Monday, April 28, 2014

Of Ancient Malawi’s Rays of Light, Fire and Black Roosters (Tambala)

 Black Rooster photo from

 Kokoliriko…Kokoliriko…Kokoliriko [Cocka-doodle-doo, Cocka-doodle-doo, Cocka-doodle-doo],” cries the black rooster (tambala), it’s neck sticking out and red fiery comb shining on its head like fire to show off its strength!

According to internet sources, the rooster is polygamous, but cannot guard several nests of eggs at once. He guards the general area where his hens are nesting, and will attack other roosters that enter his territory.

“During the daytime, a rooster will often sit on a high perch, usually 0.9 to 1.5 m (3 to 5 feet) off the ground, to serve as a lookout for his flock. He will sound a distinctive alarm call if predators are nearby.

“The rooster is often portrayed as crowing at the break of dawn (“cock-a-doodle-doo”) and will almost always start crowing before 4 months of age. Although it is possible for a hen to crow as well, crowing (together with hackles development) is one of the clearest signs of being a rooster.
“He can often be seen sitting on fence posts or other objects, where he crows to proclaim his territory. However, this idea is more romantic than real, as a rooster can and will crow at any time of the day. Roosters will occasionally make a patterned series of clucks to attract hens to a source of food, the same way a mother hen does for her chicks,” partly reads the unofficial online Wikipedia.
Cocks are also known to possess congenital aggression toward all males of the same species including in “cockfights”.
Cockfight photo from
This is why in Malawi there are still people who believe that the black cock (tambala) is a sign of strength and power.  A Lilongwe-based “spiritual” man also claims that a lion fears a cock because of the red comb on top of its head which shines like fire!
Such beliefs are also captured in tales in the Ulendo Series Mtunda 3 Chichewa for Standard 3 books which talks of other animals thinking the rooster has fire on its head.
Animals including the lion feared the rooster because they feared the fire on its head would burn and kill them.
Aesop’s Fables, translated by Laura Gibbs (2002) also captures myths of lions fearing roosters but in this case, “a lion who had noticed the donkey crept up and was about to pounce when the rooster let loose a squawk. This frightened the lion (for they say that lions are terrified of the rooster’s crowing) and he turned tail and ran.”
“Kale Tambala anali mfumu yomveka pakati pa mbalame zonse ngakhale nyama za m’tchire.  Palibe wina amachita mwano kaya masewera ndi Tambala.
Onse amamuopa popeza panali mbiri yoti Tambala ali ndi moto pamutu pake ndipo wochita naye masewera akhoza kutenthedwa. Mbiri imati onse okhudzidwa ndi motowo, basi imfa ndi yomweyo mpaka kupserera.
Motowo unali wosenzera pamutu……Nyama zonse ndi mkango womwe zimawopa Tambala,” partly reads the Ulendo Series Mtunda 3 Chichewa for Standard 3 book.
Besides such tales controversy rages over the mythical “crowing crested cobra” some locally refer to as resembling mbobo (variety of mamba) or songo (cobra) but those who know better can explain.
It’s believed to be a beast like a cobra with a crest on its head which resembles a cock’s comb and a loud, distinct cry like the crow of a cock.
Drawing by Dr Karl Shuker from
“Well known to both those who know snakes and those who know the literature on animal myths and anecdotes, the ‘feathered serpent’ is more often known as the Crowing crested cobra.
“In some versions the snake has the head of a chicken, complete with combs and wattles, in others it has merely a crest of feathers. This fabulous serpent is, of course, highly poisonous. In most cases it is believed to have the ability to kill its human victims merely by looking at them…
“Stories and sightings that supposedly pertain to the Crowing crested cobra come from South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania, and apparently as far north as the Central African Republic,” partly reads

Over the years there has also been debate that the so-called Crowing crested cobra might be a mythical fire spitting dragon which in ancient Malawi was also a description for the feared Napolo that “breathed fire through its nostrils” according to a translated oral story.

Fire was a part of ancient rituals which including rubbing rocks among other things besides a sulfur rock nicknamed “zwangendaba” which some traditional healers today use to make fire in their hands by rubbing it with oil among other things.

Fire was also the way some saw the sun in the sky, feeling it could burn the whole world if “it came down” because of its heat and ancient beliefs associated with its rays among others.

Sun light rays photo from
Both were also connected to the Light in that with both human beings are able to see….even at night with fire.  Some go further and talk of dzuwa makala (sun charcoal) meaning lit charcoal at night also helps them see.
The sun (dzuwa) was also used as a metaphor meaning one that sees all like in the All-Seeing eye of Chauta, Namalenga, Mphambe (God) hence the phrase I see you (ndakuona).
According to the man, one could see with their two eyes all physical things of this world and with their spiritual eyes, mystical things and non-physical one such as spirits (mizimu), creatures and beasts (zirombo) in the after-life or astral realm.
Some ancestors of this ancient land believed that one would be able to see the spiritual realm once the veil of secrecy or mask is carefully removed for one to see the face.
This came with a price because it was believed that the “spirit” chose whom it wanted to see it and those who tried without permission paid with their life.

Now when ones’ eyes were open and they could “see” it was believed to be bright and the light like the sun while those who could not “see” were considered to be blind like those trying to find their way in the dark hence the sun setting before night.
The bright sun represented an open eye and wide awake brain while the closed eye represented one asleep and not awakened like the sun setting or the moon.
Now of those two “eyes” the right was said to be the seeing eye of wisdom like a snake and the left eye representing a goat.
This blog will share more information once more oral stories are made available and approved.

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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.