The Tumbuka’s Gonapamuhanya Cultural Festival seems to be a battleground of political bickering.
Last week, the event at Bolero in Rumphi went into history as a political event once again, with all the drama unfolding in Paramount Chief Chikulamayembe’s face as was the case last year.
Minister of Sports and Culture Grace Chiumia suffered humiliating boos and jeers as she delivered her speech, acts she thinks were coordinated by opposition parties present at the event.
Last year, it was Speaker of Parliament Richard Msowoya who turned the event into some political ground to admonish Chikulamayembe for his take against federalism.
But, possibly, such politicians cannot be blamed entirely. The huge crowds patronising such events serve as catalysts for them to assume heroic roles in scoring political points.
And Malawi being one of the countries with countless tribes, we have to brace for more cultural events, sometimes with similar dramatic acts, taking place across the country.
Take Chitipa, for instance. It has about 20 ethnic tribes, and what will become of the district if all decide to celebrate their origins separately.
Add to that are the usual Gonapamuhanya; Umthetho among the Ngoni; Mlakho wa Alhomwe among the Lhomwe; and numerous others.
The interesting part is that organisers expect presence of government officials. In some cases, the politicians force themselves on the events.
The Tumbuka feast, for example, was postponed several times just to accommodate government officials who were engaged on the official day of the event. The officials, or say politicians, didn’t just see it proper for the event to go without their presence.
It is alleged as well that some of the politicians forced themselves on the list of individuals scheduled to speak.
Noting politicians’ obsession with festivals, some quarters have suggested for a national day of culture. It is suggested that all cultural groupings should celebrate their heritage at once.
It is believed that government will save funds that would have been spent on officials to grace all cultural groupings in the country.
Director of culture in the Ministry of Sports and Culture, Elizabeth Gomani-Chindebvu, reveals that government has similar observations, saying plans are underway to harmonise cultural events to take place on a single day.
She says this will save the time and money to criss-cross the country in gracing all cultural celebrations.
She, however, could not give full details of the plans, asking for more time.
Chikulamayembe, the supreme ruler of the Tumbuka in Rumphi and Lundazi in Zambia, welcomes such plans.
“It’s a good idea. This will be like a get together where tribes will learn from each other in preserving their cultural heritage,” he says.
He says this will even give a platform to cultural groups that rarely hold their own events to promote their heritage.
However, Mzimba Heritage Association secretary general Aupson Thole feels this will defeat the whole purpose of preserving cultural identity of various ethnic groups.
“Every cultural event has its own identity and theme. To bring them together will defeat the purpose of their celebrations.
“For example, for us the Ngoni, Umthetho is celebrated at Hora, which is very special in our history. So, to move it away from Mzimba defeats the purpose of our celebration,” he says.
Thole observes that the idea of the national day of culture is welcome, but cautioned against abolishing standalone ethnic commemorations.
“The introduction of a national day of culture will help various groups to display their heritage and, in due course, build national unity.
“But these need to be free from political interference. This can be done if government sets up a cultural committee to look into such issues,” he says.