  South African website on  titled Kruger Park Birding: Birds and Muthi (Medicine) lists the African fish eagle as being the most in demand as “all eagles are a symbol of power and will help one catch one’s prey or achieve specific goals.”

Other birds listed on that website include the Southern Ground-Hornbill (Nang'omba) for protection against lightning and the family among other muthi myths listed there.

According to the unofficial Wikipedia, the distinctive cry of the African fish eagle is, for many, “evocative of the spirit or essence of Africa. The call, shriller when uttered by males, is a weee-ah, hyo-hyo or a heee-ah, heeah-heeah”

According to the unofficial Wikipedia, the African Eagle mainly feed on fish “which it will swoop down upon from a perch in a tree, snatching the prey from the water with its large clawed talons. The eagle will then fly back to its perch to eat its catch.”

This species is quite common near freshwater lakes, reservoirs, and rivers, although they can sometimes be found near the coast at the mouths of rivers or lagoons.
Who read this book and is this the African Fish Eagle?
“As their name implies, African Fish Eagles are indigenous to sub-Saharan Africa, ranging over most of continental Africa south of the Sahara Desert. Several examples of places where they may be resident include the Orange River in South Africa and Namibia, the Okavango Delta in Botswana, and Lake Malawi bordering its namesake country Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique.

“The African Fish Eagle is thought to occur in substantial numbers around the locations of Lake Victoria and other large lakes that are found in Central Africa, particularly the Rift Valley lakes. The African Fish Eagle is a generalist species, requiring only open water with sufficient prey and a good perch.

This is evident by the number of habitat types that this species may be found in, including grassland, swamps, marshes, tropical rainforest, fynbos and even desert bordering coastlines, such as that of Namibia," partly reads the Wikipedia.

The African Fish Eagle is a species placed in the genus Haliaeetus (sea eagles).

It’s feet has rough soles and are equipped with powerful talons in order to enable the eagle to grasp slippery aquatic prey. While this species mainly subsists on fish, it is opportunistic and may take a wider variety of prey such as waterbirds.
They breed during the dry season when water levels are low. African Fish Eagles are believed to be monogamous - in other words, they mate for life.

NOTE:  This blog does not have photos of the African Fish Eagle but has used some from the unofficial online Wikipedia encylcopaedia with necessary links.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Do Lizard Love Charms Work? By Agnes Mizere (First published in Fairlane Magazine)

Malawians is this monitor lizard called Kwakwananda here?

No…no…no! Our ancestors and "witch-doctors" got it all wrong…women should not use magic spells to control men, it’s evil and I will tell you why. 

Yes I’m aware love charms are as historical as Malawi itself but I have my reservations.

First of all, love the oldest emotion known to mankind should not be confused with lust! Simply put, love is a strong liking for someone or something; a passionate affection for another person; or the object of such affection.

Love is supposed to be natural, without barriers and affecting various sectors of society including cases where one partner is doing all the loving.  This has created an unusual need especially amongst some Malawian women just like other African ones to use external substances like charms to cast spells, control and magically induce love in cold men.

Instead most of these men are turning into zombies or becoming kind of brain dead!  Others end up hating the pursuer even more! The first such horror story I came across involves thirty-four year-old *Susan a married mother of two (a boy and girl) but a very lonely woman although she has all that she could possible dream of having: a beautiful home, cars, free air tickets for annual shopping sprees to Asia and Europe etc.  

Shockingly, this young mother still feels emptiness in her heart as she claims that the challenging very alert out-going man she married six years ago has now been replaced by a boring introvert whom she has to force to go to work.

Why? *Susan in the early days of their relationship rushed to get mankhwala achikondi  (love charms) from a witchdoctor in Thyolo where she received specific instructions to mix the herbs with her fresh faeces then mix them with relish especially dried fish like matemba, meat or beans.  Nasty!

Now chances are high that her ‘very obedient’ husband will soon lose his job because every morning he apparently clings on to his wife ‘like a maggot’ if I may use her own words.

Ironically, this has forced her to have an affair with a ‘younger more challenging’ man a college student?  One can only wonder what the point of all this was.  

What is disturbing is that *Susan is not alone.  More African women these days seem to be turning to love charms and spells to grab the men of their dreams.  Some are very satisfied.  In Area 18, 27 year-old *Nankhoma is proud that “her man sticks to her like glue or a zombie and they “definitely have a Till Death Do Us Part Affair.”

Her secret recipe?  The outspoken woman burns a small cloth soaked with her menstruation blood and mixes it with mankhwala achikondi  which she then conceals in relish.  Sometimes she uses a piece of thread from her underwear or blanket which is burnt then the ashes mixed with herbs to be cooked with nsima or chips.

You might be wondering what the secret ingredient in these women’s love charms is? Well many women in townships have been chasing after buluzi (lizards) thinking their tails are sacred love potions but my investigations show that it’s in the tail of Namakala Vamulango or Kwakwananda which sounds like a monitor lizard found in the hills of Nsanje and Chikwawa. 

The whole animal is bought but only the tail is pounded into powder or burnt into ashes for use.  It’s then mixed with 13 roots and barks with the animal parts being the fourteenth. These potions/charms which are believed to cause rapid weight loss, hair shredding and suspected brain damage involve blood which is unclean.

Imagine, some women somehow soak mawele  (millet) in their private parts until it sprouts after several days then they cook thobwa for their husbands to drink!  Talk of disgusting…on the other hand, I am told that there are other mixtures which do not involve body fluids or blood but two types of ground nyenyezi mixed with oils.

One is supposed to be the bark of a tree found at Sapitwa, the highest peak of Mulanje Mountain, with a glittering inside which shines when facing the sun.  The other is what some locals call nyenyezi (a star) which apparently falls at night only once a year during the month of October.  It sounds like a meteorite but in their opinion, the star is actually just a rock which shines brightly and when it hits the ground the whole area is well lit even though it’s at night.

Elders foretell a chief’s future using these while others call them ‘lucky stars’ which some women use when looking for a husband.  So as the hunt for the tail of Namakala Vamulango  still continues in the remote hills further down south, some look for falling stars while others are plainly opting for good old-fashioned real love in a give and take situation instead of using external factors for enhancement. 

Which one are you?

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.