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Kungoni Art Project - Mua Mission, MALAWI


Thomas Mpira - Ngaliba (2015)

Sun ’n’ Sand Holiday Resort, Mangochi, Malawi

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‘The Ngaliba is the great circumcisor and the great medicine man of the Jando. He replaces the Michila of the Lupanda ceremony. As the circumcisor he owns the knife (Simba) or the razor (Lowembe) of circumcision. Moreover, because of his long experience he has mastered the art of circumcision without casualties. His competence confers on him the title of Ngaliba. The Yao believe that his competence is strongly linked to his knowledge of powerful medicines able to ward off witches and evil influences. This power is concentrated in his flywhisk (Michila) and in the small gourd (Chisasi) which contains his protective medicine. As part of his regalia he wears charms and amulets (Chilisi) around his neck and biceps, to show that he is well protected and well able to protect others. Moreover, his general appearance is meant to be frightening - like that of a wild animal. His face is painted with red and blue dots. His headdress (Liunga) is made of guinea fowl feathers and porcupine quills. On his back he wears a leopard skin (Chisuwi), and around his waist a bark cloth kilt (Majenga) decorated with more wild animal skins. His body is covered with numerous strings of beads – gifts he has received from previous circumcisions. An impressive collection of beads is a sign of his status and competence. A wide beaded belt (Nakoka) covers his waist, which is often inherited from a member of the family who had been a renowned Ngaliba. His legs are covered with broad leglets made of Masewe fruits. Enclosed in the fruits are seeds or stones that act as bells. These rattle-like leglets are used to mark the rhythm when he has to lead the dance and impress the initiates with his fearsome looks. As a whole his appearance is meant to convey that he is a supernatural being invested with the power of the ancestors who wish that every Yao should be initiated and circumcised through the Jando.’

This description of the Ngaliba is taken from the Chamare Museum, Kungoni Centre.