Friday, 3 August 2012

The Kasiyamaliro, consoler of souls

The Kasiyamaliro is the Great Mother of Gule Wamkulu and probably the most important Nyau. It is said to be the principle Nyau, symbolizing the mother ancestor. Serving as the consoler of souls and of transition, it is almost omnipresent at every performance such as Chewa initiations thus signifying its importance.  And it is of ancient origins such that Zaire cave paintings dating back 992 C.E have depicted the Kasiyamaliro.

The Kasiyamaliro is an ancestral spirit, an antelope of pure and ancient origins. It’s said to have arisen from the pure, white serene waters of the deep underground pool from which the Chewa spirits come from, the depths of the world.  Beneath the belly which it shuffles on is the abyss of the world, the womb of the Great ancestral Mother and the grave. 

Its name means 'to leave the funeral' and it plays an important role at the completion of the funeral ceremony as it accompanies the dead to the grave. It may dance around the house or be taken into it and this is believed to absorb the spirit of the deceased. It channels the deceased member into the ancestral spirit world with aid of the mask. Its horns and dramatic arches of its back emphasize is duality, its Ying and Yang function. The spirit embodies qualities of angelic and demonic entities, the womb and the tomb, life and death.

One similar ancient deity would be the Egyptian icon of Anubis. Though portrayed as a Jackal, he had a similar role as the Kasiyamaliro. He had a funeral role as well as protection of the deceased for their journey into the afterlife. He was also guardian of the scales of balance, the similar Ying Yang role.

The Kasiyamaliro is portrayed as an antelope, probably impala, kudu or eland. It may be up to 2 meters high with a trough in the middle of its back often covered in dried woven maize husks, these mask forms are the first to appear in performances to remember the deceased, as a sign that the deceased have now joined the sprits and ancestors. Similar to the way the boy is born into the womb of this ancient antelope, the deceased will similarly be reborn during the luminal period which follows death, led by the same spirit that gave birth to him.

The Kasiyamaliro is burned after returning from the grave, and its smoke that disappears into the air signifies that the deceased has crossed the realms and become an ancestral spirit.