The nyau masquerade dance is one of the most spectacular cultural dances in the country.
However, according to Unesco, it is more than just an entertainment dance but a secret cult and ritual dance.
It is performed among the Chewa people in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.
And although the Chewa Heritage Foundation argues that the gule wamkulu is not a religion, there is evidence that there are religious aspects in it such as the belief that the masks are ancestors of the tribe.
While the Chewas believe gule wamkulu is a sacred dance, its purity has been scourged by the love of money according to Traditional Authority Dzoole and Group Village Headman (GVH) Chingalire.
The sacred dance, which was once performed during funerals and chiefs’ coronation ceremonies, is now being performed at political rallies and other gatherings merely for entertainment and crow-pulling purposes.
The nyau masks are a representation of the spirits and if that is so would it be possible that the spirits are for People’s Party, United Democratic Front, Democratic Progressive Party or Malawi Congress Party at the same time?
The gologolo is a huge draw at President Joyce Banda’s state and political rallies.
Is it acceptable for gule wamkulu to be performed at political rallies or for commercial purposes?
Chingalire and Dzoole say the use of gule wamkulu performance at political rallies or any other gathering for commercial purposes is not acceptable to the Chewa.
“We are not happy with this trend because we know this dance is sacred and is to be performed during special occasions, because we have belittled the nyau mask even children are playing with it, and ridiculing it,” says Chingalire.
“The problem is that gule wamkulu is charismatic and is such a crowd puller, so people have taken advantage of that factor to woo people to come to their gatherings, but nevertheless this is not acceptable,”
Dzoole adds that greed has been the source of the trend of using the dance as an entertainment source because some people offer some people money to perform at different gatherings.
“What is more disappointing is that they do not know which masks belong to which occasion as such they release a mask that is meant for a funeral on an occasion that is meant to be a celebration and this disgusts us as Chewas,” said Dzoole.
He points out a scenario in Mponera where a nyau masquerade was chasing school children, begging money and causing havoc in the area to the point that two school children were involved in an accident as they were running away from him.
But when the masquerade was taken to police, it was discovered he was not even a nyau cult member.
“These are just greedy people and the Chewa Heritage Foundation is working with us and we will deal with anyone who will be doing this,” warned the Chewa chief.
He adds that there is need for people to respect each other’s culture and not dent other people’s cultural practices.
Evidence shows that the gule wamkulu has been in existence since the great Chewa Empire of the 17th century.
The dance which was also being used as a resistance dance hence the emergence of masks such as Maria, Simoni and Mzungu were banned during the colonial times.
However, the dance managed to survive under British colonial rule by adopting some aspects of Christianity.
Nowadays it is common for Chewa men to be both members of a Christian church and a nyau society.