Since last Saturday, Abiti Joyce Befu, also known internationally as MG 66 and the Most Excellent Grand Achiever or MEGA-1; Alhajj Mufti Jean-Philippe LePoisson, SC (RTD); the Most Paramount Native authority Mzee Mandela and I, Malawi’s only Mohashoi, have travelled the length and breadth of Nkhata Bay.
During the past week, we took a boat ride to Usisya where we appreciated why what started off as a mere refugee enclave by the Sisya people shielding themselves from Ngoni abductors, not warriors, is today proudly called Usisya Town or UT, capital of Nkhata Bay North.
Here, Usisya simply means the land of and, at times, character, mentality or culture of the Sisya, just as Ungoni is the land, and at times, character, mentality or culture of the Ngoni, Utonga means Tongaland, and at times, character, mentality or culture of the Tonga, Usingini is Singini country, and at times, character, mentality or culture of the Singini, while Uchewa refers to Chewaland, or Chewa culture or mentality.
The language of the Sisya is ChiSisya, a creole or mixture of ChiTonga and ChiTumbuka. Failed sociolinguists have described ChiSisya as a Tumbuka dialect but they don’t explain why it is not a dialect of ChiTonga.
The road from Mzuzu through Chikwina to Usisya is tricky and breathtaking. For those with feeble minds, the best means of getting there and back is by boat from Nkhata Bay Jetty. But Usisya is worth visiting. There is a sparkling clean beach with gritty golden sand. There is internet. Above all, there are ever smiling people ready to explain to visitors why UT is the best place to live in.
Today, Usisya will perform visekesi at the launch of the Nkhata Bay Tonga Heritage at Chintheche. Visekesi originated in Usisya and like Malipenga, Honala, and other dances, it is part of the Nkhata Bay Tonga Heritage.
From Usisya, we travelled to Kavuzi, Kawalazi and Mzenga—the headquarters of Traditional Authority Kabunduli. This is the Mulanje-Thyolo version of Nkhata Bay because this is where tea, macadamia and coffee are grown in Nkhata Bay.
In the not-so-remote past, tea from these areas was sent to Chombe where the real Chombi Tea was processed and graded. The tea from these areas was of international quality and packaged to international standards. And it fetched big money although the Chombe-Kawalazi-Kavuzi and Mzenga area never really benefitted from that windfall. The area is also known for its quality honey collected using modern hives hung in the macadamia plantations and miombo forests that line the banks of the mighty Lweya River.
This belt is also where Edgar Orton Ching’oli Chirwa, the nationalist legal mind and Malawi Congress Party’s first president, was born and buried. Orton Chirwa, his wife Vera and their son Fumbani, were abducted from around Chipata in Zambia, exposed to a marathon trial by the traditional court at Kwacha in Blantyre, sentenced to death, which sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Orton died in 1992, aged 71 years, in Zomba maximum prison, virtually blind due to mistreatment by the Malawi government, according to his close relatives. The computer box of that time described his death as normal because Orton Chirwa was a ‘common prisoner!’
Orton’s grave at Manolo will remind you of the political history of Malawi and the sacrifices the Tonga have made to the success of Malawi, our Malawi and how dreams of nation-building have been betrayed by an ultra-greedy and tribalist political clique.
The area between Kavuzi and Chikwina down to Nkhata Bay district headquarters has produced some of the best lawyers in Malawi. Orton Chirwa (QC); Richard Banda (SC), Ralph Kasambara (SC), Kandako Mhone, and Ralph Mhone are prominent examples.
Those Malawians who follow academic and innovative exploits will agree that Professor Landson Mhango is probably the best engineer to have come of Nkhata Bay and Malawi. His 16-page academic vitae is a marvel to read. It reveals what creative engineers should be doing instead of participating in corrupt practices, constructing shoddy bridges and roads and publishing nothing worth remembering and citing.
It is this area that also produced Zambweka Tembo, a veteran stage performer with a baritone voice. He and his team will perform at the Nkhata Bay Tonga Heritage launch at Chintheche today.