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Keeping military, culture union alive through preservation

ON TOUR OF DUTY — Usi (right) admires one of MDFs old machine guns

CHILD OF WAR — Beni dance

History, they say, is strewn with great people that died.

To that, the Malawi Defence Force (MDF) seems intent on adding new words: The History of Malawi is strewn with military equipment that has become part of our culture and nationhood!

According to culture expert Evance Kapwepwe, war and military equipment have shaped some of the best dances in the world, hence militaries all over the world have been key to cultural preservation.

“In Malawi, we talk of dances such as beni. Soldiers used to partake in beni when they wanted to relax, often after a busy day either in the field or at the barracks,” he said.

Maybe that is why, all of a sudden, MDF officials seem to have revisited their idea of constructing a museum in Zomba, which is itself Malawi’s old capital, so that war equipment can become part of Malawi’s culture.

And the move has the government’s nod, if Culture Minister Michael Usi’s last year visit to the site of the museum were to be the yardstick for one’s dreams.

At the heart of actualisation of the MDF— which is also Malawians’— dream is 93 Brigade Commander Colonel Fostino Gundaphiri.

The decorated man told Usi that the dream to have the museum would not die a natural death, describing the facility as important, in terms of the preservation of equipment that aided our forefathers and mothers in the fight for peace.

“The facility [museum] will have all the gadgets that army personnel have used over the years, thereby enabling us to document things that have, over the years, become part of our culture,” he said.

He says the museum project would ensure that the military arm’s old tools are preserved.

“There are many vital elements in preserving the history of Malawi Defence Force. We would like to have old equipment, books, uniforms and personal things that people used to carry during old wars. This is a very important place,” Gundaphiri says.

Trip Adviser, an online platform that offers advice on travel destinations, indicates that Malawi has such museums as La Caverna Art Gallery in Blantyre, Kungoni Centre of Culture and Art in Dedza District, Cultural and Museum Centre of Karonga in Karonga District, Chichiri Museum (under Museum of Malawi) in Kasungu, Shrubs Art Craft and Culture Art Gallery in Likoma District.

Therefore, to have the MDF at Mangasanja would be to add more value to this rich history.

No wonder, Usi was elated.

He advised MDF management and staff to stay away from the act of bureaucracy, which, he says, derails national development.

“It is not only government officials that can make decisions. People in different departments may also provide ideas to top officials. We should also aim at developing and promoting local tools. We need to aim at attracting tourists,” Usi said.

When the museum dream sees the light of day, it could join other great museums in the world.

According to CNN, five of the world’s best museums are in the United Kingdom (two), the United States (US), Russia and France.

“The history of warfare is intertwined with that of mankind. And while, unfortunately, war is not a rare occurrence in history, it remains one of the most traumatic experiences that a nation and its inhabitants can endure.

“No wonder then that museums have been set up around the world to preserve the memory of armed conflicts and the people who fought in them. Here is a list of some of the most remarkable ones,” CNN indicates.

It then lists Imperial War Museum, London, in the United Kingdom top of the list.

“Established in 1917, while World War I was still being fought, the Imperial War Museum, known as IWM, marked its centenary in 2017 as one of the finest of its kind anywhere in the world.

“Although obviously focused on the topic of war, the staff members do not describe it as a military museum, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. ‘IWM London is a social history museum that explores how modern conflict has affected entire societies, from the front lines to the home fronts, using its rich collection – objects, artworks, interviews with survivors, letters, diaries and much more – to tell compelling personal stories’,” CNN quotes senior curator Laura Clouting as saying.

The museum it lists second is the National WWI Museum and Memorial, Kansas City, Missouri, in the US.

“Firing on the First World War’s Western Front ended on November 11 1918. With the date’s 100th anniversary, the National WWI Museum and Memorial, designated by Congress in 2014 as the Nation’s WWI museum, acquires a special relevance.

“…The National WWI Museum and Memorial has its roots in a memorial built by popular subscription right after the war’s end, which makes it not only the second oldest museum about WWI anywhere in the world, but also one that was totally crowdfunded,” CNN writes.

Then, there is the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth, England, in the UK as the third museum listed.

“In keeping with its centuries-old reputation for excellence, the Royal Navy museum is sure to delight anyone with an interest in naval or military matters. The museum is spread across several locations.

“In addition to the museum proper, Portsmouth is home to three interesting historical vessels: HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship at the battle of Trafalgar and the oldest naval vessel still in commission, HMS Warrior, a rare example of mid-19th century hybrid sail-and-steam naval technology and HMS M.33, a survivor of the Gallipoli Campaign in WWI.

“Royal Marines Museum is part of NMRN but public galleries are currently closed to visitors and a new museum will open in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard in spring. Other branches include the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in nearby Gosport, the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton, Somerset and HMS Caroline in Belfast,” CNN indicates.

The fourth museum it lists is Museum of the Great Patriotic War, Moscow, in Russia.

“The solemn, monumental architecture of the Museum of the Great Patriotic War (as WWII is called in Russia) is a stark reminder of the huge human and material cost that the war inflicted upon the peoples of the former Soviet Union.

“The complex, set in the midst of Park Pobedy (Victory Park), in west-central Moscow, was inaugurated in 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the war’s end.

“Among the most impressive features of this museum are the three large commemorative halls. The central one is dedicated to all those who received the award of Hero of the Soviet Union. The other two remember the more than 26 million dead on the Soviet side and the key commanders of the Red Army during the war,” CNN says of the facility.

CNN then lists Les Invalides, Paris in fifth position.

It indicates that the facility was originally a retirement home for army veterans but that it now contains the Musée de l’Armée (the French Army Museum) as well as the Musée des Plans-reliefs that contains scale models of the main fortified cities of France and the crypt where the remains of Napoleon Bonaparte were laid to rest, after being repatriated from the island of St. Helena in 1840.

“French military grandeur has its home in the Hôtel des Invalides, near the banks of the Seine in the heart of Paris. This impressive complex, whose main building is topped by a golden dome, was built in the 17th century on the orders of King Louis XIV.

“It was originally a retirement home for army veterans, but it now contains the Musée de l’Armée (the French Army Museum) as well as the Musée des Plans-reliefs that contains scale models of the main fortified cities of France and the crypt where the remains of Napoleon Bonaparte were laid to rest, after being repatriated from the island of St. Helena in 1840,” CNN asserts.

Who knows, maybe Mangasanja may become the centre of the world.

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