The Myth of the wife snatching Bridge

By Gregory Gondwe.
In the Greek myth, there is a Greek hero, Achilles, son to Peleus, and the sea godess Thetis and in the 700 BC Iliad, he is singled out as the foremost of the Greek warriors at the seige of Troy where no spear or an arrow could pierce through his body.
The reason behind his invincibility was that while he was a baby his mother plunged him into the river of Styx making his body invulnerable except for the heel by which she held him. After slaying Hector, he was killed by Paris who wounded him in the very heel.
This is but one of Greek’s many mythical tales the world has read about, more for the fact that most of it has been coalesced into the world’s reputable vocabularies.
Malawi has a huge share of her own mythology, which for one reason or the other remains hushed. More so because most of the tales started during the preliterate era, restricting it to oral version.
One of such tales surrounds the myth of a certain place across the Rukuru River in Rumphi called Chipoka-awoli. It is positioned between two gigantic mountains and makes it the only passage to some four kilometres away district headquarters.
Myth has it that this place derived its name from strange occurrences that used to take place at the spot.
Pregnant women, menstruating women, baby mothers who would ‘conceive another child before jumping back into the menstrual cycle’ while rearing the other child (Makhumbi), twins and any promiscuous person intending to cross to the other side would transfix on the spot until a certain sacrament had been performed.
It was only when a dove, a chicken or a silver coin had been thrown into the river while invokers would supplicate for clemency using a well prepared litany that a transfixed person would be released.
But since most of the victims that were being held rooted on the spot were women most of whom were accompanied by their husbands who would then leave them there to look for people to plead with the spirits, the act was seen like a wife seizure hence the Tumbuka name Chipoka-awoli, chipoka is something that seizes or takes, while a woli means wives.
As a precautionary measure any set of twins, triplets or any set of birth of any woman or male person with reasons explained above was, as a passport, supposed to wear a fetter of white beads and carry with them a silver coin (1 or 2 pence), a dove or a chicken, which would be thrown in the river
Fifty-four-years-old Senior Group Village Mlongoti in whose area the spot is situated said many strange things used to happen around the place.
In those days, when travelling towards the place, one could hear noises like people singing or like people grinding maize grains using a mortar and a pistil.
Visiting the place these days, one discovers stones gouged like a deliberate effort of a sculptor whose explanation is that the spirits were using them as mortars.
“Sometimes when passing across the spot in the morning, one would find white clothes displayed all over the stones found at the place but when returning back from where ever one had gone during the afternoon, nothing could be seen,” said SGVH Mlongoti.
Mlongoti said the place used to act like a moral screen as sometimes a person whom you thought was morally okey could stuck at the spot until he or she disclosed of his or her promiscuity adventures or any of their acts of moral turpitude, before being rescued from the hands of the spirits.
“People feared to be bad except if they had chosen never to pass across that spot,” he said before taking me to his elder brother, seventy-seven-year-old Sailas Zgambo a man who has spent the rest of his life at a village near the place.
The lanky grey beard Zgambo, whose appearance and posture defies his age, said Chipoka-awoli had a lot of wonders because it was a sacred place where his ancestors used to appease the spirits with beers, flour and traditional dances.
Zgambo who is a Catholic Christian still believes that the two mountains, where the river passes through, Njakwa and Mayembe, are still home to spirits of his people’s ancestors
“There is still a belief that there are two big snakes still living in the two mountains and there is a time when the one that lives in Mayembe mountain- a husband- which is to the left side as one goes towards Rumphi boma crosses to the Njakwa Mountain- a wife and in those years we used to experience a lot of rains,” explained Zgambo.
Zgambo says there are still harmless snakes in the river though they are now endangered of extinction because of a lot human activities taking place in the waters and along the Rukuru River.
“There used to be a lot of grey snakes which we could find sun bathing on the stones at the spot. The snakes were harmless sometimes one could be at the upper side of the river bathing and discover that some thing is smearing something on your body, only to discover that the snakes are playfully licking you,” explained Zgambo.
The experiences according Zgambo used to happen the time there was no bridge when people were crossing the river using stones at a nearby place called Nthantha, an onomatopoeic word derived from the act of jumping from one stone to the other, until a tentative one made from trees and its barks was looped across.
“Such experiences went on until the construction of the current bridge around 1935 and it only stopped lately with a lot of irreproachable behaviour of the current human race,” moans Zgambo.


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