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Tuesday, January 08, 2013


Last year during preparation for the Weird Weekend I came across an article in The Society of Malawi Journal vol 37 (1) 1984 pp 40-52 (but pages 41-42 are now missing) titled `Mythical and Real Snakes of Chitipa District` by Bruce J. Hargreaves of the National University of Lesotho. Today`s blog is a highlight of the most interesting points of this article.


The Lambia name uchura applies not to a snake , but is a general term for frogs. I have heard it specifically applied to the genus Xenopus. Charles Nicholas Kayuni said that uchura kills snakes. Chiwura is a frog which, according to Luxun C.Mlenga, sits in a hole with its mouth open and eats any snake which enters. He added that it eats any snake, no matter what the size, but that flying snakes cannot be caught this way. (1)


Luxun Mlenga described  a “big black and white-spotted snake which is 1 ½ feet wide and twenty yards long” . He said that if it crosses a stick of nyongampembe (Steganotaenia araleacea, the carrot tree) it dies. He also added that it puts its head  down if it sees twins. (2)


Itawa is a snake which looks like a tortoise according to Luxun Mlenga. He did not say that it flies nor did he associate it with the tortoise which is used for flying in witchcraft. Happy Ngosi added that itiwa is found in the Mafinga Ridge and has two heads protruding from the coils of its body. The Mafinga Ridge is noted for its snakes…When I wished to take to the Chitipa Secondary School Exploring Club there in 1968 I had great difficulty. Fortunately one of the students had a father who worked in the Forestry Department and had been up the ridge…When I asked to borrow the District Council lorry however I was told that we should not go because of the “snake” which lives in the “lake” on top of the ridge. (There is a marsh above Chisenga which feeds into a river which becomes a waterfall above Mulembe but there is no true lake.)  (3)


When I was skinning the python (mentioned previously in the text-R) , Dalia Nachilima warned her son Nicholas Kayuni not to touch it. I was told that touching a python leads to stunting of growth and wasting away Since Nicholas was one of shortest children in his class he could hardly afford to take chances…Happy Ngosi referred to the python as isato and said that there are two types: forest residents and those which live outside the forest. The forest residents are darker in colour, less aggressive and feed on small animals such as goats and calves. Those outside the forest sometimes live in streams but come to land for food. They are lighter in colour and are aggressive.

I was shown caves and prayer groves in Chitipa District where pythons were said to dwell. It is almost certain that in the past prayers for rain and fertility involved offerings to such pythons…Ngosi told me orally that there is one kind of python that bleats like  a goat. (4)


…P.Malanga recorded the belief that to meet “ a snake which seemed to have no head” was bad luck or an indication that one`s relative had died. He added that to remove the bad luck you had to meet an animal known as tumbatumba (Tumbuka) (5)


Godfrey Mwanja said that manimani is like leaves (mani in ChiĆ”andia) and stays in them. He added that it is fast, small and long.  Happy Ngosi said there are two types of these snakes, a forest resident which is big and deep green in colour and a resident outside the forest which is small and light green in colour . (6)


  1. J. Bruce  Mythical and Real Snakes of Chitipa District p. 40
  2. Ibid p. 40
  3. Ibid p. 40
  4. Ibid p. 44-45
  5. Ibid p.45
  6. Ibid p. 48

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