Claude Boucher Chisale and Joseph Kadzombe - Chewa Wisdom says, ‘Fish Out the Mystery from the Bottom of the Pool’ (2010)
Art Gallery, Kungoni Centre, Malawi
When the land is dry and thirsty, our Great Mother Mwali dives in the sacred pool and begs rain for us to God – Mphambe, her husband. She intercedes with all her predecessors who have been spirit-wives and have been put to rest at the bottom of the pool. Her request is acknowledged by God – Mphambe, who gathers the rain clouds and stretches the rainbow across the sky. He even makes himself visible in the form of Thunga, the mystical snake as a messenger.
Mwali and Thunga take great delight in each other’s company and their encounter is thoroughly creative. Thunga is so fertile and strong that his power even overcomes Mwali’s barrenness. She is the Mother of countless children, both male and female. Mwali is our Great Mother from our distant past and she cares for us. She teaches us the Mwambo, the wisdom of our people. From her, we learn to grow into genuine Chewa men and women. Mwali gives birth to Chadzunda and Njovu – Ajere, our chiefs, fathers and husbands. Mariya, our sexual instructor, and Kasiya Maliro, our primary female ancestor, were also conceived through their union.
Chadzunda and Mariya are our parents together with our ancestors Njovu and Kasiya Maliro. All hold a place at the head of our spirit world: they can be fished out of the sacred pool every time we celebrate an important event in our village. The bait is chicken eggs. We hook one of them and bring him / her to the arena to teach our children good behaviour and to abandon selfishness. They dance for us at dusk and at night. (A) They help our children to grow up strong and wise. (B) They restore our minds when peace is threatened. (C) They instruct our leaders and chiefs and assist them in preserving our unity and harmony. (D) They carry the spirits of our departed to the world of the Ancestors and transform them into our protectors and mediators. They are so many and so varied. We have names for each one of them. (On the right) Kamba (A), Mdondo (A), Nthiwatiwa (A), Chimbebe (A), Lambwe (A), Kwakana (C), Galu wanga Chimbwala (A), Kalulu (A, B, C, D), Ndege (D). (On the left) Kapolo (A, B, C, D), Kalolo (A), Mai Kambuzi (A), Nkhono (B), Akutepa (A), Chinkhombe (A), Nkhandwe (A), Nang’omba (C) Mfiti ilaula (D) and many others. In the water all of them feed on tadpoles.
All of them hand to us their specific message and help us to be better people and more united, so that we can resemble our Great Earth Mother Mwali and her husband Thunga, the Lord of the Sky.
Before we settled in this land of sacred mountains and pools, we encountered other people black like pitch and short like children: the Mwandionera pati. They spoke a strange language, almost like coughing: Chikafula. They were skilful hunters and devoted fruit collectors. They even used quartz as tools.
Like us they were inspired by the welcome of those rock shelters hidden in the hills and the serenity of those quiet pools of water. They loved these sites so much that they made them their homes, their shrines and even a place to lay their dead.
There, in the intimacy of those stone and boulders, they instructed their young by daubing inscriptions with animal blood. They taught the facts of life and prepared them for marriage. They conducted rain rituals and prayed for the success of the hunt. They left on those rocks an encyclopedia of instructions and deep wisdom. They taught us to use the same blackboard made of stone, where we added our own signs and compositions. We daubed them with white kaolin made of bird droppings.
We also instructed our youth, boys and girls. Some of these shelters became a hiding place for our treasures and sacred masks. We lived among them and shared in their skills and wisdom. We taught them our own skills of forging iron and growing food, and in return they allowed us a glimpse at the secrets that allowed them to survive for ten millennia: their spirituality. We gazed together in the water of these pools and perceived the mystery that lay hidden within.
These rocks were no more dead stones but alive and telling their own story and also ours.
Description by Claude Boucher Chisale
This account is placed alongside the cloth painting in the Art Gallery. The painting is reproduced as ‘Mwali, Thunga and their Children’ together with an amended description on pp. 260 - 262 of
BOUCHER CHISALE, C. (2012), When Animals Sing and Spirits Dance. Gule Wamkulu. The Great Dance of the Chewa People of Malawi. Oxford: Kungoni Centre of Culture and Art