Breathing New Life
Lilongwe – The Malawi government has been on a drive to construct cultural villages for the Yao, Ngoni, Tumbuka, Chewa and other ethnic groups as a means of boosting their local economies through tourism.
But there is something else the state can do to impact on tourist arrivals and the national economy.
Mzuzu University Education lecturer Winston Kawale believes that reconstructing the Ancient City of Msinja can lure tourists and investors to the country.
This can be done in conjunction with construction of a Chewa Museum, an amphitheatre, accommodation, restaurants and recreation centres, as well as establishing a game reserve at Dzalanyama.
The City of Msinja was raided and destroyed in 1870.
Kawale notes that Msinja can offer a unique tourist attraction away from the traditional tourist destination of Lake Malawi.
“The project will conserve and preserve history and culture, which are important factors for tourism and for posterity,” he says.
The Malawi government – through the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Culture – plans to construct cultural villages across the country.
Since 2007 the National Assembly has allocated millions of US dollars annually for this work.
Current focus is on Mpale Cultural Village for the Yao in the southern lakeshore district of Mangochi.
Chewa traditional leaders have been asked to identity a site for their cultural village.
And Kawale – who is also a theologian – has advised them to construct the Chewa cultural village in Msinja near Kaphirintiwa Hill, some 50km south of Lilongwe.
The mountain range on which Kaphirintiwa sits – Dzalanyama – is in itself a potential tourist attraction.
Kawale believes tourists would be interested in learning more about Chewa culture and history through the construction of a museum and amphitheatre.
“Furthermore, tourists can appreciate and experience unique scenery at the hill top of Kaphirintiwa, which offers breathtaking views stretching from Lilongwe down to Dowa and Kasungu districts.”
A game park in the area, too, would not harm tourist arrivals.
Kawale says Msinja is of religious importance to Chewa people, and the city’s shrine has been dated to as early as the 13th century.
Dubbed the “the Mecca of the Maravi” by some, the Msinja Shrine was a meeting place for Chewa chiefs from Zambezi in Mozambique, Lwangwa in Zambia and Kasungu in Malawi, among several others.
Traditional leaders made annual pilgrimages to the shrine to pray for rains and prosperity.
Kawale says in 1830, Gamitto, a Portuguese traveller noticed some commercial activity taking place at Msinja. It is also reported that David Livingstone visited Msinja in 1867.
The educationist says the history of Msinja begins with the historical events at Kaphirintiwa Hill.
“The Chewa believed that when Chauta (God) created the earth, Chauta himself together with human beings and animals landed at Kaphirintiwa Hill where they left their footprints or tracks on the molten earth,” he says.
The footprints are still visible today.
“However, later Kaphirintiwa became too sacred to occupy and the people moved to a nearby place, to Msinja,” he narrates.
Kawale says that at Msinja, the people dedicated a middle-aged woman, Makewana (Mother of Children), to the service of Chauta as Priestess and Prophetess.
It was at Msinja that Makewana “slept on a bed of ivory tusks”.
“Makewana had Kamundi Mbewe as her ritual husband responsible for assisting her in offering sacrifices. The Priestess also had five to eight maidens known as Matsano who cooked and carried water for her while Chingala Phiri was assigned special duties, making sure that everything was in order at Makewana’s house,” says Kawale.
Msinja City was functionally designed with a temple, where sacrifices were offered, positioned at the centre.
The officers who served the temple lived around the sacred place forming the nucleus of the city.
Five officials, including Makewana, lived at the centre of the city close to the temple itself.
Other officers lived in eleven villages surrounding the city.
“These villages were similar to what we now call locations or
Unplanned Traditional Housing Areas (UTHAs) in the modern day cities of Lilongwe, Mzuzu or Blantyre,” observes Kawale, noting that the difference was that whereas the locations in the modern cities are occupied by people from different ethnic groups doing different duties, the villages at Msinja were occupied by family members and/or dependants.
“Each village had a particular function or responsibility to perform for the city. This meant that each person in each village knew exactly what their particular village was supposed to do for the city. Each village had a hereditary village headman.”
The Chewa, like many African peoples, acknowledge each other by clan name; ie, Phiri, Banda, Mwale, Mphadwe, etc, signifying the designations and responsibilities each village performed in the ancient times.
