Coming Up – Open Day – 13th August 2016

Open Day 2008 28The proposed date for the Open Day at Mua, Malawi, is Saturday 13th August 2016.

The Open Day (also known as Chamare Day) is an annual celebration of the work of Kungoni Centre, which features the Kungoni Dance Troupe, dances contributed by people around the Mua area and a lot of Gule Wamkulu.

The culmination of the Open Day is a play, which this year will be inspired by the story of Kachirambe, who liberated his people by slaying the Pumpkin Monster.

Proceedings should start with an inculturated Mass at 8.30 a.m. and conclude mid-afternoon. 2016 is the fortieth anniversary of Kungoni Centre, so the Open Day will be especially memorable.

Report – Africa Day – 2016 – Kungoni Centre of Culture and Art, Mua Mission, MALAWI

June 21, 2016. On 20th May MultiChoice Malawi brought journalists from across Malawi to Kungoni Centre to celebrate Africa Day.

Father-ChisaleAlso in the Nation on 24th May: Thoughts from a retreat. By Yvonnie Sundu, May 24, 2016.

Claude Boucher Chisale, Visual Artist

Sam Banda JnrBy Sam Banda Jnr

It is on a Friday, MultiChoice Malawi has organised yet another annual trip for journalists to celebrate Africa Day which falls on May 25 every year. This is the annual commemoration on May 25, 1963 of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). On this day, leaders of 30 of the 32 independent African states a founding charter in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

However, the trip has been organised much earlier on May 20 to give a chance to journalists to sensitise people about Africa Day. Just as MultiChoice has done every year, they have not told the journalists where they are taking them to having departed early in the morning in Blantyre. It turns out to be a long trip which takes us close to three hours and finally we arrive at Mua in Dedza. Such a quiet place and one would be compelled to think it a dull area.

Welcome to Mua Mission which also houses Kungoni Arts Centre of Culture and Art. The road to the place is not tarmac. But wait a minute, we are journalists from Blantyre and so as we arrived, we met fellow journalists from Lilongwe, what an exciting outing this is going to be.

We greet each other before being taken through the programme. What a trip, we are going to meet artist Claude Boucher Chisale, who founded Kungoni Centre in 1976.

There is a lot to learn here and Chisale tells us that there is so much but since this was a day’s trip, they would try as much to tell us more on the history of Kungoni which is built on the grounds of Mua Mission. Chisale speaks Chichewa fluently having come to Malawi in 1967 from Canada. He loves Africa and loves Malawi which is now his home and he is proud of it. When he was speaking, we all stayed quiet as he moved us with his story and that of Kungoni, telling us the beauty of Malawi and the beauty of preserving “our culture.”

And while many of us prefer going for holidays outside the country, there is a lot we are missing out and I would recommend many of you to take time out and visit Mua. It is a place that offers visitors a unique insight upon the cultural and artistic inheritance of Malawi and preserves for Malawians a treasure house of what is distinctive in the cultures of the Chewa, Ngoni and Yao people, who converge in the Mua area.

Back to A Chisale as he is fondly called, a lot has been said about him but for those of you who do not know his story, he was born in Canada in 1941. He followed in the steps of his maternal aunt to come to Malawi as a priest of the Missionaries of Africa (the White Fathers) in 1967.

Apart from brief periods of study in Uganda and London, he has remained in Malawi ever since.

“I love Malawi, this is my home. I am proud to be here,” said Chisale, when asked whether he does not have ambitions of going back to Canada. Chisale’s life work has been at Mua Mission, where he founded Kungoni.

According to him, the centre started as a cooperative for wood carvers and that over the years, it has grown to encompass the Chamare Museum (which holds important ethnographic collections on the Chewa, Yao and Ngoni peoples of Malawi). The centre also [comprises] the Kafufuku research library, Namalikhate lodge and Ku Mbewu (a women’s cooperative).

