National Anthem localisation: Vernacular vocals needed


By Ziliro Mchulu:

Language is a vehicle of culture and people understand themselves in their local language, thus all cultural stuff should be expressed in vernacular in a bid to give the true taste of culture.

However, one language element that has been overlooked for decades is the fact that we have instilled in our people a national identity that runs away from their setting. Malawians know their national identity and pride in a foreign language: English. Our children have, for years, sung the Malawi national anthem in English, something we must discontinue if were to inculcate national consciousness.


A National anthem is a patriotic song or musical composition that is either recognised officially by a nation’s government and constitution or is accepted as such by convention through popular use. This is a patriotic musical composition that evokes and eulogises the history, traditions and struggles of its people.

National anthems are usually played, or sung, during national holidays, including during Independence Day celebrations. The anthem is also an integral part of a school’s daily routine in some countries. In Malawi, school assemblies have a space for the national anthem. Some sing it at the beginning, some in the middle while in some schools it acts as a closing player. In India, it is mandatory to play the national anthem at the beginning of a movie in a movie theatre. In some countries, notably China and Colombia, the national anthem is played at specific times of the day by radio and television channels.

In Malawi, almost all radio stations play the national anthem when starting live broadcasting and when closing live broadcasting sessions. Thus, different countries promote their national anthems in different ways.


Most countries also mention several etiquettes to be observed while performing or listening to the national anthem and these include standing up, removing headwear, among others. For example, Malawians fold up the right hand to the heart while the left hand is kept straight.

Why singing?

The national anthem, like other national symbols, represents the tradition, history and beliefs of a nation and its people. Hence, it helps evoke feelings of patriotism among the country’s citizens and reminds them of their nation’s glory, beauty and rich heritage. It helps bring the feeling of identification and brings one to the taste of belonging to a country. It also helps unite citizens of the country. During the performance of the national anthem, citizens of a nation, despite their ethnic differences, rise in unison and listen attentively or sing the song with great enthusiasm.

As the local song starts ‘ Mlungu dalitsani Malawi’, it means we all join in asking God for a better Malawi regardless of culture, tribe and region. The song brings our spirits together to sing as one.

Players also feel proud when they receive a medal at an international sporting event while their country’s national anthem is played in the background. It gives them a feeling of having made their country proud.

Students who listen to the national anthem in their schools learn to respect their nation and develop a sense of unity among  themselves. Ironically, in public universities, the national anthem marks the beginning of violence. The phrase “Kuti tisaope” (We should not be afraid) motivates students and others.

In which language should we sing the national anthem?

All countries have national anthems and many countries have localised their national anthems.

However, in Africa this has not been the case, as many sing it in the coloniser’s language. In Malawi, schools sing it in English, a direct impact of British colonialism.

This is despite that it has been observed that the national anthem is most often in the national, or most common language, of the country.

Most commonly, states with more than one national language may offer several versions of their anthem. The ‘Swiss Psalm’, the national anthem of Switzerland, has different lyrics for each of the country’s four official languages (French, German, Italian and Romansh ).

The national anthem of Canada , ‘O Canada’, has official lyrics in both English and French which are not translations of each other, and is frequently sung with a mixture of stanzas, representing the country’s bilingual nature.

The current South African national anthem is unique in that five of the country’s 11 official languages are used in the same anthem.

This portrays that some countries have localised their anthems. We can borrow a leaf from them. Our local languages should drive us to national goals. We should not be in an alien environment when singing the national anthem.

Singing the national anthem in English is not only debauched but also a neo-colonialism ascension whereby we continue to see ourselves, including our languages, as inferior. By allowing our learners to sing it in English, we are telling them to view their languages as not well-to-do. It means we are reinforcing, in our children, that the best way to express yourself is in English and not Chichewa, Tumbuka, Sena , Tonga , Yawo , Lambya , Lomwe and all other local languages.

As argued above, a national anthem is a patriotic musical composition that evokes and eulogises the history, traditions, and struggles of people. All this shows the need to get the national anthem in one’s language. In remembering our history in the national anthem, we do not need to get in the coloniser’s language.

For pragmatism, those from the north should sing in northern languages like Tumbuka, Tonga, Lambya, Chindale, Chiangonde, Sukwa and all their primary tongues. Learners should sing the song in the vernacular of the vernacular majority. For example, in Mzuzu, many people speak Tumbuka and it can sound colourful if it is sung in Tumbuka.

However, last time I asked my secondary school class at Lupaso Community Day Secondary School to sing it in Tumbuka, they all failed and, this week, a video is trending of some children who were filmed singing the national anthem in English but the children were struggling with the language, which was sad and laughable, especially to those who know English. The question I asked myself was, why not singing it in their local language?

We should teach our children the song in their language, be it a minority or majority language. This will remove the spectrum of regionalism or tribalism because we will all sing for Malawi.

If schools can start nationalising the anthem, we can be sure that our children will master the songs in vernacular languages. Every school exists in an area of a dominant culture and language, enforcing the anthem in the language of the host majority fits in the principles of tolerance and multiculturalism.

With the lack of a clear language policy in this country, it is very imperative to persuade a discussion on language issues like this one in a bid to steer those responsible to act in respect of time and generation. We need to continue learning English because it has numerous benefits in the global village, but this should not make us get to the extent of parading our national identity in it in the 21st century.

The best way to begin is to begin and the change in our perception of local languages’ value starts now. Let’s localise the National anthem and fix this nation.

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