News / Africa

    In Malawi, Traditional Dance Called ‘Wicked’

    Many Christians in Malawi are criticizing the inclusion of a controversial tradition in Christmas celebrations -- a dance of the Chewa, called Gule wankulu. Some Christians call the practice wicked.

    Lameck Masina

    Nyau is a secret society whose membership is usually open only to the Chewas in central Malawi.

    The tribe is mainly known for Gule wankulu, or Nyau -- literally its “big dance,” performed by masked men called spirits.  It’s restricted to the men of the Chewa ethnic group.

    Dyson Gonthi is the director of Chewa Cultural Heritage and Development, a group seeking to promote and preserve local culture.

    Drawing of Nyau dancer at Museum of Malawi, Blantyre.
    Drawing of Nyau dancer at Museum of Malawi, Blantyre.

    “We [perform] Gule wankulu when we want to install a Chewa chief, during the death of a chief, even at times when the chief commemorates something special that happened in his village," says Gonthi. "So I can agree, there is no relationship with Christianity because [the dance] is [alleged to be] full of evil spirits.”

    The dancers, who are sometimes naked, are called “spirits.”

    “If he dances while naked you don’t laugh, you should not look surprised, you must take it normally," he says. "If you look surprised, annoyed or disappointed, anything can happen to you through Juju or charms.  It [is] a dangerous dance.”

    Gonthi says incorporating the Gule wankulu dance into Christmas celebrations will bring what he calls “sanity” into the traditional practice.

    “We want to get rid of the charms, and the way we talk, because we sometimes use obscene language." says Gonthi.  "We also want to avoid looking naked.  And doing away with [using the dance] as punishment when somebody misbehaves in the village, and we take an opportunity to .... even put him to death.”

    Gonthi says during Christmas celebrations dancers are encouraged to compose songs that glorify God, as opposed to those with obscene and seductive language.

    But Christians say involving the dance into Christmas celebrations is an insult to Christianity.

    Davison Makhole is the deacon of the Nyasa Mission of Evangelical Church of Malawi in the commercial capital, Blantyre.

    “We commemorate Christmas [as] the day we believe Jesus was born," explains Makhole. "  When we come to Nyau, it is basically the cultural belief which is very different from teachings of Jesus; theirs is associated with evil.”

    Gonthi quotes the Bible as saying Jesus came for everybody.

    But Makhole is not convinced. 

    "“Of course, yes.  Jesus Christ was born for everybody, including the Nyau people," he says. "But in most cases, they use charms in their dances.  For example, the Nyau dancer can dance on the string [or rope suspended above the ground without falling down]; can we call that science?”

    Makhole says the Chewa should renounce their traditional beliefs and join Christianity, rather than mixing the two.

    The Chewa ethnic group is found in some parts of Mozambique and Zambia, as well as in Malawi.  History says the tribe originated in the 15th century in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    The paramount chief of all the Chewas is Chief Undi, who lives in Zambia.  In Malawi, the first president, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, was a Chewa.  Under his rule, Nyau dancers were accorded special respect at his political functions, and the language of the Chewas – Chichewa – became the national language.

    You May Like

    S. African Farmer Goes From 'Voice in the Wilderness' to Sought-After Expert

    Margarest Roberts has authored more than 40 books on subjects like organic farming, urban agriculture, herbs and ‘superfoods'

    Millennial Men Prefer Bucks Over Beauty

    U.S. men aged 18 to 34 say the finances of a potential significant other are more important than her looks

    Multimedia Lebanese Clown Troupe Marks Valentine's Day Amid Stink

    Activists resort to unusual approaches to raise public awareness of country’s ongoing trash crisis

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.