A huge congratulation to our Environmental Education Manager, Nebart Mitka, for being crowned Champion in the 2017 Freedom of Expression Institute’s essay writing contest! This year’s theme was “How Should Malawi Sustainably Preserve the Country’s Cultural Heritage” – and his essay was the winner out of over 600 entries across the country. Lilongwe Wildlife Trust is extremely proud of his accomplishment and his dedication to environmental education.
His winning essay:
HOW SHOULD MALAWI SUSTAINABLY PRESERVE THE COUNTRY`S CULTURAL HERITAGE
Introduction to Malawi`s Culture
The word Culture has various definitions but in this context, the term refers to characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people that is from aspects of language, religion, social habits, music and arts among others. The country has many tribes but Ngoni, Chewa, Yao and Tumbuka are deemed dominant.
Southern African nation of Malawi is bordered by Mozambique to the south and west, Zambia to the east, and Tanzania to the north. As of 2015, it had an estimated population of 17.2 million with majority of the population living in rural areas. Malawians are part of the large Bantu population that migrated northwards from South Africa at around the turn of the 20th century. Therefore this essay seeks to bring insights into Malawi`s culture and possible ways of preservation, examples will be cited wherever necessary.
Firstly, going by history, the name “Malawi” comes from Maravi people who emigrated from the Southern Congo around 1400 AD. Upon reaching northern Lake Malawi (then known as Lake Nyasa), the group divided, with one group moving south down the west bank of the lake to become the group known as the Chewa, while the other group, the ancestors of today’s Nyanja, moved along the east side of the lake to southern section of Malawi. Ethnic conflict and continuing migration prevented the formation of a society
that was uniquely and cohesively Malawian until the dawn of the 20th century. Over the past century, ethnic distinctions have diminished to the point where there is no significant inter-ethnic rivalry, although regional divisions still occur. The concept of a Malawian nationality has begun to form around a predominantly rural people who are generally conservative and traditionally non-violent.
Secondly, Malawi has distinctive culture that is well defined by traditions of food, social stratification, religion, marriage, traditional dances and music. Food: Nsima is a staple food served twice a day (Lunch and dinner) with side dishes of beans, meat, fish and local vegetables like black jack (Chisoso), amaranthus (Bonongwe) among others, Dressing: Men dress in a Western style, wearing shirts and trousers, women often wear traditional costumes consisting of two or three chitenjes, which are large pieces of colored fabric used as a skirt, a headdress, and a cloth wrap that holds a small infant on the woman’s back.
Marriages often are arranged, particularly in rural areas. Dowries (certain amount of money or property to the groom when a couple is married.) are presented by the bride’s parents to the husband to be. Dowries are usually in the form of livestock, such as cattle, goats, or chickens, but may consist of grain. Polygamy is practiced occasionally by those who can afford it, because it means double responsibility thus expensive. On occasion, the co-wives will share the same house with the husband. Females undergo an initiation ceremony at the onset of puberty or menstruation and just before marriage. It often consists of very explicit instructions on sexual aspect of marriage. Verbal greetings are accompanied by a handshake using the right hand, with the left hand gripping the right forearm to show that one is not armed.
Religious Beliefs. Majority of the people are Christians belonging to various denominations while some are Methodists, Muslims, Baptists, Hindus and Seventh Day Adventists.
Traditional dances. Gule Wamkulu among the Chewa where men put on masks and no one realizes them, Ingoma among the Ngoni where men and women or children put on animal skins, Beni among Yao where dancers dress like the police.
Beer is extremely popular in Malawi amongst men especially Masese, Kuche Kuche, Kachasu, Chibuku among others.
Having discussed traditions making up Malawi`s culture, it is incredibly important to outline possible ways through which culture can sustainably be preserved.
Establishment of Annual Culture Day by Malawi government
Declaration of annual national day for cerebrating cultural heritage for all tribes in the country to showcase their culture. It is evident that few tribes in Malawi hold annual cultural celebrations, which poses a threat of culture varnish/disappearance to minority tribes who can`t do the same. In the same line of thinking, having a day declared to celebrate culture will indicate strong Malawi`s political will towards culture preservation and the need to give it prominence.
Integration of Cultural aspects into technological development
With majority of youths having access to internet these days, allowing culture to go digital can be very effective. This can include digital storage of information about cultural sites, designing of websites for information access, shooting and uploading of cultural videos/films/documentaries about Malawi, online publications of books/magazines/brochures and other related materials about cultural sites. Showcasing
cultural films repeatedly in banks, airports, mobile company customer care places (Airtel/TNM) thus reaching out many people.
Making Culture an integral part of the National education curriculum
Inclusion of cultural aspects into the national curriculum will help in teaching learners to grow up with the mentality of respecting and embracing Malawi`s culture, thus detaching them from copying foreign culture.
Promoting culture Education and Research
Conducting awareness campaign programs about importance of preserving culture considering two angles:
The first angle, targeting parents who have responsibility of making sure that they are teaching and portraying Malawi`s culture in a right manner for children to follow suit. Secondly, children to do their education research about cultural sites, problems faced and possible solutions. The project papers be circulated to potential funding institutions to improve the sites. That means jobs will be created for the youths as preservation will be progressing on the other hand. In addition, the education should tackle issues of detaching culture from magic which is crucial for youths. Many youths are interested in culture and not magic.
In summary, the essay has given insights into Malawi`s culture which underpins Malawian nationality. Political will, technology ,changing education system, Parents/guardians responsibility in raising children are critical in as far as culture preservation is concerned .It is therefore everyone`s responsibility to make sure that Malawi`s culture is preserved.