In August last year, the then minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security Atupele Muluzi revealed in our sister newspaper Weekend Nation that Malawi had a population of 13 000 inmates in its prisons against a recommended capacity of around 7 000 prisoners.
The figure included illegal immigrants held behind bars due to delayed justice. However, Muluzi bemoaned that most of the country’s prison facilities were constructed during the colonial era, a development which contributes to congestion, which poses health risk to inmates.
It is against this background that Malawi Prisons Services (MPS) fully embraced the concept of reformation to reduce crime rate in the country. And arts is one of the significant tools that MPS is using to transform lives of inmates without waiting for government to construct new, spacious and internationally recommended prisons that plan to improve the situation.
Chichiri Prison Cultural Troupe is one of the arts initiatives within the MPS that have made a name for its tremendous role in the reformatory agenda. The group has also been instrumental in raising awareness on the terrible life and conditions of prisoners in the country during other public events to reduce crime rate in the country.
The cultural troupe uses different forms of arts such as music, theatre and traditional dances to convey information on particular issues. The group has also made headlines for its specific music prowess which uses a traditional instrument called mangolongondo.
Just last Saturday, the group joined forces with Solomonic Peacocks Theatre Company in an awareness campaign at Blantyre Flea Market, which tackled a number of issues, including dehumanising conditions of the country’s prisons.
The event also served as Chichiri Prison Cultural Troupe’s arts celebration day.
Solomonic Peacocks Theatre director McArthur Matukuta said they embarked on a theatre for change project at Chichiri Prison to help in the process of empowering inmates.
“We recognise the fact that inmates have a great role to play in the transformation process of both their lives and society as a whole. We truly believe that they have the possibility to empower themselves and discourage crime, hence targeting them,” he said.
Chichiri Prison Cultural Troupe was also the highlight during this year’s commemoration of poetry culture called Land of Poets held last Sunday at Blantyre Cultural Centre (BCC).
The group’s performance did not only expose the incredible talent which is in abundance behind bars, but also untold stories behind the country’s culture.
For example, the group put up a gallant performance of Vimbuza, which displayed such an informed process of healing dance that left the audience in awe and asking for more.
According to Joseph Umali who is the inspector of prison at Chichiri and coordinator of the Chichiri Cultural Troupe, the group was formed in 2011 to complement MPS’ reformatory strategy.
“Apart from upholding the country’s culture, Chichiri Prison Cultural Troupe is there to help achieve Malawi Prison Services strategic goal of reforming inmates in the country,” said Umali.
Currently, Chichiri Prison Cultural Troupe has 22 members comprising dancers, actors, singers and instruments’ players.
The group has also what it calls an arts kindergarten which acts as a pre-arts school for its performers
On cultural promotion, Umali said a prison houses people from different cultural backgrounds which makes it easier to collect material.
He added that Chichiri Prison Cultural Troupe has toured the country’s prisons for the past years to inspire inmates in a number of areas.
The idea is to transform them into reliable citizens that could contribute to the development of our communities by engaging themselves in meaningful activities than crime.
“Arts have confirmed to be one of the effective ways to engaging inmates. But we also render our services to other organisations and institutions because we understand that toghter we can make the change,” said Umali.