The Malawi Cob

By |Published On: November 30th, 2020|
Cannabis Can Help South Africa

This report on the Malawi Cob is a result of 30 years of “full blown research” by a Cannabis fanatic and friend of the Dagga Couple in Malawi called Mr Bambo Mbudadenga who wrote this very insightful piece for us:

Bambo Mbudadenga has known the Dagga Couple for many years and met with Jules and Myrtle in Malawi when they went tripping Africa in 2016. When Mbudadenga heard that Myrtle was in Malawi he immediately made a plan to meet with her on the shores of Lake Malawi to personally convey his condolences to Myrtle and the crew for the murder of Jules and discuss the issues with Cannabis (or Chamba as it is known in Malawi) in Africa.

Tracing the origins

One of the things they discussed was the Malawi Cob which is an old method of Cannabis packaging/storing/curing and transport that has been used by the inhabitants of this part of Africa for centuries or since there was ganja and bananas in that part of Africa, as banana bark is what they use to wrap the buds…( not sure which plant got to Africa first.)

The legendary Franco Loja came across fermented black Cannabis on the strain hunters Malawi Expedition, many years later he contacted Bambo Mbudadenga and asked him to try and find it again. Mbudadenga traveled the length and breadth of Malawi but failed to find the fermented weed or a genuine traditionally cured Cob. He discovered that the fame of the Malawi Gold Cobs had led to its demise, the huge demand for “Malawi Gold” has resulted in a market where any quality can easily be sold. The separation of males, strains and curing methods are no longer required and are all but forgotten. Whatever has a weed leaf in it can be sold, buyers from all over the region queue up before the buds have even matured.

Tourists looking for gold

The general quality of the weed is now like majat, full of seed and cobbed without curing, for sale to tourists looking for Malawi Gold. However during Mbudadenga’s  search he  accumulated a wealth of information on traditional curing methods, as he was forced to find the few remaining OGs of a bygone era who managed to survive the HIV pandemic that wiped out most of the OGs – as they had the extra bucks and the extra girlfriends way back when there was no cure.

All his findings and consultations were noted down and placed in a report for Franco, but before the report was ready to be sent Franco died of Malaria contracted in the Congo.

Bambo Mbudadenga in dedication, remembrance and gratitude to Jules and Franco chose to give Myrtle the unpublished report and additional research on the Malawi Cob and other traditional curing methods. He also sent someone in SA to the Hotbox show to deliver some Cobs to go with the report! Apparently they are not the real thing as they have not been cured in the traditional method, but they are the best he could organize at short notice.

Traditional practice

Back in the day when there were no plastic bags or tin roofs, dealing with the harvest, drying and keeping it mold free was a huge problem. So the tribes tried many different ways using naturally occurring and common materials in the tropical environment to ensure their bud was stored well and remained good to smoke.

In their quest for the perfect cure they discovered curing methods which would actually enhance the product, these discoveries were carefully developed over the ages and the result was the cob and specific curing methods using goats.

The ingenuity is mind blowing, the tribes really tried everything to ensure they were happily stoned and could continue smoking cured Chamba, beneficial to their health for as long as they pleased.

Mbudadenga reports that most of the OGs that provided the knowledge still smoked heavily and were as fit as mountain goats. The secret lies in the curing – they claim that they never smoke uncured/unfermented bud as it will make you cough and give you breathing problems. The traditional cob curing method ensures a smooth sweet smoke.

A microscopic inspection and smoke test of the fermented Cannabis shows that the trichomes have all melted and all the chlorophyll and acids have converted to sugars.

The procedure

The herb used to be grown till fully mature and dripping with resin. The fully ripe plants would be cut at the stem and either hung in a shed with a thatch roof, or if there was no shed, piled on a mat next to the field with a piece of cloth over the top when the sun is at its hottest. In some areas where plants were left to continue regrowing every year and became trees, only the buds would be pulled off the branches. The bud was then left till resin fell on the ground and the ground became sticky. These perennial forests were chopped down in the 1990’s by the authorities under international pressure.

