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Must’s drive to promote culture, heritage

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CULTURAL ASSETS—Chanunkha admires ceramics produced by students

In one of the regional consultation workshops that brought together creatives in Blantyre last year, Sand Music Festival Coordinator Nkhwachi Peter Mhango lamented the lack of seriousness the country puts to the creative sector.

He said there was need for deliberate government policies to take arts and culture as a career.

True to his words, looking at the immense talent that the country has, there is need to have adequate schools to refine this talent to produce the finest and conquer the world.

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The past years has seen only University of Malawi as one of the institutions of higher learning training creatives such as musicians, dramatists and visual artists.

But now there are a number of other institutions that have been filling the a gap in the creative sector in terms of skills.

Malawi University of Science and Technology (Must) in Thyolo District through the Bingu School of Culture and Heritage ( BISCH) is one of such institutions.

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BISCH is one of the four schools at Must – the other schools include: Malawi Institute of Technology (MIT), Ndata School of Climate and Earth Sciences (NSCES), and the Academy for Medical Sciences (AMS).

BISCH Executive Dean Robert Chanunkha says the school was established to facilitate the application of the cultural aspects of science, technology and innovation (STI) by students, staff and collaborators.

Chanunkha says the school is advancing one of the mandates of the university – that of preserving culture and heritage for socio-economic growth and sustainable development of Malawi.

“In order to advance this mandate, BISCH specifically trains undergraduates and postgraduates; conduct research and consultancy services; protect, preserve, restore and safeguard cultural heritage and the arts using modern science,” he said.

Chanunkha said there was more they were doing as regards growing arts and culture in the country.

“ The school is there to facilitate and widen access to cultural assets in parallel or as an alternative to physical access to cultural heritage; improve innovation and knowledge exchange in the cultural and creative sectors and increase competitiveness of cultural and creative industries in the internal market and internationally,” Chanunkha said.

Chanunkha, said BISCH aims at providing opportunities for new and sustainable job creation in the creative industry and also provide efficient and global solutions in relation to Unesco’s guidelines to the protection and preservation of cultural heritage.

He said cognisant of its mandate, BISCH has over the past years undertaken a number of interventions aiming at preserving culture and promoting social-economic development through culture.

“In Malawi and other parts of Africa, herbal medicine is not only a remedy for diseases but also part and parcel of our culture. Thus, through herbal medicine, knowledge transmission about the cosmos; spiritual and moral education; and mutual regard for biodiversity are achieved.

“Therefore, without herbal medicine part of our culture is lost hence the need to preserve it,” he said.

However, Chanunkha observes that the preservation of herbal medicine is hampered by the demise of traditional custodians who in most cases do not pass on their knowledge to the younger generation.

The Executive Dean also points out that the demand for herbal medicine has recently grown as many people have realised that herbal medicine has got fewer side effects and that they are relatively cheaper than synthetic medicine.

The demand for herbal medicine has led to extinction of herbal plants due to harvesting and collection pressure; and loss of important bodies of knowledge about the identification and use of medicinal plants, and that once these are lost, they will be gone forever.

Again, due to the growing demand for herbal medicine, the country has seen the booming of untrained individuals claiming to be experts in herbal medicine and this is putting the lives of many people in danger.

“Cognisant of the aforementioned gaps and the relevance of herbal medicine in safeguarding culture, Must saw the need of providing training in herbal medicine through university education under Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Practices programme,” he said.

Chanunkha said under this programme, students are trained to understand, design herbal garden, produce and preserve herbal medicine.

“So far, the initiative has managed to establish a herbal garden and currently some herbal plants have been harvested and processed into herbal medicine. Some of the processed products include moringa, neem, soursop, lemon glass, ginger, artemisia and mondia whitei,” Chanunkha said.

He said there was more they were doing through BISCH and that apart from herbal medicine; they were also into visual arts and ceramics education.

“As Must, we embarked on preserving and promoting visual arts and ceramics through education, research and outreach. With the coming in of foreign ceramics and visual arts, most Malawian pottery and paint making activities started to decline because the local products were of low quality, lacking in fashion, colour and quality/standards when compared to the exotic products,” he said.

Realising the importance of preserving the endangered cultural heritage and promoting it and its economic benefits, Chanunkha said Must is spearheading the growth of visual arts and pottery education.

“So far, the initiative has been a success as it has managed to produce quality ceramics ware such as mugs, plates, flower pots, and other artistic works,” he said.

Chanunkha said Must was looking at broader picture and that apart from the other arts and cultural elements, they have also not left out musical instrument craft education.

He said musical instrument craft initiative is an on-going learning programme and that it is aimed at teaching students on how to make local musical instruments such as (Xylophones, Sansi, Drums, Kaligo, Bangwe, banjos (guitars) and Badza) as one way of promoting, preserving and restoring historic musical instruments significant to Malawian culture and heritage.

“Most local instruments are at the point of extinction due to erosion of culture in African societies. The initiative is to bring back such treasured heritage through education research, documentation and workshop construction,” Chanunkha said.

He further said that the musical instrument craft education promotes creative skills towards national social-economic development at the same time reducing the high unemployment rate the country is experiencing.

Chanunkha said they were moving the right direction and that the country will benefit a lot from BISCH.

Over the years, a lot has been said about universities failing to produce graduates that would change the face of the creative industry with many moving into other careers despite training as dramatists, musicians and visual artists.

But Chanunkha says the success of BISCH’s programmes was even seen during the school’s culture and heritage day.

“As a way of celebrating and expressing our cultural heritage, BISCH established an annual cultural event called BISCH Day. The event aims at showcasing various cultural products and activities done by students from all the programmes and we showed everything during the day,” he said.

Chanunkha said the school intends to use this annual event as a way of preserving “our cultural heritage” by exposing it to the wider community beyond Must.

The school celebrated this day under the theme Celebrating our Cultural Heritage: Raising a Generation of Culturally Conscious and Entrepreneurial Citizens for a Self-reliant Malawi.

Under this theme, Chanunkha said, students displayed the entrepreneurial aspect of culture thereby proving the fact that it is possible to create wealth with our cultural heritage and contribute to the realisation of Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063.

Among other things, students from the Department of African Musicology performed, showcasing the beauty of music and there was also an exhibition of ceramics ware products, art gallery, herbal medicine products and musical instruments.

“There is just so much that we are doing and this is all about propelling arts and culture, promoting and preserving and at the same time adding more breath. I am happy to also say that we have an orchestra which we are still building and this is all about showing the value of music and other related arts disciplines,” Chanunkha said.

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