Malawi culture on the market

FoLanguage, dances dressing and food to mention but a few, are some of the key factors that signify a country’s identity .

If you want to know Malawians, for instance, a good tongue of Chewa language will help. If you want to know their type of dances, Manganje, Gule Wamkulu and Beni are some of them. As regards food, a regular Malawian dish does not go without nsima with fish or vegetables.

But apart from the dances, food and language, there are also works of art that portray Malawi. Interesting these days is how influential market centres have become in as far as exposing and promoting cultural values is concerned.

A recent visit to Manja Athu Investment and Supplies at Limbe Produce Market had all the surprises one could meet. Arriving at the place one meets Cedric Mponda who do not hesitate to tell this good story about Malawian culture in their business.

“We are a registered enterprise specialising in making and selling mortars, pestles, bats, clay pots and plates, bows and arrows, hoes, baskets and various other works of art,” says Mponda, adding that their wares are in high demand.

“We sell very well as most people these days seem to be turning to their cultural roots. In fact these traditional items are durable and sell at reasonable prices. People of all classes visit us and place orders. At times those who have wedding engagements (zinkhoswe) buy our materials like axes to give their ceremonies an element of Malawian culture.”

Mponda who now boasts of contributing positively to the country’s cultural development recalls one of his recent experiences when he supplied traditional musical equipment to the Nanzikambe theatre group. Through such supplies, Mponda says, he has impacted on society so much that many Malawians are now taking back to their roots.

From Limbe to Lilangwe in the area of traditional Authority Chigaru in the same district of Blantyre. Old grandmas in thier 70’s seem to have been plying thier trade in clay since birth.One old lady, Mama Mariana Chawanda, a potter and supplier of various clay designs in Blantyre, narrates how she found herself in this lucrative industry. “I learnt the art from my mother some five decades ago, at my home in Zomba. >From then to date it has been a tough ride as I have produced a lot.”

“I am proud to have contributed something to our culture. This is particularly true looking at how market centres have been flooded with our works of art and how foreigners regularly visit me to take to their countries cultural products we Malawians can only be very proud of,” says the grandma repositioning herself on a mat..

“Malawians must be at the forefront when it comes to appreciating locally produced commodities which promote their cultural identity.

“Being Malawians, we should be the ones taking up the challenge to promote ourselves as this is our country,” she said

But how are these works of art presenting Malawi’s cultural identity when people in other countries like Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania have similar skills.

Chairman of Blantyre Curios Sellers, Frank Malaga, says every country has its own carvings and designs. He says as for Malawi, whatever is on the market whether clay, wood or metal directly portrays the country’s identity.

“We have our own touch that directly reflects our culture. If you study our animal designs, for instance, you note that we specifically depict animals that are locally found in Malawi.”

Ndirande based curios manufacturer Owen Kampuchea who owns Jamul Clay Productions concurs with Malaga, saying there is a secret behind the production of curios.

“Before designing any artistic work we ensure we come up with a product that is typically Malawian. For instance, we would rather have a design of a villager holding a calabash of beer than a town dweller holding a glass of wine,” he elaborates.

Kampuchea says this brings in a true picture of a Malawian way of life, a strategic principle that paves way for effective boosting of Malawi’s culture world-wide.

In past years when one wanted to have a feel of Malawian culture, museums were the only places to go to. Today, local markets are taking the lead in exposing the country’s cultural values, thanks to artists, traders and, of course buyers from here and beyond. ‘ The Nation.

December 2006
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