He said Kungoni has decorated churches throughout Malawi and elsewhere, as far afield as Kenya and Germany; and that example of its work, both religious and secular, are to be found in collections which include the Vatican Museums.

The priest, artist and anthropologist, took the name Chisale when he became one of the few non-Chewa to be initiated into Nyau, the secret society which is responsible for Gule Wamkulu.

He has sought over the 40 years of his work at Mua Mission to create dialogue and understanding where before there was hostility and suspicion. As a result, he has been granted unparalleled access to Chewa traditional access to Chewa traditional custom; and Chewa participants in Gule Wamkulu no longer feel themselves excluded from the life of the church.

“Religion and culture go together and this is why when I came I made sure I associated with the people who were deep rooted into culture. First you must understand that as people we have culture and then with it there is also religion,” he said with a little smile.

He has written several books and one of his extensive accounts of his life and work is his book When Animals Sing and Spirits Dance. This year Kungoni Arts is celebrating its 41st anniversary while Chisale is celebrating his 75th birthday.

“This country was given to us by our parents and so let’s preserve it, let’s treasure our culture and extract from it important elements which will help develop our country,” he said.

Chisale observes that many Malawians do not value their culture and that other wishes they were not born here. ‘We can do better, we have to thank God that we were born in Malawi and Africa. Africa is not poor and Malawi is not poor as others always put it. This is a rich nation with so much to treasure,” he said.

In his book When Animals Sing and Spirits Dance, Chisale tells us more about his 40 years encounter with Gule Wamkulu, the Great dance of the Chewa people of Malawi. Gule Wamkulu is an extraordinarily rich tradition, which United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) recognised as constituting part of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005.

Chisale said he understands it as the vehicle by which the ancestors return to the village to offer social commentary and advice to the living. Gule Wamkulu has a vast plethora of characters, both masked and concealed with structures, which we appreciated in the museum. He said Gule Wamkulu is an indispensable part of initiation and funeral rites and of ceremonies to commemorate the dead and that nowadays it is performed during cultural events and political gatherings.

Through the Kungoni Dance Troupe, journalists appreciated traditional dances from the Ngoni and Chewa which were held at a place known as Matako Apekesana. Throughout all the traditional dances which included Ngoma from the Ngoni and Gule Wamkulu, Chisale explained in detail why these traditional dances were performed as well as the different regalia’s worn.

“I am happy that MultiChoice thought of bringing journalists here as we look ahead to celebrating Africa Day. We have so much to share here and apart from that we also teach cultural courses and even art,” he said.

This was surely a good encounter with A Chisale, a man who has always valued culture and so why can’t we do the same?

Book Review: Boucher, Claude (Chisale). When Animals Sing and Spirits Dance Gule Wamkulu: The Great Dance of the Chewa People of Malawi.

Journal of Retracing AfricaClaude Boucher’s When Animals Sing and Spirits Dance Gule Wamkulu: The Great Dance of the Chewa People of Malawi, with additional text from Gary J. Morgan, Director of Museum Studies at Michigan State University, and photographs by Arjen van de Merwe, offers a refreshing, insightful, and brilliant interlink between what could be regarded as artistic compendium and the fundamental spiritual cultural heritage of an African community, the Chewa people of Malawi, in the dynamic context of everyday paradigms of holistic life experiences. Through a drama-laced strategy, the book masterfully employs symbolic characters depicted in masks and woven structures in an analytical syringe of songs and dances to “play out” the realities of cultural philosophical values and communal expectations of the Chewa people.

The crux of the book is revealed in two major sections. The first is the introduction written by Gary Morgan. Here the reader is exposed to the historical background of Malawi in general, the historical origin of gule wamkulu, and the religion of the Chewa people. It also introduces the reader to the role, as well as the form of gule wamkulu characters. The history of the origin of the symbolic and ritual evolution and the eventual transition of the gule wamkulu characters are also extensively discussed. With the introduction, the reader is prepared for the subsequent intriguing and illuminating details to follow in the main section of the book.

