Kungoni uses culture to conserve environment


August 15, 2015 will go into the annals as the day the Kungoni Arts Centre, based at Mua Parish in Dedza, used a cultural and religious approach to help in the conservation of environment.

During the event, the Catholic Church repeated the appeal made by Pope Francis in a letter addressed to its faithful in May which strongly condemned environmental degradation.

The plunder of natural resources threatens food security because it disturbs the hydrological cycle and nutrition through loss of edible wild fruits such as masuku, which are rich in calcium and phosphorous, loss of botanical species and finally loss of the natural beauty.


The 184-page Rome Letter raises concerns on the scale of degradation people are inflicting on the environment. This was a catalyst for Kungoni artists led by Fr Claude Bouacher, locally known as (Achisale), to replicate the Pope’s theme which highlighted the dangers of environmental degradation to people.

Not surprising that the parish’s amphitheatre accommodated thousands of patrons who flocked to the hilly terrain to watch different traditional dances and plays that carried messages of environmental conservation.

Pope Francis letter


Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic concerned about the rate of environmental degradation globally, in May authored a letter in which he highlighted the unsustainable practices being employed by mankind.

Francis of Assisi reminds the world of our common home which is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace the letter says.

The sister, the letter goes on to say, now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.

The Pope writes that we have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, water, air and in all forms of life.

The Pope also touched on biodiversity, saying the earth’s resources are being plundered because of shortsighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production.

The loss of forests and woodlands entails the loss of species which may constitute extremely important resources in future, not only for food but also for curing diseases and other uses.

“It is not enough, however, to think of different species merely as potential “resources” to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves. Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right, “says the Pope in reference to loss of genetic diversity.

Pope Francis then appealed to protect our common home, a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, knowing it is possible things can change.

In the wake of the Pope’s concerns on ecosystem degradation globally, Mua Parish in Dedza dedicated a mass to the environmental conservation cause. This follows local challenges, especially the short rainfall duration that saw crops withering due to inadequate water.

According to agricultural experts, the lack of adequate water has affected crop production. This has led to food shortage, a development that has forced government to buy maize from neighbouring countries to avert famine.

The theme of the mass was titled; (Kokotakokota mitengo yatha, mvula ndi madzi kwakwala, chauta akutituma kuti tisunge chilengedwe) translated as over utilisation of trees, rain and water. God is sending us to conserve the environment.

The clergy told the congregation that human population is growing annually hence the need to strike a balance in sharing resources on earth such as wildlife, fish, birds and trees.

“God gave us everything so that we can name those living creatures, use them sustainably and manage them in a manner that they should be available for the next generation,” said a visiting priest from St Francis Parish in Lilongwe during the mass

In an interview, Bouacher, who coordinates Kungoni Arts Centre, clarified the synergy that is on culture, religion and environment.

He said we need guidance of the past for us to progress and succeed into the future. He made reference as to why they use the chameleon in most of their plays and activities.

Bouacher said chameleon is an example of a typical reptile which camouflages itself as it moves.

“A chameleon has the ability to throw one leg forward and one eye backwards. We combine the past, present and future for us to succeed in life. Like a chameleon, culture is not static, it changes and there are important values that can be passed on by looking at what will survive. That is what we are doing here,” he explained.

Chiefs hail cultural initiative

Among the many notable local patrons that came to witness the occasion at Mua Parish were chiefs from the nearby Salima district led by Traditional Authority Kambwiri.

The visit was facilitated by the Wildlife Action Group (WAG) which thought the event at Mua had a bearing on the management of 197 square kilometres of Thuma Forest which was declared as a reserve in 1926.

The reserve shared by Dedza, Dowa, Lilongwe and Salima districts has experienced strained relations with surrounding communities especially because of marauding elephants that have terrorised communities’ crops and property.

However, today elephant rampages are a thing of the past as the newly erected electrical fence restricts their movement out of the reserve.

“We had an interesting function here at Mua Parish and if all chiefs were to emulate this example the gospel of sound environment management would spread far and wide,” observed T/A Kambwiri who led Group Village Heads from Salima to the event.

Kambwiri offered free advice on changing the mindset in tree planting.

“We should encourage families to plant trees. This is because trees that have been planted by individuals lacked proper care. But those planted by families are taken care of because there is a sense of ownership. If all the chiefs practice this, it would really make a difference in conservation in the Malawi.”

WAG, which is managing Thuma Forest Reserve, invited chiefs to appreciate the day and celebrations with the view that they would learn more about the importance of conserving forests.

The chiefs said they learnt a lot on the importance of tree and forest conservation through songs, dances and plays during the visit.

Lynn Clifford, WAG Manager, felt this was indeed a great experience and urged the use of culture to educate local population about forest conservation.

“It was an enjoyable day to spend with our traditional chiefs and Group Village Headmen. This will strengthen our relationships at grassroots level to fight deforestation and associated wildlife related crimes.” Clifford said.

Govt praises initiative

But what is the reaction of government and the Ministry of Information, Tourism and Culture in this initiative?

Elsie Tembo, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Tourism and Culture, hailed Kungoni for using culture as an instrument to spread the gospel of tree conservation.

She said there were very strong linkages in the way culture; religion and conservation were factored in the theme.

“What is happening here needs to be replicated elsewhere in the country. Conservation of both natural environment as well as culture is quite relevant and key even if we talk about tourism. This is what makes a place, people and community unique from others,” narrated Tembo on the sidelines of the event.

Joseph Moyo, a song composer and singer, said they thought of using traditional dances to develop messages for the local populace to understand the importance of environmental conservation as highlighted by the Pope in the letter.

“We have seen it with our naked eyes, that the rains have been erratic this year largely because of the action of humans on the environment. No wonder we selected the Pope’s concerns on ecosystems to change the local populace mindset,” he said.

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