Our staff writer MICHAEL MMEYA was in Thyolo recently and tells the Lhomwe history through the eyes of the Ngolongoliwa clan which, next week, will attain the traditional authority (T/A) status.
If all goes according to plan, Ntunda Wosema Headquarters in Thyolo will be the place to be on Saturday, October 10 2014 to witness the coronation of Traditional Authority (T/A) Ngolongoliwa by President Peter Mutharika.
The man on the throne, the first Lhomwe to rise to that authority, is none other than Mweene Laelo Juma who joined the royal succession tree as village head in the early 1980s.
The Ngolongoliwa clan came from Mangulu Hill in Mozambique in 1874. Its royal throne was created by Mgunda Ngolongoliwa, a hunter known for his muzzle loader, who migrated and started a village on the confluence of Nansongole and Nansonyo rivers in T/A Chimaliro’s area in Thyolo.
Born to Juma Kosta and Margret Chikoswe on February 6 1950, the T/A-elect is one of the two surviving children from a family of 14. Married to Verediana Yerenimo in 1991, he is a father of five sons and a daughter.
With his little education, of up to Class Two at Nthulo Primary School, the youthful Laelo set out for a better life in South Africa in 1966. He made several short on and off trips, but when he left in 1970, he was away longer and rumour had it that he had died.
“Funeral rites were performed. But no sooner had they started forgetting about me than I showed up home again,” recalls Juma in a recent interview on the sidelines of his elevation.
He says his return home was a drama episode he acted with a fellow Malawian from the North, whom he only remembers as Kasambara. The two, he says, endured a daring trip back home from Gaborone, Botswana, where Juma had relocated to from South Africa in 1972.
“On one stretch of the trip, we almost gave up our lives as we walked across a thick forest between Botswana and Zimbabwe, after exhausting the little money we had. On a train ride later, we played tricks on train guards from Francis Town to Bulawayo,” he recalls.
On another part of the train journey, Juma and Kasambara met another Malawian from Chiradzulo who paid their fares and also gave them some food.
In the train from Bulawayo to Salisbury (now Harare), he said they were rescued by yet another Malawian—a police officer from Juma’s neighbouring village Sitepe—who was taking home fellow Malawians injured and handicapped in the mines in South Africa.
“On one or two occasions, he made us act like we were handicapped, to buy our passage,” recalls Juma, who said he parted ways with Kasambara at Gwelo in Zimbabwe.
For fear of losing the plot last minute, Juma says he decided to alight from the train at Luchenza as opposed to the final destination at Limbe.
Juma recalls that on arrival at his village, the first person he met was his uncle [his mother’s brother] Grant Chikoswe. He describes the meeting as emotional.
“He looked at me as if I were a ghost. Actually, he almost fled upon seeing me. He only stopped after I introduced myself and told him that I had heard rumours about being declared dead,” he says.
Upon settling down in 1980, youthful Juma started pursuing his family’s royal throne, which was then in the hands of outsiders who started as caretakers, but were now clinging to it as their own.
Apparently, none among Juma’s relatives was brave enough to be enthroned after several of Mgunda’s successors had died mysteriously.
At the time Juma was reclaiming the royal throne, T/A Chimaliro was a man called Fly London. Chimaliro assisted Juma to win back the throne and he was installed village head on April 18 1981, at the age of 30.
Lady luck immediately smiled at new village head Ngolongoliwa as he was soon roped in as one of the T/A’s councillors till he was elevated to group village head (GVH) alongside Mangazi, Nanseta, Chaone, January and Nameta 1987.
In 1990, Fly London lost the Chimaliro chieftaincy and GVH Ngolongoliwa served as caretaker up to 1993 when the Chimaliro clan anointed Evance London as successor to the throne.
Ngolongoliwa returned to his GVH status and continued to serve diligently as plural politics was ushered into the country in 1994.
In recognition of his hard work, former president the late Bingu wa Mutharika elevated him to Sub-Traditional Authority (Sub-T/A) in 2010. His installation was presided over by former Minister of Local Government Anna Kachikho, at T/A Chimaliro’s headquarters on February 14 2011.
But what is his secret to working with the government of the day?
“As a people’s servant, my interest is in improving livelihoods of my subjects by working with the government of the day,” he says.
Then he takes a long breath and adds that he is proud to be among a few traditional leaders that have enjoyed a good working relationship with all previous governments.
Then he quickly changes the subject to the birth of Mulhako wa a Lhomwe, which he says was a big achievement for the Lhomwes in and outside Malawi.
“Even if we all died today, I know that our children will not be treated as slaves,” he says.
In relation to his royal throne, he regretted the death of his grandmother Asekanaziwa, who was the only eldest surviving woman in the clan.
Asked about his preferred dish, the T/A-elect says as a Lhomwe, he enjoys nsima ya mgaiwa with thelere.
“Dried mice and monkey meat are also a delicacy,” he says and adds that among snakes that Lhomwe’s eat, the puff udder (mphiri) is most delicious.
Spiritual hymns are his take on music while in football, he is unhappy when Big Bullets and Manchester United lose.
On national unity, the T/A-elect says he wishes Malawians treated each other as members of one family.
“If we are not united and this ship called Malawi sinks, no one will be the winner as we shall all sink with it,” he says.