In ancient Afrika, there was an empire known as the Maravi Kingdom, ruled by Chief Nzelu of the Lomwe Tribe. She had six children, and her third and most curious daughter was Nanzi. Nanzi’s curiosity often led her far from the boundaries of her tribe, in spite of being repeatedly punished.

One day, when Nanzi was miles from her village and waist deep in the Shire River exploring river slugs, a young man from the Ngoni tribe saw her. She was the most beautiful woman in the Maravi kingdom, with skin browner than smooth cocoa beans, kinky hair in twists that touched her shoulders, and curves the moon envied.

“I’ve never seen anyone take such interest in river slugs,” said the young man. Nanzi turned, startled and smiled when she saw the strong handsome man, skin like the ripest mulberry, playful eyes that reflected her own curiosity.

“There aren’t any downstream,” she replied, tilting her head, her twists falling behind her ear like a curly waterfall.

“Where is your home, Beautiful One?”

“I rode here on my okapi from Thyolo, Strange One.”

“You call me strange yet you ride an okapi! I am jealous by the way.”

Nanzi laughed. “Perhaps I can teach you to ride… for a fee.”

“I’ll pay anything.”

“Tell me all about your river slugs.”

“No. The price is too low. I will teach you everything about my land.” He perched on the river bank. “My name is Kambe…”

Nanzi and Kambe spent many days by the river, sharing stories of their tribes. When she returned home, she spoke of nothing else with her sisters. Soon the Chief heard got word and called for her daughter.

“Nanzi, when you wander, you risk capture by enemies. You could be held for ransom if they learn you are royalty,” she began.

“I don’t-“

The Chief raised her hand. “Do not interrupt me.” Her quiet voice, struck dread into Nanzi. “We have been at war with the Ngoni Tribe for generations. You cannot see him again.”

“But moth-“

“Hush!” Now her anger was clear. “There are things you do not yet understand which affect more than your careless heart. You are royalty, you must marry wisely.”

Nanzi’s heart broke. She ran into the forest, weeping, and the Chief let her go to return in her own time. But Nanzi didn’t return for a whole moon cycle.

The Chief sent scouts to every corner of the capital in search of her. A witness soon came forward and told a horrifying story of a great beast, part snake, part elephant, which had taken Nanzi up to Mulanje Mountain. Her daughter had been taken not by a rival tribe, but by a Grootslang, a creature known for stealing and hoarding things of beauty. The Chief struck her spear deep into a stone and wailed in grief. She called upon the bravest warriors in the Maravi kingdom to rescue her daughter and be rewarded with her hand in marriage.

After many failed, Kambe came forward. When the Chief learned who he was, she almost had him executed.

“Wait! Let me try. My tribe are fierce warriors. And we have seen many strange things. You have little to lose, Mfumu.” He spoke desperately as the royal guard tried to pull him away.

The Chief raised her hand and addressed him. “Ngoni, you may attempt to rescue my daughter. But send word to your people that your death will not be the fault of the Lomwe.”

“I accept.”

“And,” her lips tightened. “Should you succeed, you cannot marry her. You may be rewarded in other ways.”

Kambe agreed, but had hope he could change her mind. He prepared himself for the journey by learning about Mulanje Mountain from a spirit healer. She guided him as far as the base of the mountain, and told him how to get to the highest peak named Sapitwa. “I have asked the spirits not to harm you.” Before she turned away, she added, “Do you know what Sapitwa means, Ngoni?”

“I do, ma.”

“Then you are a fool.” And she was gone. Sapitwa; where no man should go.

Kambe climbed through the forest. He appeased the spirits by offering them beer and food. By evening, he reached a pool with a small waterfall named Dziwe la Nkhalamba where he rested on the flat rocks.

At night, he was awoken by Nanzi’s voice. He looked around for her until he peered into the pool’s gently rippling water. There he saw her face instead of his own reflection.

“Nanzi… how?”

“An enchanted mirror… listen, there is no time! I only want to say; turn back now.”

“I am coming to rescue you.”

“I do not want you! I would rather die than marry a Ngoni man.”

Kambe was silent as his eyes widened. By some miracle, he found words to speak again. “You don’t mean that.”

“I do. Ngoni’s are stubborn, dull, disrespectful-“

“Nanzi!”

“Let a more worthy man come. Not you.”

