Malawi is one of the countries in the world where culture, through traditions and customs, is a relevant aspect of society. Most Malawians have traditions that depend on their tribes and districts of origin but are complimented by the general Malawian culture. For instance, kneeling in front of elders is a general norm among the Malawian folk.
Some of the traditions have worn out while others are practiced for appearances’ sake when ideally people have stopped believing in them.
On the other hand, the modern world gives room for exchange of ideas across cultures locally and internationally. The world is now known as a global village.
Two decades ago widows had property snatched from them by their late husband’s relatives but now, with the rise of women’s rights, that has changed to a very large extent. We also had wife inheritance customs which are now discouraged because of the spread of HIV and Aids, which wasn’t a factor when these practices became accepted traditions.
It is important to note that although preserving traditions and the Malawian culture is vital; we should not make the mistake of assuming that something is right or the only way because it is culture. On the other hand, we should also acknowledge that we are living in a vastly and rapidly evolving world where things become outdated within days.
There are many things that will need to change and move from this is the way it has always been done or ndichikhalidwe chathu (this is our culture). Sometimes we fail to appreciate how much this blind allegiance to culture is negatively affecting the country. You go to the village now and people are starving because 1.) they believe that maize (nsima) is the only food they can have for a proper meal and 2.) because people are refusing to implement new methods of farming like sasakawa since they have always used the traditional method of growing maize.
Let us come to the ballooning population and spread of HIV and Aids, fuelled by general immorality and promiscuity. There is an element of culture that is contributing to this.
The rate of unwanted pregnancies, promiscuity and HIV and Aids infections among young people is growing at an alarming rate. One would say the media is playing a leading role in influencing the perception of sex-related topics amongst young people; the popularity of social networks, explicit movies and magazines has made sex a selling topic.
On the other hand, I believe culture is playing a big role in this because people are failing to adapt to changing times. Our culture typically labels discussion of sex topics between parents and young people a taboo, which creates an air of awkwardness when parents feel the need to educate their young children on sexual matters.
Consequently, parents end up vaguely “threatening” their children on the matter or “sensationalising” the topic which brings more harm than good. Half the youth end up excited and thrilled by the sensational display of the topic which leads them to “experiment”, to experience the thrill for themselves or to “conquer” the “fears” that have been created by the threats on the topic.
Parents need to tell their children facts on sex. Threats and sensations will not stop the youth from engaging in reckless sexual activities. Being in denial of their children having a sex life or a potential sex life will not change the inevitable. Parents need to educate their children from a young age about sex, how to have a healthy sex life, possible consequences and responsibilities that come with having a sex life. The youth should be able to make responsible decisions on sex with facts at hand, not out of ignorance and curiosity.
The rejection of contraceptives because ‘in our Malawian or African tradition, we have as many kids as possible’ is also a notion that needs to change. Malawi is a country choking with poverty and reproductive recklessness in the name of culture is not helping matters. We actually need more girls to continue with secondary school and college education instead of dropping out due to unplanned pregnancies that come because of lack of important information.
There needs to be a balance between culture and change. I believe culture can be adaptive; hundred years from now, culture will have its foundations rooted in today. This means it is our duty to create a better future for our country. We cannot go back to a century ago; we only have the present and the future.
I rest case.
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