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.

Makalala

The single reference to the Makalala comes from an account written by Fischer, who attributes it to the Wasegua or Wasequa of Tanzania. These people live some 8-9 days’ journey inland from Zanzibar, with Fischer hearing of the makalala during a stay in Bagamojo and a visit to the Nguru Mountains. Fischer’s observations were summarized and repeated by Marschall under the title “Problematic bird”.

A makalala is an enormous bird, standing taller than an ostrich, with very long legs. Its head and beak are those of a bird of prey. Its wings end in plates of a compact, horny substance, which make a lot of noise when struck against each other – hence its name, which means “noisemaker”. It is a powerful flyer and feeds on carrion.

For all its size, a makalala is a very skittish, shy bird. The only way to come close enough to kill it is to feign death, and when the makalala approaches, the hunter can spring to life and knock it down.

Chiefs of the Wasegua wear makalala skulls as helmets. Fischer also saw in Zanzibar a baleen-like object tapering from 20 cm to 1.5 cm, and with a thickness of 0.5 cm, but did not believe at the time that it came from a bird.

References

Fischer, G. A. (1878) Briefliche Reiseberichte aus Ost-Afrika, III. Journal für Ornithologie, XXVI(6), pp. 268-297.

Marschall, C. (1879) Comptes-rendus zoologiques. Bulletin de la Société Philomathique de Paris, 7(3), pp. 169-181.