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Over a hundred years ago a German nobleman lived here with only his pet ravens for company.


The Chikala Pillars – awesome and mysterious sandstone formations deep in the the trees at the foot of the verdantly-forested Chikala Hills were once rarely seen.

 


Now, they are easily accessible by vehicle and on foot. Visitors travel about 30 minutes north of Zomba via the Lake Chilwa road, turning at the prominent ‘Wetlands’ sign at Malosa township. About 15 minutes down the dirt road the road branches left at a strong right bend by a village centre. The track passes through villages and then bluegum plantations to the Forestry Station. From here there is a clear left fork leading to the Malawi army post, where visitors are able to arrange safe parking for their vehicles.The walk descends through beautiful Brachystegia forest to a shallow stream, which has to be waded, before passing through former forest areas cleared for cultivation to reach the pillars.


It’s a bit of a scramble down. And a bit of scouting around the ‘canyon area’ pays dividends. There are several shady ‘chapels’ within the area to examine and inspire.

 

The ‘pillars’ form due to puddles of crystals which protect the columns of grit underneath as the rains erode the surrounding unprotected areas. As the sides of the canyon erode and the crystal blocks tumble off, beautifully sculpted pinnacles remain. Owls roost in the recesses and owl pellets are easy to find.

 

 

In the early 20th century, things were different and Hans Coudenhove recorded them in his book ‘My African Neighbours’ published in 1925


The younger son of a titled German family, university-educated and familiar with the Berlin and Vienna court circles, he travelled to Africa in 1896 at 35 and left only once, briefly in 1898.

 

He never saw a plane, attended theatre only once in 26 years and eschewed a bed, preferring to sleep in a deck-chair. For five years he did not eat a meal with another human and went for months on end without seeing his fellow Europeans. But he ‘never missed a single one’ of the joys and comforts of European society. Even in Coudenhove’s day at Chikala he noted the problem of ‘deforestation which is now progressing with inexorable regularity, to procure space for plantations’.

 

He lived here for over six months in a house previously uninhabited for almost 10 years, 20 miles from the ‘nearest whites’ and the nearest Yao village some distance away.
The house was brick, with a corrugated iron roof, verandah and bow windows, and previously housed a tax collector. Only the beautiful fireplace of carved cedar remained intact, though rose bushes still flourished in front of the verandah and the grove of mango trees behind the house remained.

 

It was 2000 ft above the plain and surrounded on three sides by an ‘amphitheatre of hills’, which form part of the Chikala Range. There he enjoyed the company of his two pet ravens, Grip and Nevermore, with whom he formed ‘a solid friendship’. Regularly in February when the maize was ripening, he saw a couple of lions cross the hills from the north to hunt wild pig which leave the forests to feed in the fields.
Though lions no longer inhabit the area, there is beautiful scenery and flora to enjoy en route.

 

 

Some of Coudenhove’s observations


About dogs
Among some tribes the licking clean of human ulcers is, as in the Old Testament, a recognized and admitted part of a dog’s duties. The most startling of the various uses to which he is put exists among the Wangoni, where he has to replace with his tongue the baby’s morning tub! This is done quite as a matter of course. The mother, sometimes helped by the father, holding the baby, while the dog conscientiously accomplishes his duty. The babies do not seem to mind it much and struggled mildly as babies will do when they object to being washed.’


About provisioning
It is quite useless to try to give natives extras. The more sugar and tea you give them, the quicker they finish it. They have no conception of husbanding provisions and are never satisfied or grateful.’


About Chikala mountain
The slope of the mountain inhabited by the hyraxes is visited temporarily and alternately by a large herd of yellow baboons and black monkeys. These monkeys are beautiful creatures with hair almost black and the full grown adults nearly the size of a female baboon – their skin and flesh much in demand. On the top of the range live a couple of leopards.’
He could tell when there had been a successful kill, usually of a baboon, as ‘ my two ravens, which live in the forest not far from the leopard’s lair, make no appearance at early breakfast, as they invariably do otherwise, but stay away till noon and then show little appetite.’


About mongooses
A few years ago I was living in a house to which the rays of the setting sun came, at one single spot in the uninhabited back part of the house. A small mongoose that I had, although it hated to be alone, went there by itself every day when twilight was near, and lying down on the verandah watched the sunset.


As soon as it was gone, she would quietly come back into the house and go to sleep.
As long as I lived in that house she never once missed the sunset. Before she died, a few years later, she laboriously climbed up to the thatched roof of a hut where I was then living, by a kind of staircase I had erected, and gave a long, last look at the sun. Then she came down again, with great difficulty, and died.


About mosquito prevention
In Mposa’s village at the foot of the Chikala Range. In the rains, they keep men walking about with beating drums far into the night, so as to be prevented from going to sleep early. They are being kept awake until sleep really overpowers them and by then there is a chance of being able to outsleep the stinging of the bites.’


In one of his homes, near standing water, ‘I gave orders that no spider webs were to be destroyed in the house and not a single spider (bui bui) killed. When the second rainy season started, triangular spider webs stretched, one above the other, at intervals of about 10 inches from top to bottom in every corner of every room and the roof was plastered with them inside.


‘The dwelling now looked, to put it mildly, a bit untidy. But during the whole of that rainy season, which was exceptionally severe, I never once put up the mosquito curtain and not a single mosquito made its appearance.’

 

 

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