Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Ancient annual flooding of Malawi’s Shire River….after Sirius?

 Wikipedia: Shire Fluss in Malawi next to Nsanje at the border to Mocambique, author Antener
When one reads about ancient Egyptian astronomical calendars among others being used simultaneously and in synchronization with one another every 1460 years when the first day of each calendar coincided with the helical rising of the “dog star”, Sothis (Sirius), which also coincided with the inundation – the annual flooding of the Nile, one tenders to wonder if such theories were also practiced in this southern part of Africa.

Well it’s a lot of maths and calculations but since there’s not much information about ancient Malawi rituals online, the author of this blog asks the many experts to brainstorm and confirm or cancel some theories to be posted here based on what Sapitwa healers say.
The author of this blog is also ignorant of some trees and will need guidance and correction as Google will be used.
Now there seems to be a strong possibility that some ancestors of this ancient land of Malawi waited for the annual flooding of the Shire River valley in January/February depending on the amount of rain that fell in upper lands could be one theory.
Several hills in Malawi and Mulanje Mountain had ancient rain shrines which most likely involved ancient priests and priestesses of this land in one theory.

But the deity of a rain shrine discovered on Mulanje Mountain a few years ago by archeologists remains unknown while other rituals involved making offerings at the suspected Custard Apple Tree locally known as Mpoza but the wild one of the bush so goes one story.
Is this the Wild Custard Apple Tree found in Malawi. Have borrowed photo from

If that is what is locally known as mpoza and scientifically Annona senegalensis, then a link dated 2004 and on says they “ripen earlier than maize, the staple food in Malawi.”
“When staple food declines between October and March, people in the rural areas collect forest fruits” further reads that above link. This gives a rough idea of what could have been happening between those months but now to figure out when mapira and traditional maize grew.
The mpoza also has sacred geometry and measurements in it but that is for another day. Now December 31 is the time when Sapitwa healers go up to a hidden part of Mulanje Mountain to make mapira (sorghum) offerings and wait for the appearance of the suspected Sirius star at the stroke of midnight which they call Nthanda yaku m’mawa which in a nutshell is like a cross from the East based on the shape of the ancient African cross of North, South, West and East.
It’s mostly borders on where the sun rises and sets like the rebirth, renewal and where the hot northern and southern winds travel for suspected rainfall. January is at times known for heavy rains.
Sirius was also used to signal the beginning of the new when sighted on what we now know as December 31…..New Year’s Eve. It’s after they estimated the sighting of the bright star when they would estimate or foretell the next rainfall in January.
By studying birds, animals and insects, they also claimed to be able to tell when there would be a drought or not enough rains which would arise the need for them to guess we can call it “invoke” their ancestors through a royal spirit ceremony to ask Chauta, Namalenga, Mphambe for rains.
It’s this rainfall which is also believed to have flooded some rivers in Malawi like the Shire.
Snaking through the region, the Shire River drains Lake Malawi, and follows the Rift Valley southwards.
The Lower Shire Valley is broad and flat as the river flows out to Mozambique in the extreme south of the country.
This is the lowest point in the country, yet only just over one hundred kilometres away is Malawi’s highest peak, the great Mount Mulanje which towers to over 3000 metres (9850 feet) – the highest mountain in the whole of central Africa partly reads the Malawi Tourism Guide website on

Mulanje mountain on the same website is described as a “massif of peaks and basins, a huge forested ‘island in the sky’ accessible only on foot. The area between Mulanje and Blantyre is dominated by tea estates.”
Took this photo when travelling to Mulanje in a minibus
To the west of Mulanje is the region’s other massif, Zomba Plateau. According to the same website, this is a “table-like mountain rising to over 2080 metres (6800 feet) with sheer scarp-like edges.”
The Britannica encylopaedia online also defines the Shire River as the most important river in Malawi.  It is 250 miles (402 km) long and issues from the southern shore of Lake Nyasa (Lake Malaŵi), of which it is the only outlet.
It is the only outlet of Lake Malawi and flows into the Zambezi River in Mozambique.
Took this photo of Lake Malawi long ago…it left me breathless…beautiful!

