Gona Pamhanya festival, other matters


The festival commemorating the founder of Chikulamayembe Paramountcy in Rumphi this year ended on a worse note than the last year’s one. If I remember correctly, last year, a leader of an opposition party said something at the festival to which Grace Chiumia, who was representing the President, had to respond.

This year’s Gona Pamhanya festival ended in violence and indirectly contributed to the loss of one woman’s life. This was unfortunate. Traditional loyal festivals of this sort in this country started among the Mazongendaba Ngoni in Mzimba.

In 1956, Amon Mhabi Jele celebrated his golden jubilee having ascended his father’s throne as Mthwalo II in 1896. It was a big festival. The former district commissioner of Mzimba W.H.T Rangely contributed a bull to the festival.


The second festival took place in 1959 at the Mabili loch near Loudon or Embangweni Mission in south Mzimba. It was sponsored by the Inkosi ya Makhosi M’mbelwa II to commemorate 125 years since his great grandfather Zwangendaba arrived there in 1839 from what now is called Kwa Zulu Natal, having lost a battle against King Shaka, the Zulu King. The festival was also meant to recall the anniversary of M’mbelwa I who was born at Mabili either in 1839 or 1840.

I fail to recollect what festivals M’mbelwa III held but his son Zwangedaba Junior, who was installed as M’mbelwa IV, staged annual festivals to which he invited his half-brother Paramount Chief Mpezeni of the Chipata Ngoni in Zambia. Mpezeni also started holding his own to which he could invite M’mbelwa and his makhosi (chiefs). Later, invitations were extended to the successors of Zulu Gama paramount chief of the Ngoni of Songeya in southern Tanzania.

Later, we began to hear of festivals among the Maseko Ngoni of Ntcheu to which they reciprocated by inviting M’mbelwa IV who incidentally was their son-in-law. The festival among the Mazongendaba is called Umthetho (respect) while that among the Maseko is called Umhlangano, which means assembly or getting together. The Mpezeni Ngoni opted for the Swazi term Incwala.


Presently, we began to hear also of the Chewa festival Kulamba, the Lhomwe Mhlakho and then Gona Pamhanya (one who sleeps under the hot sun).

I have often been asked what significance these royal festivals have and I have answered that they have two main purposes: first, to give people the chance to relax and enjoy themselves after several months of toiling in the fields. There is time to work and there must be time to sing and dance.

The second purpose of the festivals is to remind the people that they have common roots; they are one despite divisive elements among them. Before the coming of missionaries, Africans were never divided on religious grounds. By worshiping God through your ancestors did not mean you belonged to a distinct group. But Christianity introduced churches which separated people from each other.

Secondly, the advent of multiparty politics has introduced divisions among the people. The divisions have been manifested at Gona Pamhanya due to irreverent motives of politicians.

It was wrong for some people at Gona Pamhanya festival to attend the occasion wearing political party uniforms because this reminded everyone of divisions among them due to politics. The Umthetho, Umhlangano and Muhlakho celebrators wear traditional garments and regalia. We have seen them in pictures.

The Themba la Mathemba should identify Tumbuka traditional dress and this is what people should wear at such occasions; otherwise, they should just wear trousers and dresses. Before the day of the festival, there should be civil education of the people.

Politicians of whatever parties please do not hijack these occasions; you spoil them. Let the people enjoy themselves while temporarily forgetting that they belong to other institutions.


Some political reforms are definitely required in Malawi where democracy is a road under construction. What puzzles me is that people are obsessed with the recall of a Member of Parliament (MP) which is already taking place under the five-yearly elections. Whoever during the five years has not performed to the satisfaction of the constituency is not re-elected. That is recall enough.

The suggestion of recalling an MP before he or she has completed the full five years is fraught with difficulties. What will be the criterion for judging someone as a failure? Because they have not brought a project, fertilisers, bought coffins or given lifts to those who want to visit hospital? All these have been reasons advanced by some people who have grumbled against their MP. Some people will campaign for someone’s recall out of mere jealousy, and there is no shortage of jealousy in our politics.

Besides, will it involve the Minister of Finance having to make too many supplementary provisions for by-elections? Elections though necessary do not add anything to the amount of wealth. It is just like playing football. It adds nothing to the Gross Domestic Product. Are those who advance recall prepared to meet at least 90 percent of the costs? If they are not, then they must drop the idea. The government does not have enough money for superfluous purposes.

Let us focus on the 50+1 basis for election of presidents. We must have presidents who have mandates from at least half the electorate. This is greater democracy. We must have a law on the funding of political parties. Some wealthy people are corrupting our democracy with their opulence.

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