Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ancient Malawi ink: Kachere fig tree, Mlombwa (Bloodwood) and Acacia (Mpamba)?

Detail of the god "Thoth" creator of writing, science and medicine from the Book of the Dead of Hunefer 19th Dynasty British Museum EA 9901/3 Room 62, Egyptian Funerary Archaeology, Case 24, No. 8
Detail of “Thoth” the creator of writing, science and medicine from the Book of the Dead of Hunefer 19th Dynasty British Museum EA 9901/3 Room 62, Egyptian Funerary Archaeology, Case 24, No. 8
Travelling to a certain village in Mulanje one cannot help but notice the various tree branches and sticks some real traditional healers (asing’anga) use besides the finger to write on the ground.
Some elderly healers claim that only a few trained ones are left as there are many vendors allegedly masquerading as healers and giving the profession a bad name.
But it’s in some rural areas where one can see some of the elderly “writing” or drawing on the sand or dusty ground with their fingers.  The symbols created usually resemble circles and crosses among other things.stock-photo-16484548-writing-in-the-sand
When asked some insist that is the only way they can get a “message” from the spiritual world.
Some healers in Malawi and in the Sadc region use sticks or a certain type of tree branch to write on the ground and claim the drawings they make are messages and words they can read which are told to them by mizimu (winged spirits).
Winged spirits are the African version of angels and not ancestral spirits locally known as mizimu yamakolo.
Some of the main winged spirits include Mikolo Njinjinji (Ritual of the African sacred Ibis) and Kabadula nicknamed Kaba to mean Kabudula (shorts) and Thewera (nappy) of the Universe and Tomasi Bona (Atom) of the Earth.
Now the Ibis is a bird known to sleep with it’s head folded beneath its wing with its body assuming the shape of a heart, which online sources about the Nile Valley Civilization regard as “the seat of the soul and true intelligence.”
“The footstep of an ibis was said to be equal to one cubit, which was considered a sacred unit of measurement.”
Now the winged spirit Mikolo Njinjinji was similar to ancient Egypt’s Netcher Djhuiti and the Greeks’ Thoth/Hermes said to be the “keeper of the sacred cubic and the creator of science, writing and medicine.
The Romans identified him with Mercury and the Nether Djhuiti was portrayed with and ibis head and he represented “articulation of speech and intelligence” further reads the same Nile Valley source.
However ancient Malawi’s Mikolo Njinjinji showed his dark skinned and smooth chocolate face to women “called” or “chosen” to be priestesses.
African sacred Ibis
African sacred Ibis photo from
This blog has also discovered that some ancient healers also known as priests and priestesses of this land also used their finger to write on the ground thousands of years ago. They were responsible for nsembe (sacrifices and offerings).
When talking to a “patient” or “client” they would write whatever the spirit tells them.  If they drew a plain circle on the ground and a cross either inside or next to it, that would symbolize “blessings”.
Those who knew that symbol would be happy and expect blessings because in ancient times they believed in the power of words.  Mind you they did not use this alphabet we are using to type on this blog but they had drawings which they could read.
Another symbol cross-like with black soil written on the left and what looked like the healer’s blood but was actually red sap from the Mlombwa tree (Bloodwood) was used to write on the right which would scare the person who saw it as they would think they have been cursed and so forth.
"Bloodwood" tree taken from
“Bloodwood” tree taken from
All this was done using the index finger which some Malawians on Facebook refer to as chala chamkomba phala which describes the way it was used to scoop and stir porridge etc.
This was believed to be similar to the ancient Malawi symbol of the cupped hand still used today to clap for chiefs of this generation and for greeting or showing politeness among other things.
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. This was also captured through “writings” and “drawings” including some on rocks where the cultures white and red where mostly used.
In ancient Malawi these two colours were also used in waist-beads with the white meaning all is clear for the husband and the red….a no-go zone. Red was also the colour of POWER as in MPHAMVU.
This red was also used in the ancient bark cloth of Malawi’sasing’anga known as Nyanda.  This first “paint” was the “Bloodwood Tree’s” red sap known in Malawi as Mlombwa. …
And the Kachere fig tree was used for some white drawings and was different from Mkuyu which is the Sycamore fig with Nkhuyu (figs). Its Scientific name is Ficus sycomorus and online sources show that in Swahili it’s mukuyu and mkuyu among other names.
Mukuyu tree Internet Photo
Mukuyu tree Internet Photo
Online sources say the Sycamore fig is native to Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Israel, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Syrian Arab Republic, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
However it is also found in Malawi with mainly two important Mikuyu types. One has figs which can be eaten while the other has figs which are not eaten.
The edible figs sometimes dry out including inside making them not edible because of the sun while other dried out ones are said to be eaten.
Now the other fig tree is Kachere which is native to Malawi. It’s the one which has a white sap which was used for writing in ancient times together with the Bloodwood tree (Mlombwa) for making the Nyanda bark cloth.
Kachere tree leave with white sap
Kachere tree leave with white sap
This blog is yet to establish how the ancestors wrote using the red and white sap and what role the chicken and rooster feathers played when used to “write” or draw including on some rocks.
There is also a high possibility that the Acacia nilotica tree locally known as Mpampa or Ngagaga was used for black ink as it is sometimes also used for dyeing cloth black.
And like many trees of Malawi, many also had medicinal purposes. What is also interesting to note is how the Ancient Egyptians thought it was important to record and write down information.
“It was believed they wrote things down to honor the God, Thoth, the god of writing and knowledge. Their writing language that is mostly known today was hieroglyphics – drawing and symbols, and Latin.
“The ancient writing can be found in temples, on clay boards, on papyrus (an ancient form of paper made from ground reeds), on limestone flakes and on pieces of ancient pottery, such as plates, vases and basins. The hieroglyphics were also used to communicate, tell stories to others, cautions and warnings, feelings, record-keeping and also for government uses.
“People who were able to read hieroglyphics were called Scribes, and were used to interpret the symbols and pictures drawn by others. They were also thought of as very important people and were highly paid for their job because they could communicate very well.
Cut Kachere Tree
Cut Kachere Tree
“The fact that ancient Egypt had ways to interpret, communicate and write symbols as a message to others, gave them an advantage to other countries, as they could document and refer back to history; as well as also being able to account for different things such as being able set prices for goods, tokens, supplies and services more consistently.
“Many different countries used different ways to tell other information. In some countries, people used their fingers to write things in sand, on trees and just in the air to express stories and expressions to an audience; whilst other countries used twigs, leaves and bark.
“Some countries even just used an early form of Sign Language. However, these ways could not be referred back to. But, the ancient Egyptians were one of the first countries to use pens to write down their language. The pens they used were used for thousands of years and were made from inter-twined reeds, vines, wood and leaves.
They mostly wrote on papyrus sheets with ink that was made of tree gum, honey, sap and soot. They also used firm and bendable branches to write and also painted with their fingers. It is believed that the ancient Egyptians were some of the first people to invent and create an older version of today’s ink,” partly reads

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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.