The second presents the kernel of the book in seven major themes as “dramatized” through the performances of the gule wamkulu dancers. The themes vividly capture the Chewa people’s worldview on moral codes. The holistic nature of the themes is compelling. They strategically cover the existential instructions for the citizens of the community, such as history and politics; community, authority and ancestors; sexuality, fertility and marriage; childbirth and parenthood; health, food and death; witchcraft and medicines; and personal attributes. The author brilliantly portrays the interpretations and dramatic uses of these themes in ways that vividly represent the authentic voices of the local people that may be impossible to achieve in any other format. Perhaps more importantly, the Chewa people’s heritage of the spiritual linkage to the ancestral world, in which the ancestors continue to impact their living descendants as agents of societal moral standard, is substantially highlighted. This without any doubt constitutes a significant representation of the fundamental religious worldview of Africans on the circular nature of human existence and the “never ending” reciprocal obligations and privileges between the living and the living dead, i.e. the earthly and the spiritual domains.

I find the intellectual and communicative strengths of this book enormous. It is comprehensively researched and the author admirably subsumes his subjective considerations of the themes discussed and allows the voices of the Chewa people to be heard in their “undiluted” forms. The colorful illustration employed throughout the book definitely enhances the reader’s imaginative and empirical understanding. The images are compelling and make the reading of the book engaging and less cumbersome. Also, both the mask name and the theme indexes at the end of the book provide the much-needed information on the locations of prominent words and ideas. In addition, the glossary of Chichewa terms and the interpretations of the songs in Chichewa and English afford the reader, who may not speak the Chichewa language, the basic understanding of the contents.

Surprisingly, with the author having a background as a Catholic priest, I did not find an interfaith discourse that I believe would have positively linked the moral codes of instructions of the Chewa thematic worldviews with the Christian (Catholic) moral expectations in the inculturalization spirit of Vatican II. This I believe would have raised the profile of the book as a doctrinal literature in the promotion of African Christianity (perhaps I was looking for too much) given the focus, objectives, and scope of the book. Notwithstanding this critique, the book presents a formidable resource as a “hypothesis” ready for further scholarly research for those interested in the rich African spiritual heritage in the context of existential humanity. In this regard, the book attests to the 2005 UNESCO description of gule wamkulu as “a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.” On the whole, Boucher deserves to be applauded for his scholarly endeavor in writing this book.

Ibigbolade Aderibigbe, Associate Professor of Religion and African Studies, University of Georgia, Athens, GA


Journal of Retracing Africa web page

New DVD from Kungoni Centre in Mua, Malawi

Kasiya Maliro DVD - CopieNew DVD from Kungoni Centre in Mua, Malawi 
This documentary, produced by Kungoni Centre of Culture and Art, presents a collection of 160 Gule characters filmed by Claude Boucher Chisale over 25 years (1988 to 2012) in the central Malawian areas of Mua, Mtakataka, Kapiri and Golomoti.
It reveals Gule Wamkulu as the storehouse of Chewa culture, showing the richness, creativity and originality of the Great Dance, which is placed at the service of the Mwambo, the teaching of the ancestors.
The film offers first-hand experience of the tremendous variety of characters and seeks to understand their hidden messages. It comprises a selection of sequences taken from the 800 hours of filming that Boucher has completed during these last three decades.
The key to an in-depth understanding of the Gule characters is to be found in Boucher’s two recent publications: “When Animals Sing and Spirits Dance’ (Oxford 2012) and its accompanying website;
The DVD introduces the author and illustrates the numerous contexts in which Gule Wamkulu is performed: rain ceremonies, initiation, chieftainship, eldership, spirit possession, funeral commemoration, institutional and village festivals and political and health development rallies. The 160 Gule characters selected for this production are then presented in alphabetical order.
The film offers a full visual experience of what has been described in the two publications mentioned above. It complements the publications and invites deeper immersion into Chewa culture.
@ Kungoni 2012. Running time: 121 minutes.