Since Umthetho cultural celebrations of the Ngoni Jere started in Mzimba, only once have individuals made it to the top of Hora Mountain.
It was last year in a race organised as part of the commemorations.
Mzimba Heritage Association secretary Aupson Thole says King Jere of Mzimba and Chifundo Gumala of the Mpezeni Ngoni from Zambia reached the peak in an hour to triumph over 10 competitors.
“Hora is a sacred mountain in our culture and that is why we always hold our celebrations on its foot,” says Thole.
It is the place where Inkosi ya Makosi M’mbelwa 1 settled after moving from Ekwendeni. He died and was buried around the site where the present day Ngonis commemorate their cultural heritage in August every year.
Winning such a prestigious race in the Ngoni culture has been a motivation for Jele to embark on individual initiatives to promote and preserve his culture.
Jele has opened a cultural centre in Mzuzu that promotes cultural aspects such as local beer (umqombothi), traditional dances and Zulu language.
“Ngoni culture is slowly dying. I want to rejuvenate it by teaching and encouraging colleagues to make sure that Ngonis are not wiped out of the country,” he says.
The place, named King Shaka Beer Garden, is decorated with paintings that depict the life of King Shaka Zulu as king of the Zulu in South Africa.
The paintings elaborate the ruler’s life from crowning after killing a lion to his brief reign as one of the greatest military leaders in African history.
Every Saturday, the centre hosts ingoma and maskandi dances that have left a mark in the locality of Zolozolo where all the magic happens.
“I have a plan of establishing a cultural group that should be based here to entertain patrons. I have eight youths aged between nine and 15 whom I am training ingoma and maskandi.
“In the near future, I also want to be inviting other cultural groups from Nkhata Bay and Karonga to entertain people with malipenga dances,” he says.
Jele is so much enthusiastic with the ngoni culture. He teaches Zulu language to those interested. His target, however, are the youth who, he thinks, are a conduit to pass on the language to the next generation.
Apart from that, Jele is a craftsman and a designer who has a tailoring shop specialising in Ngoni regalia such as clothing, head gears (izidlodlo), spears and shields.
“I use clothing with animal prints for the Ngoni to wear in the absence of animal skins. The response has been overwhelming since I started making the clothes,” he says.
Jere is almost a master of all trade. He now encourages fellow Ngonis to take the race to Hora Mountain seriously.
“Since Umthetho celebrations started, only once have we climbed Hora Mountain and it was me and a Zambian.
“We encourage everyone to participate in this race up the Hora because it is a special mountain in our culture,” advises Jere.
Possibly, this year more will make it to the top.