Friday, January 24, 2014

Myths & Tales: Of Mbona’s two-edged kandalanga (sword/knife) dividing people?

Mbona  illustration from Mtunda, Chichewa for Standard 8 book
White light flashing like the sun and resembling lightning hits the roof of a building on a bright hot October day in Malawi as a young woman approaches the building almost tripping in the process.
As the brightness of the light in a flash temporarily blinds her eyes she looks down and is suddenly confused with red spots that resemble blood appearing on the dusty ground before a mysterious watchman grabs her arm before she hits the ground.
She looks into his pigeon shaped eyes, smooth dark skin with a well shaped beard with hidden dreadlocks under his huge fedora looking brown hat.
Female Sapitwa healer’s secret symbol meaning life
So go such tales told by a female Mang’anja Sapitwa healer who believes in the power of Chauta, Namalenga, Mphambe (God) and claims to send requests through the Almighty Power.
She suspects the woman in the said tales probably came face to face with their version of a different Mbona like serpent spirit who on rare occasion myths appears like a man through the flash of a bright white light in so-called folklore.
Unknown to the woman there seems to be a scientific explanation to the way red light travels in a prism but NOT for winged mizimu (spirits) and how the royal ones with new bodies in the afterlife reportedly appear.
 African cross forehead and triangle heart symbols?
Such mythical beings in ancient Sapitwa healer myths are represented by two triangles representing the highest tip of a mountain and another one upside down to represent what sounds like the brightest Sirius star (Nthanda yaku m’mawa) represented by fire on a traditional cooking place (mafuwa) which is symbolically held closely to the chest.
The Sapitwa healer version of Mbona is represented by an upright triangle which for them represents the highest tip of Mulanje Mountain called Sapitwa which in the vernacular means Don’t go there [where no man goes]!
Now myths and tales aside and science and facts in some school books which are in no way related to the Sapitwa healers and the ancient mountain of Mulanje whose original name is Sapitwa they claim.
According to the English in Malawi Revised Edition Pupils’ Book 6 about ‘The Colours of the Rainbow’ light waves from the sun, strike the tree and reflect back into a person’s eyes.
"The person sees the tree because it reflects light waves.  If there is no light, as in a dark room at night, a person can see nothing.
“Light waves are not all the same length.  Some are longer than others.  The sun sends out a lot of light waves of different lengths at the same time.
“They are all mixed up together.  When the waves are like that, they show no colour.  They are ‘white’ light.  But if one takes from ‘white’ light all the waves of the same length, one gets colour."
The Colours of the Rainbow , English in Malawi Revised Edition Pupils’ Book 6
It’s a known fact that the prism takes white light and divides it into colours mainly with Red (long), Green and Blue (short). Water droplets and water vapor are also online described as good absorbers of the red wavelengths.
Now this theory is also what some of the ancestors of his ancient land seemed to have seen when looking at the rainbow (leza).
According to the English Chichewa/Chinyanja dictionary compiled by Steven Paas the names of God on p169 included Leza (referring to the Lord of space, who stretches the rainbow).

Others are Chiuta/Chauta defined as the great and “a chicken that covers it wings” and a “cow resting under a tree.
Others are Mphambe (almighty, rain and thunder are His symbols, Mlezi (sustainer, nourishes all), Mlengi (Creator), Namalenga and Chanjiri.
Officially in Malawi there is only the Mbona of Khulubvi in Nsanje who has been written about by some people from the area and foreigners. The Sapitwa Mbona version has not been accepted or documented so it will forever be part of ancient history of those female healers.
Unesco on http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5602/ captures Malawi’s official ancient tales through the story of Mbona.

According to Mang’anja oral tradition, Mbona was a legendary figure “with super human powers who lived in the area during the rise of the Lundu Kingdom.
“Mbona is said to have had magic powers of bringing rain, creating wells of water on sandy lands, creating forests where they did not exist and hiding from enemies by turning into other creatures such as guinea fowls.”
And J.M. Schoffeleers in his book ‘River of Blood: The Genesis of a Martyr Cult in Southern Malawi’ wrote that “Mbona was routinely portrayed as someone who causes the population to become divided amongst itself.”