“It enters Lake Malombe 5 miles (8 km) south of Mangochi and exits to flow through swampy banks flanked by the Mangoche Hills and the Zomba Mountain scarp to the east and the Chiripa Plateau to the west. The Shire then enters its narrow middle valley.
“Between Matope and Chikwawa, it drops 1,260 feet (384 m) through 50 miles (80 km) of gorges and cataracts, falling successively over Kholombidzo (formerly Murchison) Falls, Nkula Falls, and Tedzani Falls, through the Mpatamanga Gorge, and over Hamilton Falls and Kapichira (formerly Livingstone) Falls. Dams at Nkula Falls and Tedzani Falls, northwest of Blantyre, harness the river’s waters for hydroelectric power.
“Below Chikwawa the river enters a wide marshy extension of the Mozambique coastal plain, the only area of Malaŵi below an elevation of 500 feet (150 m). The lower Shire River valley’s borders are distinct only to the northeast (the Cholo Escarpment) and the southwest (the Nsanje Hills).
“The chief tributary, the Ruo River, joins the main stream in the lower valley, forming a narrow levee on which the village of Chiromo is located. The replenished waters then pass through Elephant Marsh (160 square miles [414 square km]) and Ndindi Marsh on a tortuous lower course to the confluence with the Zambezi River 30 miles (48 km) below Cena (Sena), Mozambique,” partly reads the Britannica on
According to the unofficial Wikipedia, in 1859, David Livingstone‘s Zambezi Expedition traveled up the Shire as far as Kapichira Falls in what is now the Majete Game Reserve. The river’s valley is part of the East African Rift system.
The same website also describes the Zambezi as the “ fourth-longest river in Africa, and the largest flowing into the Indian Ocean from Africa.
“The area of its basinis 1,390,000 square kilometers (540,000 sq mi)  slightly less than half that of theNile. The 2,574-kilometre-long river (1,599 mi) rises in Zambia and flows through eastern Angola, along the eastern border of Namibia and the northern border of Botswana, then along the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe to Mozambique, where it crosses that country to empty into the Indian Ocean.
“The Zambezi’s most noted feature is Victoria Falls. Other notable falls include the Chavuma Falls at the border between Zambia and Angola, and Ngonye Falls, near Sioma in Western Zambia.
“There are two main sources of hydroelectric power on the river, the Kariba Dam, which provides power to Zambia and Zimbabwe, and the Cahora Bassa Dam in Mozambique, which provides power to Mozambique and South Africa. There is also a smaller power station at Victoria Falls,” partly reads the Wikipedia.
Now the lower Zambezi’s 650 km from Cahora Bassa to the Indian Ocean is described as being navigable, although the river is shallow in many places during the dry season.
This shallowness arises as the river enters a broad valley and spreads out over a large area.
“Only at one point, the Lupata Gorge, 320 km from its mouth, is the river confined between high hills. Here it is scarcely 200 m wide. Elsewhere it is from 5 to 8 km wide, flowing gently in many streams. The river bed is sandy, and the banks are low and reed-fringed. At places, however, and especially in the rainy season, the streams unite into one broad fast-flowing river.
“About 160 km from the sea the Zambezi receives the drainage of Lake Malawi through the Shire River. On approaching the Indian Ocean, the river splits up into a delta. Each of the four prinmbe (distributaries?), Kongone, Luabo and Timbwe, is obstructed by a sand bar.
“A more northerly branch, called the Chinde mouth, has a minimum depth at low water of 2 m at the entrance and 4 m further in, and is the branch used for navigation. 100 km further north is a river called the Quelimane, after the town at its mouth. This stream, which is silting up, receives the overflow of the Zambezi in the rainy season”.
The delta of the Zambezi is today described as being about half as broad as it was before the construction of the Kariba and Cahora Bassa dams controlled the seasonal variations in the flow rate of the river.
“Before the dams were built seasonal flooding of the Zambezi had quite a different impact on the ecosystems of the delta from today as it brought nutritious fresh water down to the Indian Ocean coastal wetlands. The lower Zambezi experienced a small flood surge early in the dry season as rain in the Gwembe catchment and north-eastern Zimbabwe rushed through while rain in the Upper Zambezi, Kafue, and Lake Malawi basins, and Luangwa to a lesser extent, is held back by swamps and floodplains.
“The discharge of these systems contributed to a much larger flood in March or April, with a mean monthly maximum for April of 6,700 cubic metres (240,000 cu ft) per second at the delta. The record flood was more than three times as big, 22,500 cubic metres (790,000 cu ft) per second being recorded in 1958. By contrast the discharge at the end of the dry season averaged just 500 cubic metres (18,000 cu ft) per second.
“In the 1960s and 1970s the building of dams changed that pattern completely. Downstream the mean monthly minimum–maximum was 500 cubic metres (18,000 cu ft) to 6,000 cubic metres (210,000 cu ft) per second; now it is 1,000 cubic metres (35,000 cu ft) to 3,900 cubic metres (140,000 cu ft) per second,” explains the unofficial Wikipedia.
Meanwhile, 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) east, a western tributary of the Shire River in the East African Rift‘s southern extension throughMalawi eroded a deep valley on its western escarpment. At the rate of a few cm per year, this river, the Middle Zambezi, started cutting back the bed of its river towards the west, aided by grabens (rift valleys) forming along its course in an east-west axis. As it did so itcaptured a number of south-flowing rivers such as the Luangwa and Kafue…
The Zambezi region was known to medieval geographers as the Empire of Monomotapa, and the course of the river, as well as the position of lakes Ngami and Nyasa, were given broadly accurately in early maps further read 
This blog sees a lot of maths in all these words and a pattern and map… be continued
Heavy rains created a nearby “river” which inspired this write-up after scaring me

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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.