Sunday, March 16, 2014

Of Ancient Malawi’s milling stones (mwala wamphero) and ritual baths

Metate and mano from Custer County under Milling Stones from
During ancient Malawi ritual baths when healers would gently hold people behind or near their head and hand to dip them under water and out again as if cleansing them of evil and wrong doings, the act was seen as resembling the grinding process of a milling stone when the hand stone is rubbed back and forth in a washboard motion to grind the grain.
This movement results in a trough-shaped grinding surface which is best utilized with a long two-handed grinding stone that can be moved back and forth.
The term metate is appropriate for a milling stone (mwala wamphero) of this type read various online sources and the ancient Malawian ritual baths of submerging people in water followed the same two hand movement say Sapitwa healers.
The ritual bath was to cleanse a person of evil spirits and for them to repent and stop doing wrong from an ancient Malawi point of view.
Powerful healers were also believed to be re-born pure and clean from the ocean water which symbolized the womb of Mother Earth so go ancient myths and tales.
Indian ocean map taken from
They believed the specific stone used resembled a rock for ancient chiefs which they claim falls out of the sky like a star (nyenyezi).
This blog suspects such a rock might be an asteroid but more research and investigation needs to be done to establish what exactly they mean and scientific evidence.
However, milling stones are not the only common artifacts in ancient Malawi as online sources show many Oklahoma archaeological sites in the United States and other countries having them.
The milling stone or milling basin, frequently called a metate and known as mwala wamphero in Malawi, was used for grinding local maize or corn and sorghum (mapira) into a flour for food and rituals.
Sapitwa healers belief milling stones resemble
asteroid like rocks like
this one taken from
Sapitwa healers and others still use millstones when grinding sorghum into flour and other things for their nsembe (sacrifice) offerings on Mulanje Mountain they claim.
This blog has information that one such millstone is on display at the Chichiri museum but a trip is needed to the place to confirm this and take a photo.
Online sources define milling stones as normally being “large flattened rocks of considerable weight which have a shallow or deep basin-shaped depression in one or both sides.”
“They were used in conjunction with a hand stone or mano to grind seeds or grain. Whole specimens are less frequently found than broken fragments on archaeological sites.
“The classification of milling stones or grinding basins is not standardized among writers, but some general suggestions can be made regarding variations in these artifacts. The term “metate” is derived from the Southwest and Mexico to refer to the corn grinding stone still available today in Mexican markets.
“This term has been commonly applied to all kinds of grinding basins found elsewhere even though obvious differences exist,” partly reads

And according to the unofficial Wikipedia, the Neolithic and Upper Paleolithic people also used millstones to grind grains, nuts, rhizomes and other vegetable food products for consumption.

These implements are often called grinding stones and they used either “saddlestones or rotary querns turned by hand. Such devices were also used to grind pigments and metal ores prior to smelting.”

In India, grinding stones (Chakki) were used to grind grains and spices. These consist of a stationary stone cylinder upon which a smaller stone cylinder rotates.

“Smaller ones, for household use, were operated by two people. Larger ones, for community or commercial use, used livestock to rotate the upper cylinder,” further reads Wikipedia.
Now millstones or mill stones are stones used in grist mills, for grinding wheat or other grains and come in pairs.

“The base or bedstone is stationary. Above the bedstone is the turningrunner stone which actually does the grinding. The runner stone spins above the stationary bedstone creating the “scissoring” or grinding action of the stones.

“A runner stone is generally slightly concave, while the bedstone is slightly convex. This helps to channel the ground flour to the outer edges of the stones where it can be gathered up.

“The runner stone is supported by a cross-shaped metal piece (rind or rynd) fixed to a “mace head” topping the main shaft or spindle leading to the driving mechanism of the mill (windwater (including tide) or other means).”

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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.