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Khulubvi And Associated Mbona Sacred Rain Shrines

Date of Submission: 01/02/2011
Criteria: (iii)(v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Malawi National Commission for UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Coordinates: S16 55 0 E16 00
Ref.: 5602

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Shrines and sacred sites in Malawi have been in existence since 1500 A.D. They were used by our ancestors to offer sacrifices to their Mphambe (God) in times of drought or other calamities. These sites are spatially located in different areas throughout Malawi.

Khulubvi Sacred Shrine

Khulubvi sacred shrine is located in Nsanje District, in the lower Shire Valley in Southern Region of Malawi, It is an important spiritual place among the people of Mang'anja tribe. It is a place where the Mang'anja worship the spirit of Mbona. According to Mang'anja oral tradition, Mbona was a legendary figure with super human powers who lived in the area during the rise of the Lundu Kingdom. Mbona is said to have had magic powers of bringing rain, creating wells of water on sandy lands, creating forests where they did not exist and hiding from enemies by turning into other creatures such as guinea fowls.

It is said that Mbona's uncle Mlauli, who was also a magician envied his nephew and wanted to kill Mbona. Mlauli, however, failed to kill Mbona because he wished to die on his own by telling Mlauli and his enemies to cut his throat with a leaf of a reed after other weapons had failed to harm him. His head was cut and placed at Khulubvi sacred groove, where the shrine exists today. People who knew his magic works began coming to the place periodically to worship the spirit of Mbona. A traditional hut within Khulubvi natural thicket of approximately 100 square metres was constructed as a worshipping site.

From this site, other sacred sites sprouted where people gather to worship the spirit of Mbona. These include Nyandzikwi sacred site on the junction of Bangula and Maraka road in group village headman Lundu in Nsanje District. Another sacred site is Mwala U1I1odzi shrine which is located near Mgwiriza Village within Thangadzi River course in the same area. A rock outcrop inside the river has made the place to be popularly known as Mwala U1I1odzi, (one rock). It is said that at one time Mbona seated on this rock and left buttock imprints commonly known as 'Mbona's buttocks'. Kaloga sacred cave site is another shrine located within the area located near Kanyimbi village in Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve. At this place sacrifices were offered when there were drought, diseases, heavy winds and other calamities.

Chifunda Lundu is another site within this area associated with the worship of the spirit of Mbona. It is said that Mbona rested there as he was coming form Kaphirintiwa to establish his own capital at Mbewe ya Mitengo (the present day headquarters of Paramount Chief Lundu). In the past, whenever the installation of a new chief took place, he was supposed to be anointed at Chifunda Lundu before going to Mbewe ya Mitengo. At this place, there are remains of imprints called 'phazi la Mbona' (Mbona's foot).

Nkhadzi sacred site is located in the area of group village head man Ngabu in Nsanje district. This site is under a big baobab tree. This sacred site is looked after by T.A. Ngabu and his people. The chief offers sacrifices whenever there are problems in the area, especially sickness and misfortunes. It is believed that this shrine serves as a pathway of Mbona when he intends to visit ChiefNgabu's house, and his first stage is under this baobab tree and he walks a distance of 30 metres, he rest at an acacia tree, then he goes into ChiefNg'abu's house. There is a room inside the chiefs house where it is said consultations with Mbona take place.

Mtsakana rain shrine is in the vicinity of group village headman Zimara, T.A. Maseya in Chikhwawa District. The site is located within the thick vegetative cover of which was mainly used as a graveyard. This site was used as a sacrificial shrine to honour the spirits of the people who had died in the area. According to historical accounts, when one died in the area, all his/her belongings were taken to a place called Phu1I1ulo (resting place) for nobody could use them any longer. Then the village later organized a remembrance ceremony to the deceased person, offering beer as tribute, while praying to Mbona. A hut called Kachisi was later built at this site for this purpose of worship and sacrifices.

