Traditional songs and dances are an integral part of culture, history and inheritance among people worldwide. It is, therefore, disheartening to note that many of the traditional songs and dances in the country are slowly being forgotten.
That loss is widely attributed to the coming of foreign influences, as well as lack of proper ways to preserve the songs and dances for the future generations.
Going the other way, the department of Museums and Monuments has engaged another gear in ensuring that Malawi’s rich traditional dances and songs are preserved. They have put the dances and songs on DVDs.
As the education officer Aaron Maluwa at Chichiri Museums affirms, these are the first steps of a long journey. That was when they hosted the inaugural cultural afternoon.
He said: “With funding from the American Embassy, we embarked on a journey to unearth traditional dances and songs that are almost extinct. The dances that our children do not get to experience.”
Maluwa said the exercise took them a year. That included monitoring the dances being performed in their natural setting before recording them on both audio and video.
“After recording the dances and songs we compiled them in a DVD which we have launched. We are sure that this move will go a long way in helping preserve Malawi’s endangered traditional dances and songs,” he said.
Director of Museums and monuments, Elizabeth Gomani-Chindebvu, said it is sad that children in Malawi are not exposed to the country’s traditional dances and songs.
“With this project, we will make sure that our dances and songs do not die a natural death, but go on to live for generations to come. A country without cultural elements and traditions is as good as dead and we cannot allow that to happen,” she said.
The DVD has dances and songs from three districts of Nsanje, Kasungu and Mangochi. The dances and songs include those performed at wedding and initiation ceremonies and other celebrations.
The launch of the DVD, attended by students from around Blantyre, revealed how clueless the young ones are about the country’s traditional dances.
When the dancers from Mangochi performed their initiation dance called mchomawanga, which involves men and women dancing closely at the beat of drums, the learners who were aged between six and 16 went into a frenzy.
“What are they doing? What type of dance is this? Are they husband and wife?” they were overheard asking, apparently finding it strange for men and women to dance closely in a traditional dance.
Then, it was time for chikongo traditional dance, again from Mangochi, which is also performed during initiation ceremonies. The learners also enjoyed the dance moves which were obviously new to them.
“I never knew that we have these kinds of dances in Malawi. Very strange,” said a student from Chichiri Secondary School.
But when ulimba dance from Nsanje was performed the students found something familiar. They had heard a similar sound on taxpater funded Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) as they use ulimba sounds as a signature tune for a programme.
They swarmed the dance floor imitating the dancers, but their moves clearly showed that they had no idea how to perform it.
Some of the dances that were performed were chimtali and mganda from Kasungu, and batcha from Nsanje.
“This is one of the ways that we have decided to use to preserve our culture. We know the children love watching DVDs so we are putting out traditional dances on these DVDs so that everybody gets to know them,” said Maluwa. n