Kambe’s throat tightened. “You’ve been bewitched…”

“Listen to me. Do I sound bewitched?”

Kambe sighed. “No.”

“Then you know I mean it. You disgust me.” Her image was broken by the waves, replaced with Kambe’s own dumbfounded expression. He had once been stabbed in the ribs in battle – he would choose that pain over this any day.

He cried out and flung a stone into the pool. Turning, he climbed down the hill, but found that with every step, his chest tightened. He could not leave her. Much as she despised him, he knew that the absolute only thing worse than her cruel rejection was losing her to death. Reluctantly he climbed again, hating every foolish step he took. He would let the ungrateful woman live to marry whomever she wanted.

He reached the top of the highest peak, where two large rocks stood like a rabbit’s ears. He stepped through the gap between the rocks and everything was strange. Instead of on top of a mountain range, he emerged in a dimly lit cave.

He cursed his own foolishness for the fiftieth time. Taking caution he saw a huge dark shadow, rising and falling. The Grootslang. It was curled below a mountain of treasure. He snuck around it, searching for Nanzi. She was sitting against a large mirror with her head bowed low, her twists tied up, save two which dropped in front of her face. He watched her as if seeing her for the first time again. She looked up with tears streaming down her face.

“No… not you, no…” she whispered.

“I know that I disgust you,” murmured Kambe. “But no one else is coming and-”

Nanzi shook her head miserably. “Don’t you see, Kambe? The beast will kill you. I broke your heart so you could live!”

Kambe’s world ceased to spin as he realized she loved him more than her own life. He pulled her to him and they embraced, then she kissed him through her waterfall of tears. He held her shoulders and looked into her eyes. “Let us both live. Tell me everything you know…”

The Grootslang’s weaknesses were the end of its snake tail and a blind spot created by a horn dead-centre between its elephant eyes. Nanzi climbed onto the horn, then Kambe stabbed the tail hard, waking the beast up with a screeching roar. It spun around, and launched down at him. As it did, he jumped up and Nanzi caught him.

They held on tightly to the horn, completely invisible, yet right in front of its face… It slithered towards the rabbit ear stones, but before it went through, Nanzi pulled a fruit out of Kambe’s bag and threw it into a deep pool. The Grootslang sped towards it while the heroes struggled to hold on. Kambe signaled for them to let go. They got out of the way just as the Grootslang stabbed its horn into the water. They ran to the gateway, as something strong began wrestling the monster in the water…

With one leap they were on Sapitwa Peak again. They caught their breaths, watching the fading stars and the coming dawn bathe the land for miles around. Nanzi reached out and held Kambe’s hand and they smiled.

The Chief was so grateful that she blessed their union happily. Kambe proclaimed that he would only have her if Nanzi accepted. They courted, until Nanzi accepted to marry Kambe. In their years together they built a Centre of Wisdom where people from all tribes could exchange knowledge from around the kingdom, thus creating a lasting peace between the Ngoni and the Lomwe.

The tale of their escape from the Grootslang became legend, told by parents to their children, then their grandchildren. The crafty chameleon was named ‘nanzikambe’, for its skills in hiding from sight.

The Grootslang was defeated by a giant spirit water snake that would later be known as Napolo… ah, that is another story.

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26 thoughts on “The Chief’s Daughter, The Warrior and The Grootslang

  1. I am Malawian, but that doesn’t mean I have to vote for a story that is obviously average (and that’s a compliment). It seems to have been written for a children, and even they would be hard pressed to enjoy it. The writer simplifies the significance of tribal names and mythology in the country, and equally tosses about geographical names.
    Nanzi is a rather unrealistic character, especially in the moment when she refuses to be rescued by the despicable Ngoni man. “I broke your heart so you could live”. Seriously?
    The Grootslang could have been an original introduction, if it hadn’t been ripped from South African mythology.
    There’s a chameleon introduced somewhere at the end of the story, for no logical reason.
    What Mvundula has done is to make a rather shoddy job of drawing from Malawian myth and history to come up with this rather disappointing piece.
    Finally, the theme is romance. How much of that is in the story? How much of it seems true? Perhaps if the theme had been fantasy, it would have stood a chance.

    1. A bit harsh there Sidney, but yes, this comment sounds like a personal attack. The tone is unnecessary and mean from this anonymous commenter.

