Malape is a Yao term derived from the Chichewa word kulapa which means something startling or that which can take your breath away, leaving you mouth agape!
Malape Pillars are situated five kilometres from the Liwonde-Nselema Road at Mpotola Trading Centre in Traditional Authority Nsanama, Machinga. The pillars are a hidden treasure that remains largely unharnessed although in danger of extinction if not properly managed.
Malape guides chair Kawina Ngopola, 58, says the history behind the pillars is shrouded in mystery.
He said: “Tales are rife of people encountering hair-raising experiences such as hearing voices without seeing the speaker, seeing snow-white maize flour on reed mats without the owner in sight or listening to choruses sung loudly by invisible people.
“One could meet strange-looking persons and talk with them but they could abruptly vanish into thin air. In fact, some people from the village are believed to have disappeared mysteriously without any trace.”
Ngopola says following massive deforestation in the area, people started frequenting the place and eventually it turned into a place of interest because of the uniqueness of the pillars.
Acting director of museums and monuments Potiphar Kaliba says Malape Pillars is a site that was formed through geological processes where soil of different types reacted differently to the elements.
He says: “When it rains, softer soil is washed away while the hard soil remains intact, forming what are known as Malape Pillars. This impressive geological heritage is a result of differences in soil resistance.
“The pattern created is unique, awesome and surprising. No wonder people called them Malape. This is a phenomenon that you wouldn’t get anywhere because it is a rare occurrence.”
According to Kaliba, a site such as Malape Pillars is a blessing to the country because they are not many in the world and needs to be preserved.
He says: “The department has plans to preserve the site for tourism; otherwise, we may lose it in no time. Soon the department will present the site signage containing information on visitors’ conduct which can affect conservation efforts.
“Local people must take care of this heritage site because it can be a source of income through site guidance and marketing of souvenirs and crafts. Soil erosion is threatening the existence of the pillars and the department plans to reduce the amount of run-off to curb erosion.”
Recently, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Wildlife Michael Usi took time off to appreciate one of the most outstanding sites God endowed the country with.
Speaking after touring the site and Liwonde National Park, respectively, Usi said the gifts of nature that God blessed the country with should be managed in a manner that shows our passion and gratitude.
“This resource has the potential to contribute positively to the development of the country. In our ministry, we recognise heritage as a treasure—a vehicle for sustainable development.
“These pillars can open a lot of tourism-related businesses such as accommodation units, transport, local souvenir production, tour guiding and entertainment. There is need for proper management and strategic marketing to attract visitors,” Usi said.
He said the economic value of the site can respond to the communities’ need for alternative sources of income to alleviate rural poverty.
Usi added that Malape Pillars, community’s culture and Liwonde National Park, which has the Big Five(lion, elephant, zebra, rhino and buffalo) should be packaged together as a tourism product to be sold to visitors.
“These three packaged together will give us the competitive edge over other countries which only offer wildlife. Tourists will not only see the Big Five in Liwonde National Park, but also have a feel of the Malawian culture as well as experience the awe of Malape Pillars,” he said.