The Witch Doctor of Malawi


Malawi is, surprisingly, the most densely populated country in Africa. This feat is even more impressive when you take into account that Lake Malawi, at 29600 square kilometers, takes up about 50% of the country’s land mass. The lake separates the border between Malawi and Mozambique, and looks more like an ocean than a lake when you see it.
Our first campsite had a bar that had a stunning view of the lake. Although we were warned that the lake has both bad parasites and many fresh water crocodiles in it, that didn’t stop Kelsi and I from jumping in the water first thing in the morning the day we arrived (Although that victory was short lived when Kelsi had something brush by her leg, then saw bubbles, and the two of us came running out of the lake screaming as the woo girls hysterically laughed at us safely from shore).
On our first morning in Malawi we went to see the witch doctor. It was about a 20 minute walk through the village to get to his quaint little home. We sat out on some bamboo mats in his backyard and waited for his arrival. While we waited we were swarmed by locals. Young boys from the market came down to chat us up and sell their wares.
“Hello, my name is Vegemite. Would you like to buy some bracelets?”
“Hello, I’m John. I would like you to buy my wooden bottle openers”
Once again, most of the boys had strange nicknames that made it easier for tourists to remember them. They were nice guys, but refused to leave you alone without a purchase. We promised to check out their market stalls after the witch doctor meeting.
Then came the little kids. They were there for the entertainment; they obviously had so much fun clapping along to the witch doctor’s dance. They also loved meeting all the crazy muzungus. They grabbed at our sunglasses, tried to take hair elastics and shrieked with excitement when they saw a photo of themselves on our cameras. They were ADORABLE! I gave one little girl a hair elastic that was around my wrist and then realized I didn’t have 20 more to give to the other children.
The mood changed when the witch doctor arrived. He wore a red, dress-like outfit with a huge belt and anklets made of metal (maybe shell?) pieces that rattled when he walked. His hair stuck straight up out of his head band, he had a whistle in his mouth and a piece of burning log in his hand.
Bongo drummers began in the background, the kids in the audience clapped and the witch doctor began this strange shaky dance, combined with a few rhythmic blows on his whistle. He called up a couple of us that were watching to join him (I’d had enough of joining in local dances and so was glad I was passed). When everyone sat down again he continued to dance, but this time gave up the whistle. Instead he took a bite right out of the burning coals on the log he was holding. Omg. I didn’t even realize at first that’s what he’d done… Then he took another bite: the hot coals charring the sides of his mouth and lips black. All the while he danced and looked people intensely in the eyes as he went around the circle. It was eerie and amazing. Then, in just a short couple minutes, it was over and we were all left with this slightly uneasy feeling.
After the dance, he passed out potions: healing potions, love potions, hangover remedies, and all sorts of things in old resealed water bottles. We each got to smell them and pass them on to the next person as his translator described each potion to us.
When that was all over, we went one by one into his home and had our fortunes told. His home was very basic. The room we walked into was just mud walls, and a few low chairs on the floor. The witch doctor held your hand, looked you in the eyes and told you about your future, while the translator explained it all in English. For many people it was a broad “you will have a good trip, get married one day and have three children” and for others their predictions were much more detailed. Emily was a little more than disappointed that her boyfriend Robbo was predicted to have different children than her, but I think it’ll be okay for them in the end.
When everyone had their future’s told, we walked back to camp. Some of the children walked with us and ended up in peals of laughter as two of us held their hands and swung them all the way home between us (a favourite game of mine as a child).
Even though it was only a short couple hours, it was really neat to see the medicine man and healer of the people in Malawi. The witch doctor was definitely a Malawian experience not to be missed.










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