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The untold story of sacred Mbande Hill

Written by  Bishop Witmos

Part of the land that remained idle for 18 years due to floods - Pic by Bishop Witmos 

Karonga, Sept. 04, 2017: Driving five kilometres from Karonga Boma, on the road to Chitipa, one comes across a hill with relatively a lot of vegetative cover a few metres from the right side of the road.

Mbande Hill is the place where first Paramount Chief Kyungu called Shora settled on his arrival in Malawi from Tanganyika now the Republic of Tanzania 600 years ago.

Located in Mpata, in Paramount Chief Kyungu, Mbande Hill is a unique upland in the history of Ngonde tribe in Malawi.

All Kyungus are traditionally installed and buried at the site which is treated as a sacred place among the Ngonde.

On my way to Chitipa District recently, I was curious to know more about the hill and decided to stopover and have a chat with some elders around the hill.

Village Headman (VH) Mwawembe told me that nobody except top elders in Kyungu’s chieftainship climb the hill.

‘‘Not everybody is allowed to visit the hill,’’ he said.

Watching the hill from the Bingu Highway Road, where I stood, I could hear the sound of birds from the hill’s thick forest.

But Mwawembe said that was unusual sound.

‘It may not be the sound of birds because, as Ngonde tribe, we believe that Mbande Hill is land of spirits,’’ Mwawembe said.

He said there is a belief among the Ngonde that the hill is a blessing to the Karonga people.

‘‘We strongly believe that rains in Karonga originate from Mbande Hill. It is our ancestors from that hill that bring rains,’’ he said.

‘‘As such, whenever there is a dry spell, chiefs organize their subjects to sacrifice livestock to the ancestors,’’ he said.

To this effect there was a worst historic tragedy in Mpata around 1999, which is believed to have originated from the hill.

Heavy rains that resulted into flush floods in settlements and crop fields on North Rukuru River banks put thousands of people in the area food insecure for years.

‘‘That year our departed fathers looked down upon us.

‘‘They sent us heavy and continuous rainfall whose impact continues affecting my subjects to date,’’ VH Mwawembe said.

The rains changed direction of the North Rukuru River which used to pass through a cultivation area.
The crop fields belonging to close to 600 farmers became water logged.

As a result, an eight square kilometer area that was famous for irrigation farming for crops such as rice, maize and sweet potatoes turned into a valley not suitable for farming.

Famine and poverty characterized three village headmen of Mwawembe, Ngemela and Mwalupondo who, consequently, called the area ‘Chabako’ –conquered land.

‘‘We thought that our ancestors had taken the land from us,’’ said Winston Chembe, a villager.

However, 18 years down the line, communities in the area, collectively known as Mpata, can now afford a smile.

An Italian organization called Comitato Internazionale per lo Sviluppo dei Popoli (CISP) in conjunction with Malawi Government is constructing a 300-metre-long drainage canal in the area with financial support from the World Food Program (WFP).

Construction of the canal, which will be draining water from the valley, commenced in July this year, and has already helped communities to resume cultivation at ‘Chabako’.

CISP’s Programmes Manager Yusuf Kadwala hopes that following the project, communities from Mpata will bounce back to their normal life.

‘‘We are constructing the canal following a request by the community, and we hope that after it is completed, people in the area will be harvesting bumper yields as they used to,’’ Kadwala said.

He added that the project, which is under the Food for Asset Programme, is currently benefiting close to 1700 families.

‘‘From July up to October, each family will be getting a 50 kg bag of maize, 6 kg of beans and one litre of cooking oil,’’ he said.

Apart from Chabako, CISP is also conducting a river bank protection project at Kasoba River, which changed its course to a graveyard.

‘‘We want to redirect the river back to its original course,’’ Kadwala said.

Karonga is one of the districts in Malawi that are heavily affected by flush floods.

Due to excessive deforestation along river banks, most of the rivers in the district are shallow, heavily silted and with undefined course.

As a result, they change direction whenever there are heavy rains.

Despite the myth surrounding Mbande Hill, a royal family member from the leadership of Paramount Chief Kyungu, Archibod Mwakabanga, said since Mbande Hill used to be covered by a thick forest; it could be true that rains were originating from the hill, scientifically.

‘‘Unlike presently, the hill was jealously protected by the surrounding community; as such, nobody could climb up to cut down trees,’’ he said.

However, Mwakabanga - elder brother to the incumbent paramount chief - was quick to warn that the hill must be respected.

‘‘That hill is traditionally sacred, and nobody amongst the Ngonde tribe can claim to be Kyungu if he is not anointed at that place.

‘‘In addition, our forefathers from Bukinga in the Southern Tanzania, where Shora came from, believed in magic; as such, people must respect Mbande Hill,’’ Mwakabanga said.

Godfrey Wilson’s book titled “The Constitution of Ngonde” first published in 1939 by Rhodes-Livingstone Institute corroborates Mwakabanga’s sentiments on former Kyungu’s miraculous powers.

In the book, Wilson says, on reaching Mbande, the Kyungu found it already occupied by a Simbobwe who was a “clever hunter” but managed to drive him out of the hill in a “miraculous incident.”

“He hid from Simbobwe in a tiny pile of grass and…took Mbande without a blow by creating elephants, buffaloes and guinea fowl for Simbobwe and his people to hunt, and climbing the hill when it was deserted. Once on top, he beat his drum and the men of Simbobwe heard it and fled,” reads the book in part.

Ironically, Karonga District meteorological officer Victor Phiri said Mbande Hill, which is also close to the Vilawule Hill, is geographically located on the westerly path known for triggering heavy rains to Malawi.

“Mbande Hill is located to the westerly side of Africa that brings rains from Congo air mass.

“The Congo air mass brings heavy onset rains to Malawi, hence the myth by the Ngonde tribe that rainfall comes from Mbande Hill,” Phiri said.


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