Sunday, February 23, 2014

‘The long Rhino horn symbol of ancient Malawi kings’

Rhino Internet photo

Once upon a time centuries ago in this ancient land now called Malawi there lived a king (mfumu) who was feared by his subjects because of the reputation he had of showing his little finger to finish off enemies.

When asked, some Facebook friends said the little finger is known as chala cha kanise in Chichewa.
No, his little finger was not like a magic wand but a mythical symbol to represent a goat (mbuzi) horn which was connected to his nyangatools when fighting and destroying enemies.

Such goat horns would feature in the ancient magical oraclemaula with a blackened old nsupa not for public use but only for the kings themselves go some tales told by healers in Malawi.

When the king passed on to the other world, his tools and kit were believed to be buried under his M’manga Mudzi anthill tree which no man was supposed to touch as the foundation.

In legends, the spirits of a few of those ancient kings are believed to live under the anthill but as serpent spirits.
M’manga Mudzi anthill trees believed to have
ancient nyanga tools/kit buried underneath

This is why those anthills they left behind are never touched by sane people and neither are they approached because those who know them fear the said spirits believed to dwell in there.
One of them known as Mpeula or is it Pewula or Mpewula is a wanderer and is said to appear as a short elderly man with grey hair, smooth skin hiding his wrinkles, a straight nose.
But some women in Malawi villages who claim to be sane yet see such spirits describe him as suddenly appearing very tall and then bright white as he wanders around this earth they say.
Photo not connected to this blog taken from
Now such things no longer happen and neither do the majority of villagers have such beliefs because they say most Malawians no longer follow the ways of their ancestors but still worship Chauta, Namalenga, Mphambe through various religions.
Now among the more than 50 hand symbols of ancient Malawi, the one where the little finger and index finger were used symbolized the sign of the horn (nyanga).

The index finger which healers refer to as the “kuloza” one in their words meant those in ancient times could point at something and curse it.  Maybe this could be the equivalent of what some online sources call a magical wand but this blog has no idea.

However some other Facebook friends refer to the index finger aschala chamkomba phala which describes the way it was used to scoop and stir porridge etc.

Another ancient Malawi symbol is the cupped hand still used today to clap for chiefs of this generation and for greeting or showing politeness among other things.
Malawi cupped hands
The same cupped hands were also used by the ancestors of this land when asking Chauta, Namalenga, Mphambe (God) for things.
They would kneel down and clap their hands three times and then start the ancient African way of praying through their ancestor whom they assumed were closer to God in the spiritual realm.
The ancestors felt only spirits could communicate with the Great Spirit and other spirits among other things and not physical beings on earth.
Now besides the use of nyanga horns, other chiefs used different horns for self-protection and also for fighting wars. The index finger used with the middle finger symbolized the rhinoceros popularly known as a Rhino and locally called chipembere, the animal.

The middle finger is suspected to have represented the long horn of the Rhino so combined it represented the two Rhino horns which is different from what we know today as a peace sign and another meaning from a different culture.
Internet peace sign
There is also a possibility that the Rhino horn represented a dagger or kandalanga sword of Mbona as it also was said to stir up confusion just like mvundulamadzi (the Fish Eagle) when it wants to catch fish among other things.

Traditional medicine could also be used in so many different kinds of horns and for various reasons and some specific types of horns were viewed as what is today known as trumpets say some Sapitwa healers.
The seven mythical spirits (mizimu) of Sapitwa also have a horn to represent royalty say some healers.

In the Sapitwa mythology, ancestral spirits of the dead live in the astral realm of Mulanje Mountain and spirits which have never been human so go the tales.
Of these are 7 spirits guided by their God of which four are believed to control what is believed to be 4 winds used by healers to send requests with incense to the Creator.
Ancient 4 winds of Sapitwa cross
In the myths the royal spirit family consists of Tomasi Bona of the North wind of their god, Tagoneka Mbona of the West wind, Chandiona Gonekela of the South wind and Nthanda mwana wa mwezi [Nthandi] of the East which in English would be the Sirius star and child of the moon.
These four include the ancient Malawi God of rain and rain shrines are believed to be on the mountain.  Chandiona Gonekela was summarised as it’s seen me put to sleep and Nthanda mwana wa mwezi of the East which in English would be the Sirius star and child of the moon.
In ChichewaNthanda yaku m’mawa means the African cross from the east and mwezi means the moon both seen in the sky and drawn by the ancestors of healers of this land so go the tales.

The other three spirits include Dziwe Ntambamwana named after a pool/witchcraft but not to be confused with the Ntambanana River in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and Ife Zonse meaning something like us all. 

The last is Sungamwana meaning keep the child for good. Some online sources also claim that the two main uses for rhino horn are both medicinal and ormanental.

“Rhino horn is one of four key ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), to be used in cases of extreme illness. It is considered to have fever reducing and detoxifying properties and is prescribed as an ingredient to treat a whole range of ailments. In Yemen and Oman, rhino horn is used to make traditional dagger handles.
These handles are also made using other substances, but rhino horn is highly prized because it has unique aesthetic properties, which improve with age and handling,” partly reads…/199-the-demand-for-rhino

*This blog is grateful to all Sapitwa healers and Mbona for providing information for online research

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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.