Umhlangano: revamping maseko ngoni culture

The only visible strings attached to him as a Maseko Ngoni are his names and home district.  Apart from that, Kondi Ndumbu of Ziyaya Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Kanduku in Mwanza is just an ordinary Malawian.

His case is common among people of different ethnic groupings whose cultural values have been eroded by influence of intermarriages, exposure to western culture and parents’ negligence to pass on the precious beliefs.

As communities are engaged in building pillars for ideals of their tribes to rest on, Gomani V’s idée fixe of a Maseko Ngoni festival, Umhlangano, was launched in 2013 to revamp the warriors’ cultural package. The event, among other reasons, is for the likes of Ndumbu to soul-search on their identities—language, symbols, norms, rituals and values.

Senior Chief Makwangwala speaks while impis Chikoko (R) and Khomba (L) look on

Since that year, the first Saturday of September is reserved for Maseko Ngoni and Malawians from all walks of life to gather at Gongolo Ground in Nkolimbo Village, T/A Kwataine in Ntcheu for the event.

The word Umhlangano means coming together of people from different directions, particularly Maseko Ngoni of Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi to cherish cultural values of their ancestors. In Malawi, Gomani V sways over Mwanza, Dedza, Lilongwe, Dowa, Salima, Thyolo, Ntcheu, Zomba, Mangochi and Neno, among other districts.

This year, according to Senior Chief Makwangwala, the enriching ceremony is slated for September 2 at its traditional venue.

The tribe, with roots originated in South Africa, left its home land because of Mfecane—warfare of ethnic communities between 1815 to about 1840 in the Zululand. After exultant over many tribes, it majestically settled at Lizwe la Zulu (land of the Zulu) mispronounced as Lizulu in Ntcheu.

Makwangwala, who is also chairperson of the organising committee of this year’s event, said ruining of Isingoni language through failed pronunciation is another problem the festival tries to address.

“Most words are affected, including the royal title Ngacamane that is now Gomani on eroded tongues. There has also been misuse of salutations among the Maseko Ngoni. Not everyone can be accorded Bayethe, Zaithwa or Qomo. These are ultimate words for respecting Gomani and Amakhosi [traditional authorities—T/As], respectively,” he said.

The day, that offers patrons Ngoni customs and traditional foods: roasted meat and locally brewed opaque beer—Masese, has become sacred to hearts of the Maseko Ngoni as they interact with ancestral spirits.

Around 3am on this Saturday, elders pay homage to the tribes’ sleeping forefathers on the tombstone of the brave Gomani Chikuse I, who the British colonial masters martyred in 1891, for defending the legacy. At that hour, they perform ligubo dance and cattle is speared on the forehead as part of the acclaimed sacrifice.

Makwangwala said that the ceremony is called ‘M’khwisulo,’ the spirit honouring prayer for peace and blessings.

“Our fully packed cultural event rests on this observation. That is also the absolute reason the ceremony takes place at Nkolimbo Village as Gomani Chikuse was brutally shot between Dombole and Chiole close to Gongolo Ground in the area,” he said.

In the afternoon, there is another supreme observation when Gomani V together with guest of honour flies two white doves to symbolise peace after the latter has laid a wreath on the Chikuse’s tombstone.

One of the impis (soldiers) of Gomani V, Jones Chikoko, who joined Makwangwala last Friday during a media briefing on this year’s event in Blantyre, said they have lined up a lot of energetic displays to elevate the fifth Maseko Ngoni gathering bar under Gomani V above the previous ones.

“It is more of dancing, eating and drinking affair. This is one of the cultural festivals Malawians cannot afford to miss,” said Chikoko.

Makwangwala added that for the first time patrons will appreciate an initiation ceremony of adolescent Ngoni girls on the day.

“We expect to host President Peter Mutharika. Inkosi Mpezeni of Zambia, representatives of King Mswati of Swaziland, South African Zulu-Ngoni, Tanzania, Zimbwabwe and Paramount Chief Zintambira of Mozambique will be in attendance,” he said.

But for patrons to breathe more fun in the air during the day through dances: Ngoma, Mkwendo, Nsindo and Uyeni, merry-making induced by local beer—Masese with roasted meat, Makwangwala has appealed to well-wishers to finance the event’s budget pegged at K10 million. Wawa Maseko Ngoni!. n

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