In his interesting article The Gems of Dowa in The Nation of November 26 2012, Joshua Chienda bemoans the irony in Malawi that we know more international heroes, but completely ignore local ones.
Chienda remembers Msyamboza of Dowa District as one of such heroes. He expresses concern that apart from Samuel J. Nthara, who published a biography about Msyamboza, “there has been no deliberate effort to find out how he did what he did and what could be done to improve on what he achieved”.
Chienda’s observations are correct. Nthara’s book focused on the life and work of Msyamboza from 1830 to 1926, when he died. He said nothing of what transpired from 1926, the year Msyamboza died, to 1945, the year Nthara published his book. This year, 2013, marks 87 years after Msyamboza’s death, and still nothing has been written on the impact of Msyamboza’s initiatives.
Fortunately, this year, the Chibanzi community will celebrate Msyamboza’s heroic contributions which have endured over the 87 years after his death. The preparations started in April 2012. This celebration will enable the research and documentation of Msyamboza’s initiatives and impact.
Andrew Murray Msyamboza and John Chilembwe lived almost at the same time and both played important roles in the development of their respective communities. Interestingly, the two personalities had contrasting backgrounds. Whereas John Chilembwe was an American-educated clergy, Msyamboza was illiterate and a pagan. And yet both contributed to socio-economic developments in their respective communities: Chilembwe at Magomero in Chiladzulu, and Msyamboza at Chibanzi in Dowa.
Nthara wrote the book in 1945 under the title Msyamboza. The Rev J.J. Stegmann, who was the leader of the Nkhoma Synod mission, directed Nthara to write the book. Rev. Stegmann heard interesting stories about Msyamboza from the other missionaries who were at Kongwe and helped Msyamboza to establish the school and the church.
The most amazing story about Msyamboza was that he was a slave trader, a murderer and polygamist, yet he voluntarily travelled to Bandawe in Nkhata Bay in 1894 to ask the Rev. Dr Robert Laws, a pioneer missionary of the Livingstonia Synod, to establish a school in his village at Chibanzi. Astonished by the request, Laws directed Msyamboza to visit the Rev. Robert Blake who had established a Nkhoma Synod mission at Kongwe in Dowa. Although Kongwe was indeed very close to Chibanzi, Msyamboza had not heard about the establishment of Kongwe Mission. Upon visiting Robert Blake at Kongwe, Msyamboza demanded that a school be opened at Chibanzi. Robert Blake agreed and established the school and the church in 1895.
Nthara’s book describes interesting details of Msyamboza’s life before and after meeting the missionaries, and the developments at Chibanzi. The book was recommended as one of the Chichewa literature books in the education curriculum and was read for many years in all Nkhoma Synod schools and elsewhere. Nkhoma Synod published the book with the intention of influencing and encouraging other communities to emulate what Msyamboza and people of Chibanzi were doing in establishing and developing schools and churches.
The contents of this book became interesting reading material to various missionaries in Malawi. Consequently, Cullen Young, a Scottish missionary of Livingstonia Synod, translated Nthara’s book into English in 1947 under the title Headman’s Enterprise: Unexpected Page in Central African History. From Young’s book, the missionaries could learn how people lived long before the missionaries came to Malawi. They could also learn some of the African culture, and how the mission work was developing in Malawi.
Msyamboza’s initiatives continue to contribute to the development of the Malawi nation, the church and the Chibanzi community.
First, Msyamboza’s initiatives have contributed to the educational development in Malawi.–The author is a lecturer at Mzuzu University