For example the Matsimbe Kwenda used charcoal (masimbe) in the smelting furnaces to manufacture iron materials such as hoes, axes, knives and other iron materials.<br /> Using the iron materials, Kampini (small hoe handle or handle maker) Phiri made hoe handles, and Njiraamadzi Nkhoma was able to cut poles, grass and bark ropes for construction purposes, an arrangement similar to the present day Directorate of Procurement and Supply.
Using these construction materials Mkwerera (the climber)
Phiri constructed, thatched and repaired the temple and other buildings, similar to the Directorate of Public Works.
At the temple, Tsakambambe Nkhoma kept the shrine clean by clearing and sweeping away ashes, grass, weeds and litter – a kind of Director of Public Health.
Kabzyikho Mphadwe kept the pots, the cups, and all other utensils used at the temple clean. “Kabzyikho” means one responsible for cups (bzyikho, zikho).
When people came with their offerings to be sacrificed, Masanda Nkhoma inspected all the animals so that only those without blemish were sacrificed.
Using a club (nthungo) or spear, Kanthungo Nkhoma slaughtered the selected animals.
When Makewana received a message from Chauta, she instructed Tsang’oma (the drum beater) Mwale to beat the drum which was in the temple. This drum was acquired from the Akafula people when they were running away from the Chewa warriors.
The beating of the drum summoned the Chewa people to assemble at Msinja. The drum was known as Mbiriwiri because the sound of the drum meant that there were tidings (mbiri) for the people.
Upon hearing the drum, Malemia Mwale travelled to all the Chewa chiefs so that they would congregate at Msinja. This could take several months. The name Malemia means one who travels tirelessly (osalema) across the country.
To enable the people coming to Msinja cross rivers and streams, Kasanja (one who places logs logs or timber over the river) Mphadwe constructed bridges across River Dyampwe and other streams, a kind of Directorate of Roads Authority. He also constructed and/or mended grain bins.
When the chiefs arrived at Msinja, Chiwala Banda was in charge of food and accommodation for these chiefs. Chiwala was usually a woman.
Criminals at Msinja City were sent away to the nearby Makumbi prison village. Msokomera Kwenda was in charge of the village, a kind of Prison Commissioner. The name Msokomera meant one who was responsible for the criminals in the prison village.
These criminals were responsible for preventing or extinguishing firebreaks or wildfires in the Msinja City. They also worked in the fields.
It is said that the people in the village did not work in the fields because the food was produced by the criminals in the Makumbi prison village and also from the offerings the people brought at the temple for sacrifices.
“Msinja City was unfortunately raided and destroyed by the Ngoni in 1870,” says Kawale. But Makewana, Tsang'oma together with the drum, and others escaped.
He says some of those who escaped returned to Msinja and attempted to rehabilitate shrine and the city but were not successful.
“Only a small shrine is still maintained there by the people from the surrounding villages.”
Kawale strongly believes Msinja can still be reconstructed.
“Descriptions by various scholars and the information which can be obtained from the people who are still living in the surrounding villages of Tsang’oma Mwale, Chisera Phiri, Chadza Mkwenda and Chadza Phiri in Lilongwe West District, can provide enough sources for the reconstruction of Msinja Chewa Historical Cultural City,” he says.
“Reconstruction of the Msinja Cultural City will create employment for the local communities and also promote tourism
which will earn the country foreign exchange from visiting tourists,” he adds.
Kawale says the Mbiriwiri drum can be used to explain where the Chewa came from and how they displaced the original inhabitants of Malawi around the 13th century.
According to Van Gruegel who saw and took a picture of the drum during his research in 1973-1976, it is being kept at Tsang’oma Village near Msinja.
Various Chewa Nyau artefacts can also be displayed in a museum that will give information on how these people interacted with the Ngoni, Yao and the Europeans.
An amphitheatre, where traditional dances such as Gulewankulu, chintali and chitelela are performed, would also be a source of attraction.
“There could also be children play ground where local children can play Chewa games such as sikwa, nguli, etc to enable the visitors to have a real feel of the rich Chewa ethnic culture and history,” urges Kawale.
Lodges and restaurants could provide Chewa and international hospitality. Then people would be able to get acquainted with local dishes such as therere, khwanya, mkhwani- zotendela ndi zosatendela, bonongwe, as well as insects such as mphalabungu, nkhumbu, zibooli and nyenje.