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Lower Shire rises with Khulubvi Cultural Fest

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RICH — Gule Wamkulu

The last time I saw women grinding using stones was long time ago at my home village in Nkhata Bay. I was young and did not even fathom why the women were grinding using stones.

But it was all because milling machines were scarce in those days and with some of them stationed very far, women could not trouble themselves to travel long distances and instead resorted to grinding using stones.

This was the same period when people were using lemon leaves as spoons to eat porridge.

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Fast forward to 2022 on a beautiful sunny Saturday, I trekked to Nsanje District to be part of the three-day inaugural Khulubvi Cultural and Heritage Festival organised by Nyamithambo Arts Palace led by its proprietor Eric Trinta in partnership with communities in Nsanje and Nsanje District Council.

The venue – Nsanje Prison Ground as early as 10am was already buzzing with activities ranging from acrobatics, traditional dances such as Chikudzire, Utse, Valimba and Maseseto and music performances which a member of the organising team, who was hosting at the time described as Nansanganya in which the performances were running at the same time.

Unlike in other festivals where you have a number of stages and people choose where to go, the activities were running at Nsanje Prison Ground.

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It turned out to be a good concept but people could not manage to concentrate. The performances would have been running at the same time but in different stages and probably this is home work to organisers for next year.

And so there were pavilions displayed by TNM and Farmers Organisation of Malawi which utilised the festival to reach out to people in Nsanje District with their services and then another pavilion which saw Mkumano wa Amang’anja and Sena people displaying traditional food and some of the cultural elements that were on song in the past years.

This is where I saw once again big stones being used to grind.

“This is what we used to do in those years but now it is history because we have milling machines. But as Mgumano wa Amang’anja and Sena, we decided to bring different things including these stones. In other places they are still doing because it is part of identity,” said one of the women as she demonstrated the grinding practice.

A lot of people including young people were interested to learn how the practice was being done and just close by the Mgumano wa Amang’anja and Sena displayed wooden pots which were being used in those days for drawing water and others were used as refrigerators (mtsuko).

On the other side, there were also displays of gourds used for drinking water and sweet beer.

The other pavilion had displays of local food such as Nyika which is common in Lower Shire, rice processed in different ways and the other one is known as Chinkhodo cha mpunga and groundnuts also processed in different local ways.

“In those days, our parents used to process food in simple ways and you can see here that you can process groundnuts and use it as relish and this generation needs to be aware of all this. All these things are part of culture and we need to bring them to light through these platforms,” another woman said.

Then there was a pavilion which had traditional medicine and it included aphrodisiacs.

Traditional Authority Chimombo, who was the guest of honour, was happy after visiting the pavilions alongside Traditional Authority Ndamera, District Commissioner Medson Matchaya and Director Museums and Monuments Lovemore Mazibuko, who represented Minister of Tourism, Culture and Wildlife.

“This is what we have been longing for. We welcome this festival in Lower Shire. It is an event that will help elevate Lower Shire and at the same time promote and preserve culture. Sampling traditional foods and traditional dances reminded me of the past. This is what our forefathers used to do and I am sure our son Mbona is happy,” Chimombo said.

With people dressing in their own clothes, Chimombo suggested that next year people should wear black clothes as a connection to Khulubvi.

“Again, the organisers need to be rotating this festival. This year for instance, they have done it in the area of Senior Chief Malemia and next year they should move it to another area. The country cannot skip Khulubvi because this is in the history of Malawi,” Chimombo who represented Paramount Chief Lundu and Senior Chief Malemia, said.

He then called upon the corporate world, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and well-wishers to embrace culture by supporting cultural festivals citing Khulubvi.

Trinta said the birth of Khulubvi Cultural and Heritage Festival means a lot and that they are setting up something which will market Nsanje District and Lower Shire.

“Our festival is different from other festivals and our strength lies in natural capital which will bring wealthy creation. We have given this festival to the people as part of empowering them. No-one is leading but communities and all traditional leaders have embraced it. We are targeting to make this festival international and the Khulubvi shrines are vital in uplifting tourism,” he said.

But much as they have empowered the community, the organisers still need to put in a strong team that understands its duties well as far as running a festival is concerned.

Some of the people who were part of the organising team seemed not to understand their roles and this led to some challenges including artists and stage management.

Mazibuko said as a ministry, they were excited with the festival because “it is government policy to encourage communities whenever they are to form cultural associations or foundations so that they can safeguard and preserve their culture”.

“This is in line with government’s agenda because we want to use festivals and other cultural platforms as a weapon for social economic development of the country,” he said.

Mazibuko said Mang’anja and Sena people have a rich cultural heritage and seen during the festival and that this was manifested in food and traditional dances among others.

“We would like to thank organisers for creating this festival. What we have seen here is very rich,” he said.

On the Khulubvi shrines, Mazibuko admitted that the government has not done much in terms of raising its profile and selling it to the world.

“As government, we are not sitting idle, the issue about Khulubvi shrines is already on the tentative list for possible nomination so that it can be inscribed on Unesco’s World Heritage List and now with the festival, it is going to add value to whatever we are going to come up with in terms of presentation,” he said.

The festival exposed talent from Nsanje with several urban artists performing and the platform also gave a chance to some of the renowned artists from Lower Shire to shine and they include Nyandoro Nthenga, who travelled all the way from Lilongwe, Agorosso, Lucky Stars Band of the ‘Chinafuna Mbale’ fame led by Boniface Ndamera, Kefasi and Lommie Mafunga.

“First and foremost I should thank the organisers for creating this festival. The step they have taken need to be commended and for a start they have done well but come next year, they need to rectify a number of problems and this includes putting up proper sound. They need proper organisation,” Nthenga of the ‘Wako ndi Wako’ and ‘Binji Na Mkazi Wake’ fame, said.

All in all, it was a festival wealth attending, full of lessons and it surely has more to offer as far as promoting and preserving culture is concerned.

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