To ensure a smooth smoke, the buds after harvest are left out at night to collect the dew – they should be covered in dew at least twice for the best result. The fully matured seedless Kalanjuichi/Sensimilia (kalanjuichi – honeyfilled) buds (Mchila wa Nkhosa – the tails of sheep) are then chosen and packed in carefully selected and cut to size sections of banana bark.

The buds are arranged evenly in a line in the center of the banana bark sheet and given a light sprinkling of untreated water if they are too dry, with a shake of a wetted hand. The banana bark is then carefully squeezed and wrapped around the bud, then it’s unrolled and  inspected and added to until the cobber is satisfied the amount of bud is even along the full length.

Fresh wet bark from hardwood trees is used to tie the buds rolled up in banana bark into a cob, this needs to be very tight – the tighter the better. One end of the bark is tied to a tree or the center post of the hut and full strength and body weight is used to wrap it as tight as possible. Some use a pestle to pound the buds down into the cob whilst packing in as much as possible and continuing to wrap tightly.

The size of the cobs should not be bigger than a big man’s penis or they will be packed too loose. They should also not be too small or there is not enough oil and bud for it to “cook” nicely. Medium is the best!

Once there are a few hundred cobs wrapped, they are placed in the sun for a day or 2 and turned so the binding bark begins to dry and tighten even more, the banana bark wrapping also starts to dry out. The cobs are then placed under the goat’s house on a double floor – the floors are bamboo or wood slats. The goats above piss and shit and this fills up the gaps between the cobs on the floor below.

The temperature in the goat shit rises and stays around 80°C and higher. The banana bark is not fully sealed, so it allows moisture to filter through by osmosis. The banana bark gives off ripening chemicals as it ferments and the binding bark continues to tighten.

The cobs would be removed after at least 40days, but most would leave them till the next harvest when the space is required for reloading with freshly wrapped cobs. Only fully fermented and cured weed from the harvest before last is ready for consumption and smoked.

The best cobs would turn to a sticky solid mass called “pula”. Now a name forgotten for weed and instead used for finger hash or charras. Nowadays, goats are no longer kept in sheds as there are no livestock predators anymore so the traditional way is difficult to find.

More original curing methods

Another method was to bury the cobs in the waste husk left over when brewing local maize beer. This would also ferment and it would not only give the herb a special flavour, but also a golden colour. The longer it was left, the darker the color and the harder and more resinous the final product.

Sometimes the buds would be smoke-cured for a couple of days or hours  with hardwood smoke similar to the process for dark fired tobacco. This would help to prevent any unwanted fungus or bacteria from spoiling the fermentation once packed in the cob. After curing, the cobs would sometimes also be smoke-cured before storage and to ensure they were insect and rot resistant.

In dry areas where there were no banana trees, tribes sometimes use the leaves that cover the maize cob and make smaller cobs. These are inferior but do sometimes turn the bud a reddish Colour. Other methods include tightly compressing and packing the buds in the cleaned out hollow sections of certain reeds, perhaps ones containing DMT were favoured. The reeds would be plugged and be left to ferment in a suitable place where the temperature remains stable and preferably warm.

Clay pots of a specific design were also used for curing, they were packed tightly with fresh bud and sealed for months before being smashed open to reveal a solid pot shaped cured stash. The best cobs are traditionally stored after curing in the thatch of the roof of the hut and are to be enjoyed with friends. It was always so hard, one needed a knife or a hacksaw and tough fingers to crush it so it could be smoked. The colors and stickiness would vary from the famous Gold to the super potent black, the red, the purple and the green and brown. Each one was known to have certain qualities and were used for specific reasons. One made you feel happily drunk and the other was known for its knockout action. The tarry sticky black one was famous for being so strong the joint would never be finished in one sitting, even in a group of heavy smokers. The resin would soak the joint after a few pulls and lips would be black. The gold one made you so high that it made Malawi famous!

Even a long drop!

When demand grew and prohibition by the British was introduced the precious cobs were at risk, so the common method for curing and concealment that was found to work best was to hang the cobs on strings from the floor of the long drop toilet. The gases would make the bud in the cobs also turn yellow.

