We have many local publications in this country—newspapers, books, magazines—and some of our young people might think this has always been the case. Some of our publications are in vernacular languages. Publishing in Malawi has had a brief but rich history.
The Government Press is one of the oldest printing establishments in Malawi. It was established in 1894. In that year the first copy of the British Central African Gazette was produced. Its content was more business like that today’s Government Gazette, which is simply a collection of Government notices.
It was the missionaries, more than any other agents, who undertook to establish the entrenched tradition of publishing in Malawi. In 1896, the Livingstonia Mission acquired and installed a press which led to a proliferation of publications in Nyanja, Tonga, Shisya, Wanda, Namwanga, Poka, Nkhonde, Yao, Ngoni, Tumbuka and Wemba languages. Livingstonia Press would also undertake commercial work for African Lakes Company at Blantyre, to the South, and for Tanganyika Concessions Limited across the border to the north.
In 1897, the Livingstonia Mission began to publish the Aurora, which was a journal of missionary work. The publication’s title was to change to Livingstonia News in 1908.
The Blantyre Mission was another early player in producing local publications. The mission acquired a small press as early as 1878 but this machine only undertook minor print jobs in its early years of operation. In February of 1888, the first edition of Life and Work in British Central Africa rolled off that press to become the first newspaper in this country, predating the British Central African Gazette by a few years.
In the same year, the Blantyre Mission introduced a native paper called the Kalilole (The Mirror) which used to articulate, in Nyanja, issues that were of interest to the natives. The Domasi branch of the church (Blantyre Mission) introduced another native paper called Kalata wa Church.
At the nearby Songani were two Scotsmen, Robert Spence Hynde and Ross Stark, who were brothers-in-law and were growing coffee and tobacco. They introduced a secular newspaper called the Central African Planter in 1895 and had it printed by the Blantyre Mission Press at Domasi. After a year, they discontinued the paper and introduced another one in its place. The new paper had the title Central Africa Times, which later changed to the Nyasaland Times and later still to The Daily Times, which is still in circulation today.
It was the missionaries who introduced the writing of native languages. David Clement Scott, the builder of the imposing St. Michael and All Angels Cathedral at Blantyre, had produced A Cyclopaedic Dictionary of the Mang’anja Language in 1892. He, along with other missionaries such as Alexander Hetherwick and the two Murrays of Nkhoma, was a prodigous writer.
Nkhoma Press had started at Mvera in 1907. When the first machine arrived, it was placed under the care of two missionariers, Mr Kempf and Mr Lotter, the one a Treasurer and the other an Agriculturist. They had no idea what to do to get the machine up and running. Mr Kempf said to his colleague, “Lotter, you and I must put the machine together. I know nothing about it and you know nothing about it. Come, let us pray about it.” Pray about it they did, and after some fiddling they managed to get the machine to tick over.
The Mvera Press later transferred to Nkhoma. When a trained printer, Mr Van Vyk, arrived, he transformed Nkhoma Press into a forminable printing force. It outgrew its Livingstonia and Blantyre counterparts and became a major supplier of educational and Christian literature in this country and in Northern Rhodesia.
A number of Nyanja publications were introduced by Nkhoma Press. One of the notable ones was a magazine called Mthenga, which later changed to Kuunika, and has only recently gone out of circulation. Rev Robert Blake of Kongwe Mission authored a book titled Mwambi Wakale, which later became Mbiri Yakale.
It was William Hope Murrary who probably did most of the work insofar as production of Nyanja literary material was concerned. He led a team that translated the Old and the New Testament into Nyanja. Working from Kaso Hill, near Mvera, he completed this work in 1923. Murray’s Nyanja translation of the full Bible was called Buku Lopatulika, and continues to circulate in the local church.
The Nkhoma Press spurred a number of local writers. Among them was Samuel Josiah Nthara, who produced a number of biographies and novels in Nyanja. His novel, Nthondo, was translated into English and won the coveted Margaret Wong literary award in 1933.