Struggling with cultural erosion with Mlakho wa Ahlomwe heritage

The sky was clear and sunny, chilly breeze blowing from Sapitwa the highest point of Mulanje Mountain towards Chonde, where multitudes of people gathered to have a glance of events at this memorable function.

Mutharika being briefed about products at pavillions during the Mulhako festival
Chinamwali dance during the festiva;
The arrival of Paramount Chief Ngolongoliwa at the festival
A traditional maize storage for Lhomwe household

Chonde is the official Mhlakho wa Ahlomwe headquarters, although its big, but it was this time overwhelmed. The ground was thronged by various tribes of people. Many clad in the traditional pink attire, printed on it ‘Mhlakho wa Ahlomwe’.

Men carrying bows and arrows, women heading clay pots and hides of diverse animals in their hands led Ngolongoliwa to an extraordinary traditional hut grass- thatched and smeared with ashy-looking soils; it is called a ‘Namulukunuwa’.

Mhlakho is a cultural ceremony which Lhomwes meet to share cultural experiences, values and beliefs led by their chief.

“He is Mwene wa Mamwene also known as Mapiya Mulupani, this event is very important, this house lives an example of pure Lhomwe traditional housing style,” Group Village Head (GVH) Ntholowa said, who is in his early 70s.

“Besides being a centre of Lhomwes activities, this place has a unique history; our parents hid themselves here as they run away from Ngoni raids at Malhavi Mountain (meaning a place of predicaments) in Chiradzulu District.

Malhavi Mountain shall live to our memories, “Many ngoni’s died after consuming natural beans ‘Kalongonda’ in vernacular Ntholowa explained.

He said that despite the route difference into Malawi, Lhomwe tribe remains one and united. The Lhomwes cannot agree more.

Ntholowa outlined that, the Khokhola, Amihavani, Amarevoni, Amedo, Amalenye, Amihiri, Anyamwero and Minyawero are among the popular Lhomwe tribes and clans, but all traditionally, speak one language.

Mhlakho wa Alhomwe has clocked nine years since its inauguration by the late Patron and former President of the Republic of Malawi Prof. Bingu Wa Mutharika.

GVH Ntholowa explained that Lhomwes originated from Mozambique where they fled from the tyranny administration of the Portuguese colonialists in early 1880s.

“We suffered brutal beatings; mock trials and this forced Lhomwes flee Mozambique in search for peace and tranquil settlements. Lhomwes are nonviolent and cowards as it comes to warring, than other tribes they encountered,” he added

The ground filled with natural and traditional stuff, like living owls carried by some men while some clad in products from tree backs called ‘Chiwondo’. Hides of crocodiles, leopards, goats, monkeys, ostrich feathers, owls and hooves of animals were dressed by many.

“Holding living birds like owls symbolizes bravery and strength in a real Lhomwe man, the roots is used to cure several diseases failed by physicians,” GVH Ntholowa explained.

In his speech Paramount Ngolongoliwa, said he was grateful for the restoration of their cultural glory which he said was eroded during the colonial British rule after John Chilembwe had beheaded Livingstone in the early 1915.The incident led to the deadly Chilembwe uproar that claimed lives.

He said that segregation bred including in offices and Lhomwes were denied employment on any white collar jobs.

“Lhomwes were black mailed as rebels, this heritage will restore our dignity lost due to Chilembwe uprising. Other tribes are involved in cerebrating as one people in one nation,” Ngongoliwa said

People came from Mozambique, Zambia, Tanzania, South Africa and Democratic Republic of Congo to socialize and pay homage to Ngolongoliwa.

Ngolongoliwa said Malawians must use the existing cultural heritages like, Gonapamuhanya of the Tumbukas, Umhlangano of the Maseko Ngonis, Mthetho of the Zwangendaba Jere Ngoni and Mlakho wa Alhomwe as a key way of preserving and promoting culture in the country.

He observed that over the years Lhomwe language gradually underwent erosion when nobody wished to speak publicly or being identified as Lhomwe for fearing of being mocked and segregated.

The 2015 and 2016 ceremonies were patronized by both local and international dignitaries like representatives of Kalonga Gawa Undi the Chewa Paramount Chief, Mtemi wa Matemi Kyungu, Paramount chief M’mbelwa of the Zwangendaba Jere Ngoni and Paramount Chief Lundu.

Soopa of the Lhomwe, ingoma of the Jere Ngoni and gule wa mkulu of the Chewa dances, characterized the cultural festival. The dancing troops made Chonde gathering joyful.

At the peak of events,   Mulanje Jiri won the hearts spectators when young girls and boys danced skillfully, by shaking their boneless- like waits, sending the audience into excitement. Hand clapping, eye gazing and ululations thrilled the audience at the 2016, Mhlakho event.

Lhomwes like eating pigeon peas ‘namndolo (embweli), cassava flour known as ‘mtandaza’ in Lhomwe language, and natural beans ‘kalongonda’.

Ntholowa told Mana that the dead are buried facing the Western direction indicating their origin and as a way of respecting spirits of their fore fathers in Mozambique.

It is a cultural routine that if you want to speak to Mwene wa Mamwene you always pass through an a signed person for a particular function hence GVH Ntholowa had then assumed this gracious duty.

However, Ovillera Mmeta 19 and Madalo Kapachika 18, who both hail from Chisewu Village Traditional Authority Njema in Mulanje, view many hindrances to rekindle their cultural glory.

Mmeta observed that religion has contributed to the negative change of culture as it divinely oppose some cultural values like dressing styles and use of herbs which is well known identity for Lhomwes from time immemorial.

“We have imported cultural values which are increasingly covering the traditional values, ‘angole used to dance during girl initiation ceremonies and traditional weddings, which today is an old book on the shelf,” she says.

Kapachika viewed that, “Any attempt to dress like our fore fathers you are immediately reproached by the very people who are touting for cultural preservation. We seldom see the elderly leading us by example.”

The 2016 Mhlakho wa Ahlomwe was very exceptional according to Ntholowa because the attendance almost tripled as compared to the previous year.

According to Ntholowa, Lhomwes are found in Phalombe, Mulanje, Thyolo, Chikwawa, Machinga, Zomba and Chiradzulu with some relocating at Indian Ocean Islands, but recognize Mozambique as their motherland.

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