Konde Dzimbiri rain shrine is located in the area of sub T.A. Mphuka in Chikhwawa District. It is said that the ancestors of current chief Changata, who were Mang'anja and relatives of Lundu, established Konde Dzimbiri as their place of worshipping Mbona. These people came to establish sub chieftainship in the Thyolo area between Chikokoto and Masekese rivers. They built a worshipping hut called Kachisi. The site contains pots remains which were left at the site after offering sacrifices.

All these sacred shrines, are therefore, related to Khulubvi sacred shrine within Khulubvi thicket, with Mbona as a central divine figure of worship.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Spiritual Value

These sites are used for traditional religions for divine worship and powers for communicating with spirits of Mbona. In some of these sacred sites, traditional prayers are traditionally conducted by offering sacritices when there is drought and other calamities.

Social/Cultural Value

The sacred sites attract wide range of people from different cultures to perform various traditional practices and expressions such as initiation for young boys. These sites are embedded with traditional cultures where a variety of people gather to offer sacritices in form of beer and other food stuffs. People from different communities gather millet that is used to brew beer to be used during the day of ceremony. Particular traditional songs are sang during the day seeking assistance from spirit of Mbona.

Historical Value

The existence of traditional ceremonies that take place at the site serves as a living heritage and continues to enrich the history of Malawi. These sites were used by our ancestors to offer sacrifices when these areas face various calamities or misfortune such as rampant drought, too much locusts and acute diseases. The presence of holed pots is a clear testimony that the site was used by our ancestors.

Scientific Value

Since these sacred sites are within thick forests, they are very important for bio-diversity and sources of medicinal plants. The sites also offers great opportunities for scholars and researchers to conduct their historical, anthropological and archaeological research whereby linking the social-cultural settings from the past to the present day life.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The attributes of Khulubvi sacred site and other related Mbona Shrines still maintain its original form and initial design. The Khulubvi-Mbona shrines within the sacred grove are maintained regularly using the original locally made materials collected from the thicket. Some sites are regularly used by communities to offer sacrifices to the spirit of Mbona when there are calamities and for thanks-giving in times of plenty. The local communities still respect the local traditional norms and beliefs when performing traditional rituals at the shrines.

In addition, the local communities surrounding these related sacred sites, maintain the original social / cultural values, spiritual values and historical values. When conducting sacrificial ceremonies, it is prohibited to put on shoes or any other clothes and anything considered modern. Local elders and Chiefs who are custodians of the sites make sure that this is abiden and enforced to avoid bringing bad lucky to the society.


The attributes of Khulubvi sacred site and other related Mbona shrines are very intact as it was during the time of Mbona. The site values have been maintained by the communities practicing the cultural traditions as it was in the past. Khulubvi sacred thicket, where the main shrine is located, has been preserved in its original state since destruction of any vegetation and hunting animals is strictly prohibited and is regarded as a taboo. No encroachment has taken place around Khulubvi sacred grove.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Khulubvi sacred site is similar in nature with Mijikenda Sacred Forest World Heritage Site in Kenya and Osho oshobo Sacred World Heritage Site in Nigeria. The Mijikenda Kaya Forests consist of 1I separate forest sites spread over some 200 km along the coast containing the remains of numerous fortified villages, known as kayas, of the Mijikenda people. The kayas are now regarded as the abodes of ancestors and are revered as sacred sites and, as such, are maintained as by councils of elders. The site is inscribed as bearing unique testimony to a cultural tradition and for its direct link to a living tradition.

The dense forest of the Osun Sacred Grove, on the outskirts of the city of Osogbo, is one of the last remnants of primary high forest in southern Nigeria. Regarded as the abode of the goddess of fertility Osun, one of the pantheons of Yoruba gods, the landscape of the grove and its meqndering river is dotted with sanctuaries and shrines, sculptures and art works in honour of Osun and other deities. The sacred grove is now seen as a symbol of identity for all Yoruba people, is probably the last in Yoruba culture. It testifies to the once widespread practice of establishing sacred groves outside all settlements.

However, Khulubvi sacred site stand out because of its form and setting and the living tradition which is very unique in the whole southern Africa. These sites are used for traditional religions for divine worship and powers for communicating with spirits of Mbona. In some of these sacred sites, traditional prayers are conducted by offering sacrifices when there is drought and other calamities.