Namungumi

Variations: Nalumgumi; Liporo (possibly); Napolo (possibly)

The Namungumi or Nalumgumi, usually translated to “whale”, features in the initiation ceremonies of the Yao people of Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania.

Despite the “whale” designation, the namungumi pictured in the inyago ceremonies has four limbs. There is a stylized and ornamental webbing drawn between the limbs, and there are two knobs marking the juncture of the neck with the forelimbs and tail with the hindlimbs respectively. It has prominent tusks around its head. The entire body is crisscrossed with a complex grid pattern.

The namungumi lives in Lake Malawi. It would surface near a village, and the people could come and carve off chunks of meat from its vast body. This action was painless and the wounds healed immediately. The meat itself tasted different depending on where it came from – some areas on the namungumi’s body produced choice cuts, while others were practically inedible.

As an initiatory figure the namungumi represents water and kinship.

A similar creature, the Liporo of the Anyanja, is not as large. Its habits include killing hippos and tipping canoes. It is believed to be extinct. The Napolo is a similar flood-related water serpent.

References

Morris, B. (2000) Animals and Ancestors: An Ethnography. Berg Publishers, Oxford.

Stannus, H. (1919) The Wayao of Nyasaland. Harvard African Studies, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Nguluka

Variations: Siani

Nguluka

The Nguluka or Siani can be found in Malawi’s Chitipa district, specifically in the Mafinga Ridge and the Matipa Forest in the Misuku Hills. Anyone who sees it dies.

A nguluka is a flying snake that looks like a guineafowl, complete with feathers and wings. In fact, only its fanged head is that of a snake. It makes a crowing call that sounds like “yiio, yiio”.

Ngulukas live in caves and tree branches in the deep forest. Their lairs are strewn with the bones of their victims. These snakes feed on figs and like to roost in fig trees. They are most active at night, especially on moonlit nights when the figs ripen.

References

Hargreaves, B. J. (1984) Mythical and Real Snakes of Chitipa District. The Society of Malawi Journal, Vol. 37, No. 1, pp. 40-52.

Nyuvwira

Variations: Inifwira

Nyuvwira

The Nyuvwira is an enormous snake restricted to the Chitipa District of Malawi. It is found in association with minerals, especially precious minerals of monetary value. It can also be found in the mines of South Africa. It is known as Inifwira in Sukwa.

A nyuvwira has eight heads and is the largest snake in the world. It generates electricity and lights at night. It lives underground, which is fortunate as it is extremely toxic. When it moves (about every 200 years) it causes death and disaster. Airplanes flying over a nyuvwira crash.

The skin of a nyuvwira, held in one’s pocket, prevents planes from moving and is a powerful charm for wealth. To kill a nyuvwira one must construct a spiral hut and line it with razors, then entice the snake in by ringing bells. It will crawl over the razors and cut itself to death.

References

Hargreaves, B. J. (1984) Mythical and Real Snakes of Chitipa District. The Society of Malawi Journal, Vol. 37, No. 1, pp. 40-52.