- Laurence Libin
Unique drum of the Nyanja/Chewa people of the Kasungu district, Malawi. It is used in rain-making rites. The cylindrical wooden body has geometric designs on the side reminiscent of rock paintings of the BaTwa Pygmies, and it is thought that the drum might originally have belonged to that people. The body contains rattling elements, said to be human teeth, inserted through a hole in the side. The two heads are made from varan lizard skin. The mbiriwiri formerly resided in a hut at a rain shrine at Msinja, resting on two poles and covered with dark cloth. Every year it was oiled. It was removed only to be beaten at the start of the rainmaking ceremony or for repairs. Only a special functionary (tsang’oma, ‘drum beater’) was allowed to handle it. Another functionary provided new skin for the heads when needed. Reportedly, when invaders sacked the shrine in the 1860s the ...