I am working on a new edition of a book entitled, William Murray of Nyasaland which should be released in a couple of months or so, Lord willing. The book is centered on the Rev. Dr. William Murray of the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) in South Africa who went to Malawi as a missionary in the late 1800’s. It’s an interesting read. One of the most remarkable things in the book is the transformation which the gospel has brought to Malawian life and culture. It’s quite powerful to see how far we have come as a people because of the gospel. I share with you this long excerpt from the book.
This was what life was like in Malawi before the arrival of the missionaries as reported by the then Evangelist Namoni Katengeza who became the first ordained minister in the Nkhoma Synod of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (C.C.A.P.):
The state of affairs was terrible because the Native chiefs were like roaring lions, – I mean the Angoni chiefs who had conquered the inhabitants of this country. They thought no more of killing people than one would think of killing a fowl and had no idea of the value of a man’s life, such as the Word of God teaches. The Angoni had conquered the Achewa of this country and looked upon them as slaves without any value. They showed them no mercy and if a man hated another and wanted him out of the way, he would accuse him of some crime before the headman, even if it was not true. It was useless for the accused to deny the accusation, – the headman simply had him put to death. If someone should accuse a man of being a mfiti, that is a sorcerer who eats human flesh, or of being a thief, then a small army, or “war” as they called it, was sent by the headman to seize all in that kraal, men, women and children, and to bring them back as prisoners, – not a soul might escape. Every man was killed and the women and children were sold as slaves. If a man had a wife with a pretty or attractive face, the Ngoni-chief would say: “It is not fitting for a slave to have such a pretty wife” and he would take her for himself. Her husband would be killed so that he might not find a way of recovering her or of poisoning the chief. Or suppose the headman had married a wife from a far-away kraal. If she visited her own kraal too frequently or stayed away too long, the headman would say: “She is insulting me” and he would send for her and her mother and would put them both to death. All such victims were done to death with assegais.
But the Angoni-headmen had another custom, namely that of the poison-cup, – Mwabvi. The chief would say: “I want to clear my country of mfiti and thieves and adulterers,” and would send for a mwabvi-doctor and his poison bag. Messengers would then be sent to all the kraals to summon his people to his headkraal to drink the poison-cup. Everyone had to be there on an appointed day and those who refused or fled were put to death unless they had a lawful reason for not coming. All present had to drink the poison-cup and if large numbers of them died, the chief and his indunas rejoiced and said that the country had now been cleansed of all its evil inhabitants. If parents were among those who died of the poison, the headman would give their children to the witchdoctor as payment. Those who escaped death by being able to vomit the poison were very happy because they could say: “We are good people who have not practised sorcery or done any other evil.”
Another means of testing people was boiling water. If a woman was accused of adultery and was ordered to appear before the headman and she denied the accusation, he would say: “Come back to-morrow morning early and we shall see if you are innocent.” On her return the following day, he would order a pot of water to be put on the fire and as soon as the water was very hot, she had to thrust her hand deep down in it. Should her hand show traces of burns the next day, she would be judged guilty and the man who had shared her sin would be brought and the two be put to death without mercy, as the tribe believed that if such people were allowed to live they would be the cause of an epidemic of small-pox or some other evil.
These Angoni customs resulted in the depopulation of the country and to-day there are many people who have lost their families and friends because of it.
To obtain clothing was also a reason for going to war. The first prisoner taken, – woman or child – belonged to the headman, but if more than one was taken, the headman would allow their captor to keep the others so that he could buy clothes for his wife and children. The Angoni looked upon captives as the money with which they could buy clothes, and the Arab slave-traders, who were the merchants of that time, bought these prisoners as slaves and carried them off to far distant countries. The currency in which they paid the Angoni for their slaves was clothing.
Such were the dreadful things in this country which were causing the extermination of the people before the Word of God was brought to them.
Why did the first missionaries encounter such terrific opposition? Because they wanted to put a stop to these wars and raids and opposed the poison-cup and the ordeal of boiling water. They told the headmen: “You must stop making war on each other because you are destroying your own nation. See how empty of inhabitants your own country has become!”
The result was that the Angoni headmen were bent on killing these messengers of God because they forbad these evil deeds and opposed them. But the Lord softened the hearts of some of the headmen who had influence, and not only they but also their great chief, CHIWERE, became the friend of the messengers of the Lord and did not betray them. (These extracts are taken from a missionary magazine, Die Koningsbode, Feb., 1931).
Look out for the book coming out in a couple of months. God bless!