Mbira/sansi on Unesco list


One of the popular traditional instruments mbira or sansi, which is played in Malawi and Zimbabwe, has been listed on Unesco’s representative list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

National Focal Point for Unesco’s 2003 Convention Lovemore Mazibuko, who coordinated the file of the two countries, confirmed the development Monday.

Mazibuko— who works with the Department of Museums and Monuments in the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Wildlife— said the process began in 2016 when “we first documented the element and included it on our national list”.


“Unesco does not accept to include any cultural practice on its list unless it first appears on the national list of the submitting State party. We did this in 2011. Within the framework of the Convention, State parties are allowed to nominate any of their living heritages [to be] on Unesco’s list,” he said.

He said that Unesco has three lists: the representative list; the list of elements in need of urgent safeguarding; and the register of good safeguarding practices.

“The art of making and playing sansi has been inscribed on the representative list. What this means is that this is an important cultural practice that people around the world should cherish and safeguard jealously because of the role it plays in the society,” Mazibuko said.


He further said the submission was jointly done with Zimbabwe because Unesco encourages State parties to do so, especially in cases of cross-border living heritage.

“You will agree with me that we have so many cultural practices that are shared with [people in] other countries because we, people, are one and the boundaries that separate us are artificial. This is why we have, for instance, Gule Wamkulu [the big dance] in Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique and even Zimbabwe,” Mazibuko said.

He said mbira or sansi was one of the shared cultural practices, adding that seven other countries were also supposed to participate in these nominations because the instrument cuts across national boundaries

“But, apparently, they were not ready with their versions, hence they allowed Malawi and Zimbabwe to proceed with the hope that they would join at a later date. So, the instrument is called mbira in Zimbabwe and here in Malawi we call it sansi,” Mazibuko said.

He said this means a lot for Malawi.

“Firstly, it shows that Malawi has rich culture. Unesco can also provide us with support to further strengthen the safeguarding of the practice. The practice will put Malawi on the map and researchers world over maybe be attracted to learn more about the instrument, hence contributing to tourism,” Mazibuko said.

He said this would also help stakeholders raise awareness in Malawi.

“If Unesco can recognise our culture in that way, we, as a country, should be proud. Even those communities which don’t know much about this instrument/practice will have a chance of doing so,” Mazibuko said.

Some of the sansi players in the country include veteran ethno-musician Charles Chavaramangwere Mkanthama from Ntchisi District.

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