A strange rumour swept across Mangochi early Tuesday alleging that a newborn baby in Makanjira village closer to the border with Mozambique had prophesized death of all children who could be spared only if all of them were given some porridge.
From as early as 1:00 am, in most parts of Mangochi residents started alerting each other on the rumour and the accompanying instructions and by 2 a.m. phone calls and text messages on the same had spread causing more panic as mothers rushed to kitchens to prepare porridge for their infants.
This Malawi News Agency (Mana) reporter woke up to the news at around 3 a.m. when a neighbour in Mwanyama Location knocked at his door to relay the ‘prophecy of doom’ and alert the reporter to prepare the said porridge for their child.
“It’s a must and everyone is doing it,” said the neighbour sounding desperately concerned. “They say someone received a phone call from a village in Makanjira closer to Mozambique that a newborn baby has given the instructions for parents to give all their children some porridge or risk death in an impending storm.”
He added: “According to the instructions, no salt or sugar should be added to the porridge; it should just be plain porridge.”
The time this scribe went out to assess the situation, the entire neighborhood was awake and people were making frantic calls to their relations within and beyond relaying the same message.
Random calls that Mana made to a number of locations namely, Mtalimanja, Kalonga, Chomba and Mpondasi yielded a similar situation of anxiety and that people had mobilized themselves and were carrying out the instructions to the letter.
Further random calls to areas outside Mangochi Boma such as Monkey Bay, Malindi, Makanjira and Namwera indicated the rumour had also reached them.
By day break, the instructions had changed, ordering adults too to take the porridge as they would not be spared by the disaster.
Although it had become a laughing matter now, many people Mana interacted with said they could not ignore the ‘prophecy.’
“We have taken the porridge; you never know what happens. If it’s a hoax, well, what do we lose? After all, we eat porridge sometimes, don’t we?” said one bicycle taxi operator, Cassim Juma.
Another woman, Shakira Bamusi, from the infamous M’baluku location said she had given all her three children the porridge and that, with the change in the instructions, she was rushing back to have some for herself.
Traditional Authority Makanjira, from whose area the matter allegedly originated told Mana in an interview the news spread like bush fire, pointing out that he did not believe it himself.
Chief Makanjira, however, confirmed that almost everyone in his area woke up at around 2a.m. to prepare and eat the porridge as per the instructions in the rumour.
“It’s all a rumour and nobody has tangible evidence as regards the origin of the message,” said chief Makanjira in an interview.
“The news was that in Mozambique a new-born baby had left that message before it had died and I can confirm that people have indeed eaten porridge last night in my area,” he said. “But I can’t confirm whether the news about the new-born baby in Mozambique is true or false.”
Makanjira said when he received the news at around 2a.m, he called TA Katuli and TA Jalasi who also had no clue as to where the rumour was coming from.
Unconfirmed reports indicate that later in the day the ‘porridge ritual’ also spread to some parts of the country such as Lilongwe, Karonga and Mchinji.