Ndalama Ngahapa Paul Komba
Paul Ndalama Ngahapa was born at Songea, Ruvuma region in Tanzania around the year 1871 at a time when slavery was commonplace. A Ngoni by birth, he was named Ngahapa. His father, Komba, had two wives. Ngahapa’s mother was the first wife but Komba did not like her very much because he thought that she was bewitching his second wife who had had two miscarriages. Consequently their relationship was rather chaotic.
One day Komba secretly arranged to sell her as a slave to an Arab slave trader who came to Songea from Kilwa. The slave trader bought her with her child, Ngahapa, who was only two years old and still suckling. Shortly after leaving for Kilwa, the slave caravan was met by Komba’s younger brother (Ngahapa’s uncle) who begged the slave trader to free his sister-in-law. In fact, Ngahapa’s uncle was a friend of the slave trader and was involved in selling people into slavery to Arabs.
The slave trader agreed to set them free and Ngahapa’s uncle took his sister-in-law and her son back to his brother who absolutely refused to take her back, saying that if she stayed he would sell her again into slavery. As a result, Ngahapa’s uncle took in mother and child and married his sister-in-law. He lived twelve kilometres from his elder brother.
One day when Ngahapa was twelve, he went to fetch water at the river where a crocodile attacked him. The crocodile broke his hand and dragged him to her cave where she had ten young. Ngahapa pretended to be dead and when the crocodile saw this, she left for another hunt. Now Ngahapa was brave and had learned from his parents how to escape from a crocodile. So when he woke up he killed all of the young crocodiles and quickly swam out of the cave. When he had almost reached the riverbank, he saw the crocodile swimming towards him. Fortunately Ngahapa had a headstart and managed to escape a dangerous and angry crocodile. When he got home he was treated with African medicine and soon recovered from his wounds.
At age fifteen, Ngahapa ran away from home to Mount Livingstone at Rudewa village (now a district). Then he went to Nselya in Rungwe district where he found Germans camped out who allowed him to work there. When the African worker in charge found out that Ngahapa was a Ngoni like himself, he asked the Germans to make him a shamba boy (one who works in the garden). Later the Germans left Nselya and moved to Masoko to build the small government district offices. The district headquarters was at Langenburgh (Tukuyu).
As Ngahapa was brave and worked hard, the Germans made him tax clerk. During this time the people nicknamed him Ndalama because in Nyakyusa, Ndalama means “one who likes or is after money”–an appropriate name for a tax collector.
Some time later Ndalama married a woman from Kiwira Rungwe. As she was barren, she advised Ndalama to marry her younger sister, which he did.
The Germans finished building the government district offices at Tukuyu and Moravian church buildings at Rungwe in 1907. When they decided to go to Utengule, Mbeya to build the Moravian church buildings there and the district government buildings at Idugumbi, Mbeya they took Ngahapa along with them and he lived at Utengule. This is when he married his third wife.
Ngahapa was a medicine man. He was also a womanizer and a troublemaker in his village and the neighboring villages. He was very superstitious and killed many people by putting poison in their food or in traditional beer. When travelers–especially those going to Mbibwe, Saza, or the Lupa Gold Mines in Chunya district in Tanzania–passed by his house at Mbalizi (and later at Utengule), he welcomed them into his house and prepared food and drink for them. But because he was so wicked, he poisoned their food and drink, and many of them died or became seriously dehydrated.
Ngahapa was intelligent, very clever, and very cruel, and people feared him. No one dared stand up to him or oppose him. But at the same time he was a good African healer. Two of his sons– Nasobile at Utengule and Joseph at Chunya–inherited his art of healing by African medicine.
One day Ngahapa was stricken with a serious illness which lasted for two weeks. At the end of this time he died at 6:00 o’clock in the evening. He then had a vision in which he found himself in front of God who showed him two groups of people who had died. On one side everything was blissful and the people wore white robes and continually sang beautiful songs. They looked young and very happy. God told Ngahapa that these people were those who believed in Christ and had done good deeds on earth. Then God showed him the other side where the people were mercilessly tortured, being put on fire which appeared to be in the form of a fluid. People lamented and cried out but did not receive any help. These were the wicked who had done many evil things on earth and who, after death, had been thrown into the eternal fire. Ngahapa was terrified at the sight of this suffering. When God told Ngahapa that he had done many evil things, he earnestly repented. God decided to send him back to earth so that he might preach his Word and tell everyone about the things he had seen so that those who believed would be saved and not condemned to hell. This was the commission Ngahapa received from God.
At 10.00 a.m. the next morning Ngahapa started to breathe again. But by this time, people had assembled for his funeral and had started to dig his tomb since early that morning. To their utter astonishment, Ngahapa woke up, and appeared to be well as if he had never been sick at all. Then he told the people the story of his journey to heaven.