Another method was to dig a hole and throw in a layer of ash, then a layer of goat shit, then a layer of cobs, then goat shit again, then ash and then cover the mound and pack it down with clay soil. A stick would be buried upright in the center and allowed to protrude so that it can be removed and used as a gauge to check the temperature. When the stick is the same temperature along it’s full length the process is done and the cobs are ready.

Goat hash

A type of hash was prepared by starving goats for 4-5 days on a diet of only water and then feeding them fresh buds, the resulting “cannadung” after drying would keep well and smoke well. Sometimes the dung would be packed into cobs and undergo a second ferment.

There were many traditional ceremonies related to Cannabis. Amongst others, the Chiefs would smoke before going to court to ensure they were in the right head space to make the fairest judgment.

Traditional use

The Sing’anga or Sangoma is called the Vumbuzi in the Tumbuka language. Some would smoke the most potent herb very heavily, it would be rolled in a joint from maize cob leaf or calabash bong and then they would go and hunt for witches or bad/possessed people in the village. The guilty would not be able to ignore the stench of Cannabis and the moment they showed a sign that it was bothering them, they would be identified. Another Vumbuzi would place the most potent bud in the middle of a bowl with other items in the center of a clearing in the bush and this would protect the area.

Malawi was built on Cannabis and those in power have continued to rely on Cannabis for funds when the coffers are empty. The stories are amazing, but still risky to expose and best left for another time.

Cobs for the 21st century economy

These days one could grow Malawi land races just about anywhere and artificially recreate the growing conditions and harvest what looks, tastes and feels identical. We now need to remember to learn from the wisdom of our ancestors and cure it Malawi Style.

The cob is unique and a golden opportunity for Cannabis tourism and export for Malawi, if only they would focus on once again producing the genuine high quality traditionally cured cobs, which brought this tiny landlocked country so much fame in the past. Cannabis tourism is unfortunately not considered in the new Cannabis bill which focuses on industrial hemp and medical licenses only. Recreational use is not encouraged and fines have been increased to astronomical amounts. The international market for hemp and medical Cannabis is becoming extremely competitive, with major companies opting out of once thought to be lucrative Cannabis ventures all over the world. China is now offering pure crystal THC at the incredibly low price of $600/kg. A small developing country like Malawi will struggle to compete with that.

Bringing back the unique Malawi Cob, maintaining Malawi’s land races and promoting recreational Cannabis tourism would be a game changer and a golden opportunity for Malawi to profit from Cannabis in this day and age.

Mbudadenga wishes that those who appreciate and benefit from this sharing of valuable knowledge will in kind show their appreciation by contributing to the Remembering Jules Fund and supporting Myrtle and her amazing crew in the fight to end all prohibition.

Written and researched by Bambo Mbudadenga

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About the Author: Charl Henning

I've been working with Fields of Green For All and Join The Queue Dagga Arrest helpline since 2014, assisting with general admin and arrests/ court paperwork.

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5 Comments

  1. Chris Jay November 30, 2020 at 3:08 pm - Reply

    The goat hash is something I would love to try, just feel a little sorry for the goats. Cobs were available in JHB up and until about 2007 where the smuggler died tragically. It was a family business and his family used to grow and package the cobs, and his brother would transport them down to South Africa. They were distributed far and wide, you could easily buy them at Bruma Lake and in Rivonia. Great article Charl.

    • jaco February 1, 2021 at 8:22 pm - Reply

      still get them at bruma and yoville

  2. Tamas Gyori December 1, 2020 at 12:10 pm - Reply

    Glad i can comment here as i am in FB jail again ,i just want to say this is a great article and Cob has always been my favorite.. Thanks for this

  3. Inch Dyer-le Roux July 9, 2021 at 4:40 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much for this very interesting and knowledgeable article. I had the great good fortune to have been gifted two cobs today. Will sure treat them with due respect and appreciation tonight.

    • Charl Henning July 13, 2021 at 12:44 pm - Reply

      Chances are they are inferior quality tourist cobs, but if you’re lucky they will be the real deal which is near impossible to find now days.

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