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Finding oral tradition’s place in today’s world

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The prevalence of technology—smartphones, televisions, computers, among other inventions—has led to many suggestions that oral tradition is being killed by our reliance on these tools.

However, this school of thought is not new because even in the past some people suggested that technology was extinguishing creative impulses.

For instance, English author Aldous Huxley in his novel, Brave New World, back in 1932 suggested a future in which humans sated a constant desire for distraction through technology.

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Basically, the novel anticipates developments in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation and classical conditioning that are combined to make a profound change in society and also looks at its impacts.

Back home, in the past too, when there was a full moon in the village, one would hear sweet and tiny but sharp voices of children singing under the moonlight. When you were a child and heard the songs, you definitely knew it was a full moon and you would trace the voices until you found where they were coming from and sing along. Life was pretty fun and simple.

In other instances, children would gather around a bonfire to listen to the folktales that their ancestors had passed on to their grandparents. It was so conventional for parents to take their children to the village. Tradition was preserved.

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Fast forward to 2018, how many parents send their children to the village during holidays? Would children prefer being at home glued to the TV? Perhaps spending much of their time on their computers either watching a series or surfing the internet? Things have really changed.

The oral tradition is slowly dying. In 10 years’ time, the song might be different and perhaps this tradition will be long buried and forgotten.

Cultural activist and former chairperson of the Chewa Heritage (Southern Chapter), Dyson Gonthi, said that oral tradition is indeed being buried slowly.

“In the past, our parents would take us to the village where we would spend our holidays. It was so traditional but now children don’t even like going to the village and the parents are even too busy to teach their children the moral lessons we learned in the village through folktales,” he said.

Gonthi said that this is slowly diminishing our oral tradition.

“It’s very sad that oral culture will soon be history. That excitement we had for visiting our grandparents in the village to be told folktales, legendary stories and taught riddles has been overtaken by modern life and children prefer watching TVs or being on the internet,” he said.

Gonthi explained that the fact that we usually accuse the elderly of practising witchcraft has made the situation even worse.

“Some parents refuse to let their children visit their home villages because the village is believed to be the heart of witchcraft so this has widened the gap between children and the elderly people. This makes it hard for children to love their home villages and therefore, get so close to the elderly,” he said.

He said that the children are missing out some of the important lessons taught through folktales, riddles, among others.

“We learnt critical thinking through riddles and we learnt different lessons from the myths narrated to us around the bonfire set by the elders. Most importantly, we learned how to respect elders, vocational work and we grew up holding on to our cultural values,” he said.

Gonthi however, argued that our culture’s doom begun when Europeans colonised us and technology has fuelled it.

“When Europeans came, they brought in their culture and abolished some of the beliefs we had. The computers have even made it worse for children to think fast and solve mathematical problems without using the calculator,” he said.

Although technology has also contributed to the death of our culture, it is also a tool which we can possibly use to promote and preserve our culture by publishing folktales, riddles and fables.

“The problem with publishing books here in Malawi is money. You can write a book but to publish it is a hustle,” said Gonthi, whose folklore book Kwalimba Uta got approved to be used by Form One students studying literature.

Gonthi came up with the book as one way of promoting and preserving our culture.

Music curator Kenny Klips said Malawi as a country is not doing enough when it comes to using technology to preserve and promote its culture.

The co-founder of MalawiMusic.Com, said their website can upload folklores and generic music to preserve culture but not for monetary gains.

“We tried uploading generic music before but many people were not interested. Even for us to get the local content can be a hustle because we haven’t archived it. It is so unfortunate because as a country, we don’t preserve our culture. Only the Ngoni tribe tries to preserve their culture even though it is not entirely Malawian culture because it is a borrowed culture from South Africa and it is vibrant there,” Kenny Klips said.

He pointed out that the major setback that prevents the preservation of culture on digital media is funding.

“What is required is that the government and other non-governmental organisations should fund projects to archive such content from Chitipa to Nsanje and upload it on the internet for people to easily access it,” Kenny Klips said.

He, however, observed that despite having a ministry that handles cultural issues, there is little that it is doing to preserve culture.

“The people who are supposed to be responsible in the preserving our culture—the government and parents—have unfortunately done little. This is why urban artists are recording music that do not portray who we are and are getting arrested for it,” Klips said.

However, Kenny Klips, observed that some local TV stations are trying to preserve culture through a number of programmes.

“For instance, Times Group has a number of programmes on TV which would go a long way to preserve culture. Programmes like Magule, Chikhalidwe ndi Miyambo, Ana Ife, Thyola Batcha, among others,” Kenny Klips said.

Klips said the government should regulate media houses.

“Media house licences should be granted on the condition that 70 percent of what is broadcast is local content and f they don’t adhere to this, they should be stripped off their licence,” he said.

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