Preserving Dzalanyama's Cultural Heritage sites
Little is known about the history of Dzalanyama Forest - But we have been exploring and working with the local communities and chieftains as well as local historians to identify and document the historically important sites within the forest. These spiritual locations below are some of the more well known ones within the area.
Our future work with these areas will include clearing and signing, mapping them and better developing historical records of their importance to the culture and communities of Malawi.
The Place of Creation
High above the clouds like God Chiuta (the big Bow), the only high god. Down below, the Earth was dry and sterile as there was no rain. God Namalenga (the Creator) gathered the clouds to cover the sky. God Mphambe (the Lightening) made a flare of fire in the sky and thunder roared in the mountains of Dzalanyama. The lightening hit the rocks and broke them into pieces. The wind and first rain swept the mountain top leaving a clean and soft surface. The God Chiuta Mulungu lit the rainbow across the sky, touching the clouds. In the first rain, God, a man, woman and all the animals descended at Kaphirintiwa. They stepped gently onto the soft surface and walked the Earth for the first time. Later this surface hardened and became rock and their footprints were left on the stones as witness to generations to come. The site of Kaphirintiwa is not just simply a mythical place. It lies on the top of Dzalanyama mountain range near to the border of Malawi and Mozambique. Kaphirintiwa itself is just inside Mozambique. The platform of rock is pitted with shallow holes and these features that are said to be the impressions made when all the feet fell into soft rock. These imprints are evoked in the name of Kaphirinitwa, which is translated ‘the hill that leaves traces behind’. The first Chewa settlement is reported to have been at this site.
Kasitu & Kiamba
The Sacred Forest & Pools
A sacred forest with a sacred pool is known as ‘the gateway’ to Kaphrintiwa (2km before this site on the Malawi side). The forest is known as Kasitu. Tradition states that it was in this forest that the first great central African rain shrine was founded on the site of an ancient BaTwa settlement. The shrine is no longer maintained and its exact original location within the forest is now forgotten. What is known is that the shrine persisted here for many centuries before it was moved down the mountain to Msinja in the fourteenth or fifteenth century. Sacred pools where waters are deep containing spirits and a shrine would be built, these pools are called Kiamba – meaning singing place. This is where rain dances and other consultations with the spirits are conducted
The Ancient Religious City
The word Msinja is derived from the word Kusinja which is translated as ‘pounding’. This was the name given due to the sounds of woman singing and laughing. Chewa people moved from Kaphirintiwa to Msinja because Kaphirintiwa became too sacred for them. The Msinja religious shrine may be dated to as early as the 13th century when the Chewa arrived in this part of Africa. As a religious city, Msinja functioned as a center of national worship for the Chewa people. It has been described as “the Mecca of the Maravi”. This was because all the Chewa chiefs from Mozambique, Zambia, and Malawi, made their annual pilgrimages to Msinja to pray for rains and posterity in their homes. Msinja was well designed, at the center was the temple where sacrifices were offered. Surrounding the temple were 11 villages. It is reported that David Livingstone travelled to Msinja in 1867. At Msinja, the people dedicated a middle-aged woman Makewana to the service of Chiuta as their priestess. Makewana, name means “Mother of Children” – a title passed down through the generations of rainmakers. Once identified as Makewana, a woman would live at Msinja shrine and Kachisi temple and be deemed responsible for rain. When Makewana received a message from Chauta she instructed Tsang’oma (drum beater) Mwale to beat the drum which was in the temple. The drum was known as Mbiriwiri. Upon hearing the drums Malemia (one who travels tirelessly) Mwale travelled to all the Chewa chiefs, across 3 countries, summoning the people to Msinja. Unfortunately, the city of Msinja is no longer there, the Ngoni raiders destroyed it in 1870. Tsang’oma and Makewana managed to flee with the sacred drum and later they returned and attempted to rehabilitate the shrine at Msinja but were unsuccessful, now only a small shrine remains that is tended by people from surrounding villages
Dzalanyama Forest Lodge, with land & Lake Safaris have established a number of conservation units in and around Dzalanyama Forest.
The Dzalanyama School Project
Started in 2003, we collaborated with other institutions to renovate and rebuild Dzalanyama School, located in the forest and accommodating both Malawi and Mozambique day pupils and boarders.
To Date we have built girls dormitories, eco-toilets, a boys dormitory and renovated another dorm. We do annual repairs and paintings to classrooms and ensure the school has ample reading, writing, sports and art materials.
Dzalanyama School now has a fully functioning library, their own wildlife club and should we need any help in developing the forest reserve, we ensure the programs we work with benefit directly.
The Kachere School Project
In 2017, we also started working with Kachere School, currently educating over 1,000 pupils around the region. Kachere School is located just outside the forest reserve.
To date we have built two new classrooms as well as done general repairs and painting of the other classrooms.
We offer volunteering placement opportunities at Dzalanyama and Kachere School. These cover teaching, building and community outreach and the money obtained goes straight back into the community to help with resources in order to maintain the school for future generations.
We coordinate small scale building projects in conjunction with International sponsors. Group volunteers that stay on for short periods at a time and assist with the projects. This is valuable to the success, development and progression of the school’s future.
The Dzalanyama Bamboo Project
We are in our third year delivering and planting culms to households and showing them how to nurture the plants to maturity. The next stage is to produce cost effective and fuel-efficient cooking stoves that use bamboo and to show communities how to cure the poles for building / furniture purposes.
We are looking to partner with relevant organisations to head out into the forest to monitor the deforestation; locate any charcoal kilns and illegal activity; check authorized logging permits and ensure they are not taking indigenous species; as well as identifying damaged areas, collecting seeds and monitoring any wildlife in the area
We want to establish a sustainable indigenous tree nursery and replanting system, using data collected by researchers; replant more areas (bamboo outside the forest in and around households) and indigenous trees and establish a method of working with authorised loggers to replant and preserve the commercial forest.
Above, from left: Kachere School Students helping move new bamboo saplings to the school Bamboo grounds. Middle: Land & lake Guide, Vasco teaching the students how to plant and care for Bamboo. Far right: Each household is encouraged to plant and care for their bamboo culms to support them in the future for fuel wood.