Head of Malawi’s Chipembedzo Chamakolo (Traditional Religion), Fred Kwacha, explains his religious beliefs: Excerpts:
When we say Chipembedzo Chamakolo, what do we talk about?
Chipembedzo Chamakolo is a religion that believes in the worship of ancestral spirits. There are two types of spirit, namely: ‘family’ and ‘national’ spirits. Family spirits are those of people who were members of a household or clan. Their spirits are consulted in cases of child sickness and rains.
The Biblical Adam and Eve are not related to us: Fred Kwacha, Head of Malawi's Traditional Church
Then, we have ‘national’ spirits- spirits of people who were national figures. These are Individuals who performed great works in society. These include Mbona, Chauta, Makewana, Bimbi and Chikang’ombe in the Northern region.
Before you go any further, what is the name of your religion in English?
What? English? (Laughs). Our ancestors don’t understand English. This is why we are speaking in Chichewa; we want them to understand what we are saying. English, just like these other forms of religion, is a foreign thing.
You seem to emphasise on the point of ‘foreign’ and ‘alien’ when referring to other religions. Can you elaborate?
Yes, Malawians have their true religion: Chipembedzo Chamakolo. We are all members of this religion, whether we want or not. Unfortunately, most Malawians have joined foreign religions. It’s all because Missionaries would go to communities with guns and holy books, and people, naturally, were afraid of death and joined their religions. Our people chose life. And that is how foreign religion interrupted our ‘original way of life’.
I am not saying that people from other countries should not worship freely here. All I am saying is that Malawians should not waste time with foreign gods and prophets because they have their own religion, Chipembedzo Chamakolo. In fact, all these problems we have, you talk of erratic rains, unnecessary deaths, plagues- it’s because we have forsaken our religion and our ancestral spirits. These spirits are angry.
Now, back to the issue of ‘family’ and ‘national’ spirits. In which places were they worshipped?
Don’t say where ‘were’ they worshipped. They are still worshiped. Of course, some placed have ceased to be shrines, places like Pambalale (at Michiru). However, we still have other places that used to serve as shrines, and continue to do so. Places like Khulubvi.
When did you join Chipembedzo Chamakolo?
You don’t join Chipembedzo Chamakolo; you take over from your ancestors. All of us are part of it.
How many members do you have at the moment?
That question, too, does not arise. All Malawians are members of Chipembedzo Chamakolo. So long as one is an indigenous Malawian. So, talking of membership, we have over 14 million members.
Where do all these 14 million members meet?
In Chipembedzo Chamakolo, you don’t meet anyhow. You meet when need arises. You don’t even have a specific meeting day during the week. When the rains are a problem. When plague strikes. When a nation is going through problems. That is when people meet, and sacrifice offerings.
Religion has, for a long time, been associated with miracles. What miracles, if any, have you performed?
You may wish to remember that Malawi went through a dry spell between 2004 and 2005. Other religions prayed to their foreign gods and prophetsbut rains did not come. That is when I, as head of Chipembedzo Chamakolo in Malawi, decided to consult Senior Chief Lundu (of Chikhwawa) on what we needed to do, in terms of offering sacrifices to our ancestral spirits. I consulted Lundu because he (Lundu) is Mbona’s grandson through the lineage of M’dzakula. Along with Chipembedzo Chamakolo friends from Mwanza, Zomba and other districts, we bought food, goats, and black clothes. Lundu advised us to abstain from sexual intercourse for some two weeks and we did that. Miracles started happening mid-way through our offering at Khulubvi. By the time we reached Ngabu (in Chikhwawa), I tell you that the whole landscape was filled with rain water. I tell you, all other religions failed to bring rains, and it was us who finally did it. Since then, Malawi has been registering bumper harvests.
Do you believe that Adam and Eve are our original parents?
No, Adam and Eve have nothing to do with us. We don’t owe our parentage to them.
People believe that there will be punishment for sinners in the end. What’s your take on this?
There is nothing like fire, or any form of punishment, after this life. Tell me: Is there any ‘normal’ father who, after bearing children, prepares a fire for them? What for?
M'bona the rain-maker: One of the people whose spirits are worshipped in Malawi's Traditional Religion (Chipembedzo Chamakolo). Portlait by Chileka-based artist Ngalamila
So, there is no fire after this life. What happens is that, after you die, your spirit may be there to represent your people, and help them in times of trouble.
Any last words?
Malawians should learn to respect their leaders. Nobody will come and honour them for us. After all, these leaders are part of us, and share similar blood with us. These are the only leaders we have in the world.