J. Matthew Schoffeleers' Mbona book
He also described Mbona like an overseer “a sense of seeing or being seen, and derives from the word wona “to see” or “to be true.” 

The name may possibly be related also to the noun bona, the concluding ceremony of the mourning period, at which offerings of food and beer are made”.
Schoffeleers in his book also wrote that in one version of the Mbona tales, he was against the administrating of the mwabvi poisonous concoction where those without “witchcraft” were believe to not die from the ordeal.
In the tales Mbona is quoted as telling people he had the power of “Mlungu” to tell when people were guilty. Other tales talk of Mbona being labelled a mfiti (wizard) and him responding he used powers of (Chauta) God.
Now what is confusing is that some female Mang’anja Sapitwa healers seem to know some of the teachings of Mbona which include his kandalanga which is like a lupanga which in English is a two-edged sword.
“Mawa ndikupatsa chako chimpeni chothwa kuwiri chimene chimatchedwanso kuti kandalanga [tomorrow I will give you your own knife sharpened on both sides called a kandalanga] partly reads p.27 of the Ulosi wakale 1 [fortellers in history] in the Ulendo Series Mtunda Chichewa for Standard 8 book about the mythical Mbona.
“Vundulamadzi”  illustration: Ulendo Series  for St 3
The two-edged knife used in Mbona rainmaking tales is also known as [m]vundulamadzi which in English is an African fish eagle.
According to the female healers this bird is very strong and dirties and stirs up waters causing confusion to the fish inside which move up or something like that in their ancient beliefs and tales.
They also claim the African fish eagles are so strong that when they hit the water, stones or rocks underneath move like a slight earthquake meaning the ground shaking during the first rains of the rainy season they claim.
This Mbona sword is also said to cut like a knife and cause confusion between people, families and friends hence the Chichewa proverb “Papita mnjere mpeni upita pomwepo [where the peel goes in this case a bamboo or sugar cane, the knife also goes there]”.
According to Edmond Kachale on Facebook, mnjere is usually defined as the peel/rind of a sheaf of a shrub of cereal family or the peel of a sugar cane.
A Sapitwa healer defines it as resembling the sugar cane but its peels being sharp and cutting on both sides like a two-edged knife. This blog has failed to establish if it’s like nsenjere, tall grass, thick stem whose exact English name is unknown for now.
And in another response Coster Phiri in a nutshell described nsengwa as a small lichero (winnowing basket) usually hang on walls as a decoration.
He says khwaule la nsale or chimanga or bango (reed)limakhala lakuthwa konsekonse (sharp on both sides).
Small Nsengwa (small basket)
“Msungwi yomwe amapangira nsengwa or lichero limakhala lakuthwa mbali zonse. Mvundula madzi pa Chichewa amatanthauza munthu odanitsa oyambanitsa but used figuratively as an eagle.”
Big lichero (winnowing basket)
He explains that the bamboo used to make nsengwa or lichero is also sharp on both sides and that the Mvundulamadzi (African fish eagle) means a person who stirs up trouble or hatred between people but figuratively an eagle.
This is also the mythical belief about the [M]vundulamadzi African Fish Eagle which in the Ulendo Series Mtunda Chichewa for Standard 3 is described as stirring up trouble and confusion between women from different villages by dirtying water from their well (chitsime).
In ancient myths the said African Fish Eagle was said to stir up trouble and cause divisions on both sides the way it does to fish in the water so that it can catch them. Vundulamadzi is also the secret word for the sword, knife or dagger of the Sapitwa version of Mbona which remains an unofficial myth.


NOTE:  This blog is  not endorsing these ancient beliefs but only attempting to document some ancient tales and myths never written about before.

Those who know what the exact and proper translation for Nsengwa please share to enable this blog post a photo of it as either resembling sugar cane with sharp peels on both sides or tall grass which cuts on both sides.

Vundulamadzi’ illustration in Ulendo Series Chichewa for Standard 3 book



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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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