Likhubula CCAP Youth Centre is located on the foot of the majestic Mulanje massif, about a kilometre uphill on a road that branches off the main Chitakale-Phalombe Road at Likhubula Trading Centre. This was the venue of a music workshop I attended recently.
We had a very tight programme, but the organisers left one afternoon free for delegates and facilitators to climb the mountain to a place called Dziwe la Nkhalamba (A pool for elderly people). The estimated two-kilometre trip, accompanied by a significant gain in altitude, was something of an endurance test but, thankfully, everybody made it.
A local young man was our tour guide. As we went up, I was reminded of a song I learnt when I was in Sunday School. It used to go: “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder, soldiers of the cross.” Humming that tune to myself kept me refreshed and invigorated to keep going. Along the way, we came across several incidents of tree logging, which I found to be a sad development as the thinning out of the tree cover on the mountain by human activity was very much in evidence.
After we had walked for about one hour, the tour guide stopped and said: “Do you see these round structures embedded into the ground? These used to be clay pots which were placed here a long time ago. Nobody knows who put them here.“In those days,” he continued, “those that came up this way would see elderly people by the pool. Before they could take a good look at them, the elderly people would jump into the pool, never to be seen again.”
He was implying that these elderly people were not people, but ghosts. Numerous similar stories abound in Mulanje. The highest peak on the mountain is named Sapitwa (a place you cannot go to), the people who coined that name believing that anybody who dared go there would meet ghosts who would annihilate them. Superstition!
Dziwe Lankhalamba turned out to be a beautiful pool at the foot of a magnificent waterfall along the Likhubula River. It was about 20 metres in diameter and contained very clear, cold water. The guide told us that its depth reached 60 metres, a fact which I thought needed verification.
Elsewhere in Malawi, superstition is equally rife. When I was a boy living at Nkhoma Mission, my father employed a gardener called Mizilemu. Next to our house was the mission’s cemetery where a number of the early South African missionaries had been buried. One of Mizilemu’s responsibilities was to collect firewood from the bush. One day he came back and said: “I will never go near the cemetery again to collect firewood. I met the ghost of Pretorius today. It said to me, ‘Ee, adutse! (You may please pass)’”. Pretorius had been a very prominent missionary who had died in the 1960s.
I have a friend who has great passion for music, especially music education. He is from Denmark and lives in a little house that used to be the mortuary for the Blantyre Mission Hospital when it used to be in Blantyre (it later relocated to Mulanje). Some of his associates have vowed never to visit him at his home, fearing it will be infested with ghosts. Such people fail to appreciate that if ghosts were real, they would not, being without bodies, be confined to a tiny building like humans would.
It is probably quite okay if such beliefs are confined to folktales. But when they spill over into the real world, nasty consequences often follow.
It is this sort of belief that has sadly fuelled the seeking of body parts of people with albinism. The abductions and killings of people with albinism in Malawi have reached worrying proportions. CNN reports that the UN is worried that Malawi’s albinos “are at risk of total extinction amid escalating attacks against them for their body parts.” This is totally unacceptable and I do not hesitate to join those that have unreservedly condemned these and similar barbaric acts in our society. n
With Joshua Chienda Feedback: email@example.com.