CHEFO Members, Chiefs Visit Chewa Holy Places Of Tsang’oma and Msinja in Lilongwe

By Alfred Mthandizi

Chewa Heritage Foundation in conjunction with Senior Chief Chadza, Chiseka and Masula over the weekend visited Chewa shrines located in the Western side of Lilongwe. In an interview CHEFO Chairperson, Professor Kanyama Phiri said the visit to the Chewa holy sites were very significant because of how important the place is to the history of Chewa People and indeed to the Malawi history. “We came here to Tsang’oma, Dziwe la Anamwali in order to appreciate the history these places contain. As you are aware, we have been hearing a lot of Msinja, Tsang’oma, and other sites but some others have not been heard of or about,” said Professor Phiri. 

Phiri said Chefo is doing a lot to preserve and protect the sites. For the starters, some of the sites which CHEFO intend to preserve include Msinja, Kaphirintiya, Phirilanjuzi, Makewana, Chibazi (Msyamboza), Ngala ya Pakamwa, Khuluvi shrine, Bunda, Tsang’oma Shrine, Nanjiri shrine, Mankhamba Maravi Headquarters. “We already have an indication of funds available in upcoming projects through Malawi Tourism Council.

Professor Kanyama Phiri said CHEFO will also partner with some companies and even Chewa investors who have already shown willingness and we can invest under CHEFO trust or as individuals. In an interview, Senior Chief Chadza commended CHEFO for arranging the trip. Chadza pledged to support the project of promoting the holy places saying that’s long overdue. 

Msinja is of great significance, prompting the Oxford Reference (The Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature) to describe it as a place where the central figure, the Makewana (the Mother of Children), “slept on a bed of ivory tusks”. One of the experts in Chewa History Dr. Winston Kawale wrote in one of his many articles:

“The Msinja religious shrine may be dated to as early as 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. Carlos Wiese, a German official in the Portuguese service, described the shrine at Msinja as “the Mecca of the Maravi”. This was because all the Chewa chiefs from Zambezi in Mozambique, Lwangwa in Zambia, to Kasungu, Lake Malawi and beyond, made their annual pilgrimages to Msinja to pray for rains and posterity in their homes. Msinja was a very popular and busy city. In 1830, Gamitto, a Portuguese traveler, noticed some commercial activity taking place at Msinja. It is also reported that David Livingstone visited Msinja in 1867.

Scholars such as W.H.J. Rangeley (1952), Samuel Nthara (1945), Matthew Schoffeleers (1973), William Emmet McFarren (1986) and J.W.M. van Breugel ((2001) have provided comprehensive impressive accounts of the history, and the events that took place at Msinja.

The history of Msinja begins with the religious events at Kaphirintiwa Hill which is very close to Msinja. The Chewa believe that when Chiuta (God) created the earth, the human beings, animals and Chiuta himself landed on a rock at Kaphirintiwa Hill. The rock was still molten when they alighted there and they left their footprints or tracks on the molten rock. These human and animal footprints are still there today at the Kaphirintiwa rock.” read Dr. Kawale article in part. 

Dr. Kawale says upon discovering Kaphirintiwa creation hill, the Chewa wanted to live there as a consecrated place. “Later, Kaphirintiwa became too sacred for their comfort. Therefore, they relocated to a nearby place, at Msinja and decided to live there. At Msinja, the people dedicated a middle-aged woman Makewana to the service of Chiuta as their priestess and prophetess. Makewana had five to eight maidens known as Matsano who cooked and carried water for her. There was also Kamundi Mbewe who was Makewana’s ritual husband. He was also responsible of assisting Makewana in offering the sacrifices at the Kachisi (temple). Chingala Phiri had special duties, making sure that all was in order and fine at Makewana’s house. Msinja city was well designed. At the center was the temple where sacrifices were offered.” 

Richard Mdyetseni is Chefo Secretary General. 

“We are happy that today we had an opportunity to visit several Holy Chewa sites after heating and reading from books for long time,” 

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