Ngahapa approached the Moravian church pastor at Utengule and told him that he wanted to be baptized. But before his baptism he decided to divorce two wives and join the church with one wife. Now, his first wife was barren and his second wife had born his first child, Jacob, who died, then a daughter called Ambwene (which means “God has seen me”). She also had given birth to a third child, a daughter named Tupokigwe (which means “we have been saved”), who had also died. His third wife had only born him one son named Joseph.
Consequently, Ndalama decided to join the church with his second wife named Martha. He chose Paul as his baptismal name. After being baptized, he started to proclaim the Good News even though he had no knowledge of the Bible. He just mentioned the Bible texts and another person read them. Then he preached from the texts–especially the Gospels. Even though he could not read the texts, he knew where they were and when he gave instructions to read a specific passage and the reader mistakenly read a different one, Ngahapa would stop him saying, “No that is not the text, I ordered you to read.” People were amazed and wondered how Ngahapa knew the Bible so well without knowing how to read or having a Bible in his hands.
In his messages he emphasized that people needed to repent, believe in Christ, be baptized, and live a good Christian life so that, at the end they might receive eternal life. But an eternal fire awaited those who ignored the Word of God, didn’t believe Christ, and committed evil deeds.
In 1962 he visited Rungwe Middle School where he preached and impressed the people with his testimony and his eloquence in presenting the Word of God.
From Rungwe Ngahapa left for other places in Rungwe district. He and his followers did not use modern means of transportation but traveled instead on foot from one place to another in Mbeya region, the southwest part of Iringa region, northern Zambia, and northern Malawi, preaching to multitudes. Wherever Ngahapa went, he performed miracles either directly or indirectly especially in the villages which did not receive him or were against him and his message.
On one occasion Ngahapa was called to go and preach near Lake Rukwa. When he arrived, he asked the chief of that area to summon the people so that they might hear his teaching on the Word of God. But the people ignored Ngahapa’s invitation and would not listen to his message, to his despair. So Ngahapa left the place regretfully and told the chief that they would experience wonders shortly thereafter.
After a year their area was hit by drought and famine so severe that some people fled the area. Those who remained decided to send messengers to Ngahapa so that he would return and preach to them. Ngahapa accepted their invitation. He returned and proclaimed a message of repentance, telling them they had to believe in Christ in order to be saved. As a result, many of them repented and believed in Christ.
As a result of their repentance, an abundance of fish filled the lake. Many people from far away heard about this and brought maize (corn) and beans to barter for fish with the local people. For the people from Lake Rukwa this was a miraculous end to the famine. The drought also abated because heavy rains started to fall.
Another time Ngahapa visited Itete village in Chunya district in Tanzania and asked the village chief to gather the people together so that he might share the Word of God with them. But the chief despised Ngahapa and told him that he would not call the people to listen to a person like him. Ngahapa tried to convince him but the chief would not heed his request. Then Ngahapa told him, “Because you have denied my witness, I tell you that tomorrow there will be a gathering of a very big multitude.” The chief answered saying, “That is impossible. I shall not call them together to listen to you.” Ngahapa told him to wait and see what would happen.
That night heavy rains fell and the river flooded. A wall of water hit the chief’s house ands swept away his son who was drowned. According to Safwa tradition, when a member of the chief’s family dies, many people come from neighboring villages–even from far away–for the funeral. The next day news of the chief’s son’s death spread to the many surrounding villages and a very big multitude gathered for the funeral, just as Ngahapa had prophesied. It was a good opportunity for him to preach about the power of the living Word of God. That day many people repented and believed in Christ.
God called Ngahapa to rest on March 17, 1970. Among the older generation Ngahapa is one of the most well remembered independent evangelists in southern and southwest Tanzania.
Angolwisye I. Malambugi
Author’s Note: In 1962 Ngahapa was invited to preach at Rungwe Middle School in Mbeya Region, Tanzania while I was a student there. His fame as one who had risen from death and was a great preacher and miracle worker had spread far beyond the borders of his home region into Mbeya region, Iringa region, and even as far as Malawi and Zambia.
Nasobile Ndalama Ngahapa, son of Paul Ndalama Ngahapa, 70 years old, interview by Leonard Njema at Utengule village, March 2006. Njema was a student at Teofilo Kisanji University, Mbeya, Tanzania.
Ambikile Kapalata Mwaijumba, neighbor child of Paul Ndalama Ngahapa, 68 years old whose homestead is at Utengule but now resides in Mbeya city, interview by author on September 1, 2006.
Mrs. Erika Mwila Malambugi of Mlowo Mbozi, in the audience when Ngahapa preached at Ibungu congregation in Rungwe district, interview by author at Iwambi/Mbeya on October 25, 2006.
This article, received in 2007, was researched and written by Rev. Angolowisye Isakwisa Malambugi, former chairman of the Moravian Church in Tanzania, Southwest Province, lecturer at Teofilo Kisanji University (formerly Moravian Theological College) in Mbeya from July 1995 to December 2006, and part-time lecturer at Open University of Tanzania from 1999 to the present. He was also Project Luke fellow in Spring 2007.