      Methinks one of your competitors doesn’t like you Ekari! That means you’re doing something right!

      Well done on a great piece Ekari!

    2. “Kill yourself” is totally uncalled for. The reviewer is entitled to his or her opinion.

      On the other hand, I also don’t agree with the review. This is a story written in the style of a myth or folktale with archetypal characters, and there’s a long and honorable tradition of such writing. Tolkien’s Silmarillion is one example.

      Also, it’s not “ripping off” South African mythology to include a grootslang. Cultures are not islands. Since the beginning of history, people from different cultures have traded, fought, intermarried and migrated, and in the process, they have adopted and borrowed each other’s legends. There’s no reason why a grootslang might not exist in a fantasy Malawi or why the legends of another Malawi might not include one. The blending of legends is good storytelling, not bad.

      Ekari’s work is obviously not to your taste, and as you know there are no arguments in matters of taste, but it’s a well-written, imaginative and inspiring story.

  2. I love that this story feels like a folktale that has been passed on for generations even though it is an original and new story <3.
    A story for everyone, who says romance has to be adult orientated or placed under a specific other genre?

  3. That flip side of success rears its head… The more people I show my story, the more likely I am to get criticism. Sometimes very harsh criticism. I knew this going in, I’ve seen every one of my hero authors go through it. The more exposed our work is the more of a target we are. People who don’t approve of fiction and want everyone to write historical fact. People who don’t like my style of writing. All these people can and will attack my work on a level which feels personal. I have to remind myself that it is not, that they are entitled to their views, that maybe I can even learn from them how to grow as a writer. But it’s hard. I’m not made of stone.

    Despite that, the one thing that gets me through even the harshest criticism is knowing that my work has touched someone’s life. So I want to thank every one of you who have expressed joy at my work which represents a piece of my soul immortalised in words. I write firstly for myself, but I publish for YOU. I put myself out there risking hurtful criticism because I know about people who were pulled from the edge of darkness by a mere BOOK. For those who have awoken to a new possibility because of something I wrote (“But she’s a woman/African/young like me! If she can, I can…”), for those whose day brightened a little by reading my stories… I need your positive feedback, I need to know that I’m putting good into the world. Thank you sincerely for that.

    For those who do criticise I thank you too for taking time to read and reflect on my work even if it wasn’t your cup of tea. However, I hope you learn how to give constructive criticism which doesn’t discourage beginner writers from continuing to write. Every writer comes from somewhere and has room to grow and we are also human. Keep that in mind. I’m talking as someone who HAS and does often critique other writer’s work which I feel has problems. It’s not a bad thing to tell someone where they could improve. But please, do it with humanity and in considering that maybe this writer has tried their very best to seek the reader’s approval and they are shy and unsure and maybe your one comment is enough for them to believe they aren’t good enough to write at all. I have counseled many young writers who wanted to quit until I told them they have permission to make mistakes as they learn, just like everyone else. I read my writing from 10 years ago and I’m appalled and embarrassed but also amazed how far I’ve come. I’m still growing.

    That said, I am not apologising for this story, I am proud of what I have achieved in a mere 7 days, not compared to other writers, but compared to my past writing capability. My short story “Montague’s Last” took me a few years of rewriting and research to get it to a level that I was happy with. More time, more research would obviously do this story good, but we have what we have.

    Having been taught before by Steve Chimombo’s wife, and heard the stories of Napolo read by her, I would like to believe he would allow me to meet him and discuss what he thought of my work, and I would ask him where I could improve – just as I ask every writer I admire.

    That is all, have a good day and keep participating in the competition, keep reading our work and keep giving feedback!

    1. 👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾 very inspirational, perfect example of a pioneer of our generation. Leading the way by example of how to deal with negative criticism.

  4. A student of Steve Chimombo’s wife representing Malawi in a writing competition! Its inspiring to see that this gift can be passed on in many ways. Well done, and that’s a lovely story. I am sure he would be proud.

  5. I love this story but not so much the telling of it. Wish you had paid more attention to lyricism which this kind of story obviously needs

  6. Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful… I enjoyed reading, tnx, as I felt the Presence of a calm atmosphere,like one of those tales by moonlight… I love every bit of this Piece…*Oya keep on Writing, nd keep on Motivating young writers with ur works*

  7. Love the story line,the negative criticism is all part of a great writer like you,you’ll go far my dear!

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