A look at Malawi’s intangible cultural heritage

Published on : 14/04/2015
Source : http://timesmediamw.com/a-look-at-malawis-intangible-cultural-heritage/ 12 April 2015


In 2005, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) proclaimed VimbuzaHealing Dance, Gule Wamkulu and Tchopa as intangible cultural heritage out of all the traditional dances that are performed across the country.



Later in 2008 Gule Wamkulu and Vimbuza were inscribed on Unesco's representative list of the intangible heritage for humanity whereas Tchopa was inscribed in 2014.



Director for the Department of Culture, Elizabeth Gomani Chindebvu, said that for an intangible cultural heritage element (cultural practice) to be inscribed on Unesco's list, there is a criteria which is followed.



"Firstly, the submitting state party must demonstrate that the element (cultural practice) is part and parcel of the cultural heritage present in its territory and it must also prove that inscription of the element will help raise its awareness and its significance to the society as well as encourage dialogue among members of different communities, thus reflecting cultural diversity and that it (the element) must show that it testifies high degree of human creativity," she said.



Moreover, Gomani argued that in light of its importance, the submitting states party must also prove that once the element is inscribed, it (the country) will put in place measures that are aimed at preserving and promoting the practice now that it will receive considerable attention from the public, including tourists who may want to exploit it for their own benefit.



The state party must also demonstrate that the element (cultural practice) has been nominated following the widest possible participation of the communities concerned and with their free, prior and informed consent and that the element must be included in register of intangible cultural heritage in that country," she said.



So, in case of VimbuzaGule Wamkulu and Tchopa dances, Malawi had to prove to Unesco that the practices met all the above criteria.



Essentially, Chindebvu argued that the nomination of Gule WamkuluVimbuza and Tchopa dances on the Unesco's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage is of great significance to the nation in the sense that it helps to raise awareness of the different cultural traditions that are practiced by different communities across the country.



The listing ensures that there is better preservation of these traditions at national level, thereby contributing



to the well-being of communities. Moreover, it promotes cultural diversity, mutual respect and ensures unity among people of different cultures," she said.



In addition to that, Chindebvu said the country is eligible to receive international assistance from Unesco which it can use to further implement programmes that are aimed at safeguarding the inscribed elements.



"Nomination helps the country to draw attention of the world about its rich cultural heritage and share its experiences on how the country has managed to preserve its heritage," she said.



Chindebvu further said that the inscription of Gule WamkuluVimbuza and Tchopa dances has helped to highlight the importance of these cultural practices as mainspring of cultural diversity and also act as guarantee of sustainable development, as underscored in the Unesco Recommendation on the  Safeguarding of Traditional Culture and Folklore of 1989, in the Unesco Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity of 2001, and in the Istanbul Declaration of 2002 adopted by the Third Round Table of Ministers of Culture.



General Secretary for Chewa Heritage Foundation, Sefren Khumula, said that they are so happy that their traditional dance Gule Wamkulu was declared by Unesco as a national heritage.



"We are proud that Gule Wamkulu was recognised out of all traditional dances that are performed in the country. This has provided a platform where tourists come just to witness Gule Wamkulu performances and other cultural groups within the country developed interest in the dance, as a result, it became a source of income to the country," he said.



However, since Gule Wamkulu is both a secret cult and ritual dance practised among the Chewa, the



declaration made by Unesco could mean exposing the secret cult to the public domain and therefore diluting its acrimony.



But, Khumula argued that the declaration did not dilute the venom of Gule Wamkulu.



"Gule Wamkulu was not exposed to the public but was just recognised by Unesco as one one of the best heritage. Moreover, exposition and declaration are two different things," he said.



Khumula argued that Gule Wamkulu is a protected dance and that the system that protected it throughout the years is still there.



"Gule Wamkulu is different from other traditional dances because we have the Chewa Heritage Foundation to protect and promote its culture. And, we are doing everything possible to make sure we preserve it," he said.



Administrator for Mulhako wa Alhomwe, Muchanankhwaye Mpuluku, believes that Tchopa  was declared as a national heritage because it's a traditional dance that is outstanding among the Lhomwes since it's a dance that is performed during different festivities.



"We have different traditional dances but Unesco chose Tchopa probably because it is performed in all areas where Lhomwes reside," he said.



Mpuluka claimed that this is of significance to the Lhomwe culture because it has shown that there are people in Malawi who are of Lhomwe tribe.



"To us, it means they recognised our dance and we are trying our best to preserve it so that it should never lose its value. For instance we teach our youths Nahachi Tchopa and we also hold Mulhako wa Alhomwe (Lhomwe gathering) every year. Moreover, we hold Tchopa dancing competitions so that we should maintain its quality," he said.

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