Documentation of Folktales Project

This project was concerned mainly with collecting folk-tales throughout Malawi for education purposes contributing to the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage of Malawi in the national context of implementing the UNESCO 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Effort was made to avoid collecting the whole range of folklore as this would be impractical within the time and financial limitations of the project.

After collection, the folktales were put onto DVDs and hard drives. Timveni Child and Youth Media Organisation used the videos to produce radio and television educational programmes targeted at children and youth. An annotated bibliographic index consisting of titles of folktales, narrators’ names, communities, addresses and contact details was developed by the National Library Service. Classifying, organising and displaying the bibliographic index can be done by theme, village, traditional authority, district and region. The bibliographic index enables a comparative analysis of cultural, social, linguistic and artistic identities across various villages, districts, regions and languages. The index reveals the intrusion of imported texts in translated and adapted versions, and their historic and cultural dimensions. The index can be accessed by readers in the National Library but is yet to be put online due to technical and budgetary constraints.

The outputs of the project include: 256 folktales documented and archived at the National Library Service, Malawi national Commission for UNESCO and Rei Foundation Limited; 5 technical members trained in documentation, editing and archiving of audiovisual material; 256 community members able to reintroduce storytelling in their homes; 20 people able to conduct community based inventorying of intangible cultural heritage and 256 folktales safeguarded.

The overall results were:
• The contribution towards the safeguarding of Malawian intangible cultural heritage;
• The regeneration of interest in storytelling among Malawian communities both urban and rural as well as among media houses;
• The generation of more informal cultural education materials for children; and
• The enhancement of capacity in the use of high audiovisual technology and audiovisual production.


Documentation of Folksongs Project

The main objective of this project is to contribute towards music education through safeguarding of Malawian folksongs. “Safeguarding” in this case means measures aimed at ensuring the viability of the folksongs, including the identification, documentation, research, preservation, protection, promotion, enhancement and transmission, through the Music Crossroads Malawi Academy, National Library Service and other relevant institutions, leading to the revitalization of the music heritage in Malawi. This will contribute to the music curriculum of the Academy and enhance the teaching of music in the schools; ensure respect for the folksongs of the communities, groups and individuals concerned; provide them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and creativity among upcoming music artists. There is great need for the safeguarding of the folksongs as many have disappeared because of lack of preservation. The project will save many folksongs which would otherwise have been lost. The preserved folksongs and products of this project will act as resource material for the music schools not only in Malawi but across the world. They will contribute to new local and international musical genres for artists to adopt thereby contributing to the development of the music industry.


Community-based Inventorying of Intangible Cultural Heritage

Malawi successfully carried out the first project resulting in building the capacity of 10 youths in community-based inventorying and an inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) consisting of 32 elements. The aim of the second project was to promote visibility of the African intangible cultural heritage at international level. Under this project, Malawi managed to: establish the National Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee, consisting of community representatives, public officers, the youth and members of the academia; train officials, youth, and journalists on the scope and objectives of the 2003 Convention; start the process of policy and legal review; successfully applied for international assistance from the Intangible Cultural Heritage Fund (ICHF); develop an action plan for the next two years; and develop and submit to the intergovernmental committee of the Convention, a nomination dossier on Tchopa Dance which was inscribed on the Representative List (RL) of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity  during the 9th Session of the committee in 2014. The legislative review process started with the Monuments and Relics Act, the Arts and Crafts Act, Museums Act, Censorship and Control of Entertainment Act and the Copyright Act.

The Malawi National Commission for UNESCO (MNCU)  and the Museums of Malawi have conducted a number of community-based inventorying which started with training of the community members and youths in the UNESCO approved methodology of inventorying and documenting Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH). There are three volumes of the inventories of Malawi’s ICH.  


Ludodiversity of Malawi

The other name for ludodiversity is traditional games. MNCU in collaboration with the Division of Arts and Crafts, Museums of Malawi and Department of Sports collected and documented on video, the traditional games of Malawi from the north to the south. The aim is to develop some of the games into competitive sports while at the same time safeguarding them for posterity.

Documentation of Folktales

The MNCU in partnership with Rei Foundation, Sony Corporation and the National Library Service has documented on video about 257 folktales from the northern, southern and central region of Malawi. Seven storytellers use the documented folktales to tell stories to children every Saturday at the National Library Service in Lilongwe.

Proverbs and Folktales Books

The MNCU also supported Mzuzu University and Center for Language Studies chapters of Oral Traditions Association of Malawi (OTAMA) in documenting and writing books on selected folktales and proverbs as well as dictionaries of Chichewa, Tumbuka and KyaNgonde languages respectively.

The National Intangible Cultural Heritage Committee (NICHC) has, between 2015 and 2017, developed dossiers for nomination of several intangible cultural heritage elements.


Nomination of Nsima

In 2014, the NICHC submitted a dossier for nomination of Nsima, the culinary tradition of Malawi to UNESCO's Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) of humanity.

