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Exploring Indigenous Arts and Culture: Adventures with Paulendo

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Hidden in the beautiful highlands and forests of Dedza, is a place only till yesterday was just a mere imagination. A mountainous picturesque that one could think was taken out of a postcard and laid on bare ground. Filled with its rich greenery and the freshest air, one which brings joy to the lungs. Chongoni, a place with many faces, with scenery that holds all still and makes the whole world seize to exist, only to the eye, a beautiful sky and mountains that unfold a beauty unexplained.

Hold, that was supposed to be said later on. To rewind………..

We left Blantyre at exactly 5 am, I was told we were off to Chongoni. In all my 22 years of life in Malawi, I had never heard of the place before. Instead of asking where that was, I allowed myself to be surprised. And surprised I was.

Before I talk about Chongoni, let me state this. We visited a total of three places, all rich with beauty and history. I will summarize them into two.

Chongoni, Paintings and the Hidden Stories

Hidden in Linthipe 2 is the Chongoni Mountain. A beautiful mountain, rich with greenery with the freshest air. A mountain that holds more history in Malawi than is known to most (more especially those my age), which I shall get to later on. Just below it is the Namoni Katengeza Training Centre, which is 6.4 kilometers from the M1, a renowned training center for the CCAP church.

The Training Centre will be the camping site for a night, on the 20th. The site offers an exquisite site of the mountain, their hostels are to die for, plus it has one of the best places for a bonfire. However, it is the hiking of the mountain that will fulfill souls. This is where I need your full attention folks.

To briefly explain the history of the place:

Chongoni is a weird name. Just by the name, you will notice that it incorporates the name of one of the famous tribes in the country, a tribe I belong to, NGONI. However, it also incorporates the name of another tribe, CHEWA. I asked my grandmother about the name this morning, and she gave me one interesting background story of how the name came to be.

Considering the mountain is in a district that borders the two tribes, some time back, the tribes were fighting for ownership of it. Both claimed that the land was theirs, and the fight went on for a while. However, to settle the dispute, it was agreed that instead of one tribe owning the mountain, they could share it and coexist. And thus, named it after their tribe names.

CHONGONI means THE LAND FOR CHEWA AND NGONI.

However, that is not the only interesting thing about the mountain, it has more to it. Within the mountain are caves, and within these caves are paintings, some of which meanings are known and some which they are still investigating to date. Considering we were not ready to hike (I was not), we decided to go behind the mountain where other hills are located with almost the same paintings as those in the mountains. These small hills are all a part of Chongoni.

What we learned was that the paintings in the caves have more meaning and have a rich history. The paintings are distinguished based on color.

Red = Paintings by Akafula (Abathwa)

White = Paintings by Achewa

Till now, there is speculation about what the paintings by the Akafula could mean, but no one has a sure meaning to them. However, meanings for the paintings by the Chewas have been found, something that is used to date.

If you look closely at the pictures above, you will see white dots. We learned that these dots are the same that are drown on girls during chinamwali (initiation ceremonies). The second picture, although it looks like people holding hands, are actually lizards. Any Malawian that has ever watched Zakwathu on MBC TV will know of the lizard-like-looking gule that the chewas wear.

We were told that more drawings with more meaning are in the mountain of Chongoni, something that will be taught during the hike.

Kungoni, the White Priest, the Museum

The drive to Kungoni was nothing but amazing. I have never attempted to travel to Mangochi using the Khwekhwelele road from Bembeke. I loved things naturally, so imagine my glee when I saw the road. What I found funny was that we stopped and were taking pictures, one of which we stupidly thought to sleep in the middle of the road.

Then imagine old people running from the sound of cars, that’s what we found fun in doing.

Anyway, Kungoni is part of Dedza, something I did not know. A beautiful community surrounded by trees and the rich history of the missionaries.

We were met by a white man that I did not recognize from the blink of an eye.

Mr. Chisale, a well-known Catholic Priest. How do I know him you might ask, well here is the story. When I was learning at Bakhita, there was a story I was told that there was a white priest in Malawi who had learned witchcraft just to understand the craft and to better teach the congregate. And for so long, I have clung to the story with a burning need to meet this man and ask him stories.

I met him yesterday, with his beautiful dogs and personality. My first question was this

“Is it true you learned witchcraft?” and his answer was both intriguing and sad,

No, I do not learn witchcraft. All those are lies.

He said it as he was showing us his recent research work on butterflies. However, he did mention joining gule wamkulu and being initiated in it. With pride, he talked about how he found it important to learn the culture of the community he was in. He also shared about how he is, to date, still invited to zinamwali (initiation ceremonies).

arts and culture at chongoni

We were having this conversation in his showroom, but just outside, is a museum that holds so much history.

art and culture at chongoni
arts and culture: mr chisale

The museum is divided into three blocks, in memory of the three missionaries that were the first to settle in the community. The blocks are so close to one another in memory of the camps the missionaries had built, so close to one another. The museum holds the history of three tribes, the Ngonis, the Chewas, and the Yao. Unfortunately, we were not able to get inside, but we were told they have more than 3000 art pieces, and all gule sculptures ever imagined.

For all those that will travel with Paulendo Adventures, they will learn better about which gule is danced at different functions such as funerals or weddings.

My Take from the Trip

Just as I learned from the Malape Pillars trip is that most of the historic places in the country are so slept on. There is so much to learn, so much about our cultures that we still do not know about. And it is amazing that there are people in the country just like Paulendo Adventures who have put it upon themselves to make sure we are a learned people about our roots.

This is why I really want to make sure that I travel as much as I can. This is one of the things I want to maximize next year.

What I also found during the trip was hearing that the art at Chongoni is fading, all due to poor maintenance. The Batwa paintings are so faded and most covered in dust, in my take, in about 2-3 years, the rocks will be clean and no trace of such will be there. Although we will have the records in our history books, there will be nothing to back it up to other than word of mouth and books.

About the Upcoming Trip

Paulendo Adventures will be holding their last adventure of the year, from the 20th – 22nd of December. The adventure will allow people to hike, learn about their culture, and marvel at the beauty of Lake Malawi.

The first thing on the list is spending the 20th at Namoni Katengeza Training Centre at Chongoni. Early morning on the 21st, people will hike the beautiful Chongoni Mountain, see the beautiful caves and paintings. On the same day, they will travel down to Kungoni to see the museum and learn more about some cultures and the community. After that, they will travel down to Mangochi for a good night’s rest. On the 22nd, you will wake up to the sound of waters from Lake Malawi hitting the sand with a beautiful sunrise.

Don’t know why you’d choose not to go. For more details on the flyer, for inquiries, call the numbers on the flyer.

Now, to go and sleep on my desk as I wait for the clock to chime so I can go home.

Do not forget to like, share and comment your thoughts.

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