It’s August again. That month of the year all roads lead to Hora Heritage Centre in Mzimba. The occasion is the Umthetho Cultural Festival.
As we speak now, two days of activities are already gone. And today, marks the climax of it all.
The State President Peter Mutharika is expected to grace the occasion today attended by dignitaries from South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Botswana.
This year, it is more than a cultural celebration to promote, preserve and interpret the Ngoni traditions and cultural heritage such as dance, food and clothing. It is a platform to fight harmful practices that erode the environment.
“We want to fight harmful cultural practices that contribute to climate change and promote those that help preserve the environment,” says Aupson Thole, Mzimba Heritage Association secretary.
The association, whose aim is to preserve and promote the heritage of the Ngoni people, was founded in 2000 and has been organising Umthetho, an annual event at Hora Mountain, since 2007.
The event starts with the M’mbelwa Chiefs Council meeting to deliberate on various issues affecting the nation, Mzimba in particular, and find solutions to arrest the problems.
The second is a cultural day where chiefs hold a parade (Umgubho) at the tomb of Inkosi ya Makosi M’mbelwa I—the father and founder of Mombera Kingdom. M’mbelwa I was laid to rest at Mzalangwe Village, a few kilometres from the heritage centre.
Thereafter, the chiefs lead their subjects atop Hora Mountain Campsite for a feast whereas other participants remain down the mountain for a variety of traditional dances such as chilimika, malipenga, mganda, vimbuza, mthimba, mbuweni, liguba and ingoma.
The main event takes place at the foot of Hora Mountain on the third day with an attendance by local and international dignitaries.
Thole says Hora Mountain is an important element for the festival because of the history attached to it. He says the area was the epicentre of early Ngoni settlements in Mzimba.
“Hora is the centre of Mzimba. Around 1860s and 1900, the Ngoni villages were around Hora. Some of them include Engalaweni [the village of M’mbelwa I], Embangweni and Elangeni,” says the ex-curator of Mzuzu Museum.
He says when M’mbelwa was sending warriors outside Ngoni territory they would first of all parade at Hora Mountain.
Apart from that, he says the first M’mbelwa district commissioner (DC) was first accommodated at Hora in 1904.
“Also, the present Embangweni Mission started its activities at the foot of the mountain.
“The mountain is also believed to be an Iron Age site with paintings believed to have been done during the Stone Age,” he explains.
It is because of such a rich history that Mzimba Heritage Association wants to build a hotel, stadium, cultural village, cultural skills centre and other attractions at the site.
The project is also aimed at addressing challenges organisers encounter in finding accommodation for visitors during the celebrations.
So far, the association has already made designs for the museum whereas those for the hotel are yet to be finalised.
“Our desire is to make Hora a total tourist centre,” says Thole.
However, a setback to such plans is the poor condition of the road.
“We are pleading with government to consider us with the Mzimba-Mzalangwe Road. We don’t know why that road project stalled.
“But, that will not stop us from developing Hora for tourism. We will continue with our plans,” he says.
As the Ngoni are famed for beer, meat, women and dance, Thole calls for partnership with companies to provide beer at the event.
“We are appealing to service providers like Carlsberg and Chibuku to bring their brands to the event. That would do us good.
“As organisers we can’t manage to provide beer to everybody. But if they can bring their trucks, people would buy beer from them.
“But on the part of food, we will try our best to feed everybody,” he says.
Umthetho is one of the country’s main cultural festivals pitted together with Kulamba for the Chewa and Mulhakho for the Lhomwe. n