Also known among Malawians as bughali, ethima, nchima and sima, Nsima is a compound name of the culinary/dietary tradition of Malawians as well as the name of a single component of this tradition.The word Nsima is in Chichewa language and the food is particularly taken during afternoon and evening mealtimes although few like it in the morning too. As a single component, Nsima is a form of thick porridge mainly prepared from flour of maize although other types of foods such as cassava, millets and sorghum are widely used. It is prepared through an elaborate process that requires a specific body of knowledge related to food properties and preparation. As a compound name Nsima refers to the tradition of meal time during which a variety of foods are taken together with Nsima. These varieties of foods include the greens such as pumpkin, haricot bean, cowpea and cassava leaves; pulses, beans, peas; meat and fish; insects and caterpillars and milk. From pounding of the maize into flour through to selection of the accompanying food staff to their eventual preparation and serving, different non harmful rituals, customs, songs and chants distinct to the Malawian way of life, are at times performed by women who are particularly charged with its preparation. During meal time, which is usually a communal event where Nsima and its accompaniments are brought from different households, certain customs must be followed such as those that regulate gluttony and promote cleanliness and cohesion among community members.


Nomination of Mwinoghe Dance

Mwinoghe is an instrumental dance that is performed by the people of Chitipa district in the northern part of Malawi. In the Chisukwa language, the word Mwinoghe literally means “Let us enjoy ourselves”. Therefore, the dance is performed to express joy and happiness. Mwinoghe was derived from a ceremonial dance of neighbouring Karonga district called Indingala. It was modified from Indingala dance in the mid 20th century.

Mwinoghe is performed by young men and women. Women wear a piece of cloth tied around the waist with a blouse top and wrap their heads with a piece of cloth known as Chirundu. They dance on bare feet. On the other hand, men wear shirts, pair of trousers and dance with shoes on.

Instruments used in the dance are: one big drum called Ing’ina and two smaller ones called Twana or Perekete, sometimes accompanied by the whistle. The dance begins with drumming followed by commands from the group leader to signal the beginning of the dance.

Dancers form two lines, men on one side and an equal number of women on the other side and dance facing each other. There is no singing in Mwinoghe dance; the only sound is provided by the three drums, the whistle and commands from the group leader.

Dancing involves twisting bodies and performing elaborate foot movements. Mwinoghe is performed at social gatherings as a form of entertainment, including on the days of national significance such as annual independence celebrations.


Nomination of Kaligo Music Playing

In March 2017, the NICHC submitted a dossier for nomination of Kaligo, the single-string violin music playing to UNESCO's List of ICH in Urgent Need of Safeguarding. Kaligo is found among the Chewa of central region of Malawi as well as the Tumbuka speaking people of Chewa origin found in the northern part of Kasungu. The instrument and its playing has been popularised by Mr. Lyswell Doka Phiri of Doka Village, Sub-Traditional Authority M'nyanja in Kasungu District and Mr. Charles Chavalamangwere Mkanthama of Suzi Village, Traditional Authority Kalumo in Ntchisi District, among the few practitioners remaining.

Kaligo is a wooden single-stringed musical instrument found among the Chewa people of southern and central regions of Malawi. Some traces of the instrument have also been reported at Likoma Island on Lake Malawi where it is called Chimwenyumwenyu. Some argue that Kaligo falls in the violin family. This view is supported by the nature of the instrument. It consists of a drum that acts as a bout or soundboard, fingerboard which goes through the drum and protrudes at the end as a tailpiece, one big tuning peg, a string and a playing rode. Kaligo can be played either seated or standing up. The standard way of holding Kaligo is by the fingerboard with the left hand supported by the chest while the right hand is used for playing.


Nomination of Sansi Music Playing

In March 2017 the NICHC jointly with Zimbabwe's Department of Culture, developed a dossier for a transboundary/multinational nomination of Sansi, the thumb piano music playing to the UNESCO Representative List of ICH of humanity. Other known names of Sansi outside Malawi are mbira, marimba, limba, kalimba, likembe, marimbula, sansa, sanza, gourd piano, thumb piano, ikembe.

In Malawi, Sansi is found among the Chewa of Central and Southern Regions of Malawi as well as the ChiMang'anja or ChiNyanja speaking people of Chewa origin found across the country. Among the well known players, the instrumentation has been popularised by Mr. Charles Chavalamangwere Mkanthama of Suzi Village, Traditional Authority Kalumo in Ntchisi district and Mr. Waliko Makhala, one of Malawi's ethnomusicologists.

The instrument consists of a wooden board and a sound box with  metal keys or tongues (called lamellas) attached on top of the board. The sound box is typically made from a calabash (gourd) or wood. The metal keys (tongues) are made from old spoon handles, bicycle spokes or spring wire that are cut and hammered to the desired shape. The tongues are plucked with the thumbs, or with combinations of thumbs and fingers. The keys usually consist of 6 to 33 metal tongues mounted across two bars (or wooden dowels) at one end attached to the sound box with another wooden dowel holding them in place. The bar closest to the sound hole serves as a bridge.  It provides a means for the dowel to hold the tongues in place. The free ends of the tongues are positioned at different lengths to produce a variety of sound pitches. The length of the vibrating end of the tongues determines the pitch (a shorter key or tongue produces a higher pitch, and a longer key or tongue produces a lower pitch). The Sansi produces a haunting, fluid percussive sound that is considered tranquil and enchanting. Since it is played either simultaneously or alternating between both thumbs, harmonic and rhythmic effects are possible. An important feature of Sansi music is its cyclical nature, with each new repetition of a theme varying slightly from the last and incorporating numerous interwoven melodies.