Sunday, March 30, 2014

Of Mbona’s Swift Rainbird, Wormwood and Mwabvi?

Swift photo from

A woman just entering the premises of her home and about to unlock the front door is suddenly startled when a Swift rainbird falls flat on its back in front of her.
She can’t help but notice its huge eyes staring at her as it tries to flip its wings while lying flat on its back.  Alarmed she rushes to get her neighbours to remove the bird blocking the entrance to her home.
The term Rainbird is a colloquial name given to various birds thought to sing before rain… as well certain swifts whose movements are thought to signal the coming of rain partly reads the online unofficial Wikipedia.

Other websites define swifts as “amazing birds providing a fantastic display during the summer…. This repetitive and monotonous song is the chaffinch ‘rain’ call.”
In Malawi this bird is called nanzeze or is it namzeze a Facebook friend says.  But in the English Chichewa-Chinyanja book on page 41, it’s called “mnanzeze” and defined as a swallow?
The swallow in myths is also known as a bird which flies low before rain comes but the Swift like the one in the photo on this blog is the bird of Mbona, the mythical rainmaking spirit of Malawi.

Online Swifts are defined as being placed in the order Apodiformes, which they share with hummingbirds. The tree swifts are closely related to the true swifts, but form a separate family, the Hemiprocnidae.
Swift photo from the Internet

“Resemblances between swifts and swallows are due to convergent evolution, reflecting similar life styles based on catching insects in flight.

“The family name, Apodidae, is derived from the Greek απους, apous, meaning “without feet”, a reference to the small, weak legs of these most aerial of birds. 

The tradition of depicting swifts without feet continued into the Middle Ages, as seen in the heraldic martlet.

Some species of swifts are among the fastest animals on the planet, with some of the fastest measured flight speeds of any bird,” further reads the unofficial Wikipedia source.
Some male healers of Malawi/Mozambique place swifts on their narrow necked calabash made from African Wine Kettle gourds known as nsupa.
But the actual ritual is not know only that it is believed to have a makeshift African compass of the four winds to give direction for where to send their incense (lubani) or requests to.
It is not yet known how ancient Mbona used swifts but one thing that is coming out clearly is his use of suspected Erythrophleum guineense which could be the banned bitter “Mwabvi tree or poisonous concoction” of Malawi which in ancient times was used to supposedly fish out afiti (sorcerers)?
The elders used to claim those who weren’t sorcerers survived this cruel poison administration.
If this is Mwabvi which is also known as the “red water tree” among other names or variations then there is a possibility Mbona administered mwabvi to himself before he asked Chauta, Namalenga, Mphambe (God) for rains by pointing his kandalanga two-edged sword to the north.
In the Ulendo Series Mtunda 8 Chichewa for Standard 8 book on p29 about “Ulosi wakale 1 about prophets, Mbona is said to have been chewing on some bark or root and his saliva looked red or something like that.
Is this Erythrophleum suaveolens of Zimbabwe the same as Mwabvi of Malawi?

Those familiar with the ancient history of mwabvi, this blog wants to know if it had some red elements.
“Mmenemo, Mbona anali potero chilili! Kuonerera koma anthu ena amene anali pafupi naye anamuona ali kulavula makungwa wotafuna wophatikizika ndi malovu wofiirira.
“Dzidzidzi! anthu anaona Mbona atalowa mbwalo lija nayamba kuvinanso. Kanthawi kochepaanatulutsa chake chikandalanga mmenemo ali phuli! phuli! ndipo mododometsa pamene adaloza kumpoto chikandalanga chakecho, panamveka chivomezi kuti, “Khre! Khre! – Ga! Ga! Ga!…”
“Nthawi yomweyo chimvula chimvekere kuti; “Wa-a-a! Pwata! Pwata!”- reads the book talking about how Mbona brought rain during a drought.
Another suspected herb of Mbona is mpungabwi which is said to be a repellent of snakes, witches (afiti) and nightmares among things.
Is this Mpungabwi known as Artmisia afra or Sagewood or Wormwood?
Searching on Google the Artmisia afra also known as Sagewood or Wormwood seems to resemble this mpungabwi plant. It is also believed to be the one boiled and used to ease coughs or flues by covering one’s head to sniff the steam etc.
If so then maybe it’s the one in the Ulendo Series Mtunda 8 Chichewa for Standard 8 book which reads:
“Mmenemo Mbona ali kulimbikira kusonkhezera moto kuti mkhalakale wake aulule zonse za chinsinsi cha ulosi wonse…..
“Pali mankhwala ena woti kuti agwire nchito mpaka ayenera kutsamiridwa ndi mkazi wako. Kodi uli kumva? Anafunsa motero Mlauli utsi wa fodya wa mkaliwo uli pa liwiro kuthamangira kudenga.
“Ndamva gogo! Anatero Mbona…..
….Mokondwerera anatero Mlauli ali kutsendeza wina fodya mkaliwo ndi chala chachikulu chimene chinachita kufwichilira ndi utsi, chili psuu!”
Red and smoke and incense seemed to have significant meanings in ancient Malawi times including some of the amulets they put on the necks of babies to ward off evil and keep afiti (witches) away so they believed.
Is this Erythrophleum guineense from Burkina Faso
the same as ancient Malawi’s Mwabvi?
A certain Malawian article called the knots for the charms mphinjiri which are usually described as being sticks tied together with a sack thread or thread.
Although it’s hardly used in Malawi as much as before, many foreigners online seem to wear reddish amulets or wool to “ward off evil”.
And the Knot of Isis or tyet which sounded like it was red was the same thing….for spells and charms for ancient self-protection and to “ward off evil” or attacks.
This blog is still researching and would appreciate any information or knowledge fellow Malawians can share as part of social networking efforts.

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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.