It is Friday afternoon at Group Village Headwoman (GVH) Chonde in Mulanje during a community empowerment meeting organised by National Initiative for Civil Education (Nice).
The discussion is centred on the promotion of good governance, transparency, accountability and human rights.
However, what surprises the meeting is that the Nice manager for Mulanje district Twambilire Mwabungulu is not going into the nitty-gritty’s of the decree of good governance, transparency, accountability or issues to do with human rights.
In fact, it is Umoyo Travelling Theatre and Cultural Dance Troop from Mthiramanja Village in T/A Mthiramanja, which is doing the noble work of educating the masses.
The group’s main medium is chisamba dance, which attracts the attention of people through their captivating moves. But the message is delivered through music.
Comprising 14 members, Umoyo Travelling Theatre has only 12 members during the Nice initiated meeting with the communities of Chonde.
Two men are beating the traditional drums, four members—two women and two men—are dancing. Whereas the two others, a woman and man, are singing songs.
Here, it is not ordinary songs that are being sung, but thematically ones that are bordering around the subject at hand-empowering communities with governance skills.
As women and men marvellously dance in sets, the people draw closer to catch their glimpse.
But such dance is delivered alongside a powerful message through songs which they take home with.
Originally, chisamba is a dance that is performed by the Chewa of Central Region during female initiation ritual and it is performed by women, led by a senior woman, usually the Chief’s sister known as a Nankungwi.
But cultural fanatics are taken aback at how Umoyo Travelling Theatre is portraying the dance at this occasion. It has been turned into a weapon to serve different purposes ranging from culture, entertainment and social change.
“We use chisamba to champion mindset change on different issues such as health, human rights and governance. Our group is hired by Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and other institutions to partake at different sensitisation meetings on a particular issue,” says Daniel Masikini, the deputy director of Umoyo Travelling Theatre and Cultural Dance Troop.
Chisamba is among the unique dances, which is documented in the National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Malawi.
Intangible Cultural Heritage of Malawi came about following the Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage which was adopted by the General Assembly of Unesco on October 17 2003.
According to Unesco’s Inventory of Malawi’s Intangible Heritage Volume 1, intangible heritage have a crucial role to play in the development of the society and nation as a whole.
Firstly, it is used as medium of oral communication such as in singing and dancing. They also serve as effective means of passing information on development and sensitive matters such as HIV and Aids.
One of the heritage experts Lovemore Mazibuko of National Museum of Malawi says chisamba could serve both entertainment and cultural values that have direct bearing on development. n