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

Yemen Brings US, Iran Closer to Naval Face-off

US sending two more ships to waters off coast of Yemen to take part in 'maritime security operations' More

Minorities Become Majority Across US

From 2000 to 2013, minorities became the majority in 78 counties in the United States. Here's where those demographic shifts are happening More

Japan's Maglev Train Breaks Own Speed Record

Seven-car 'magnetic levitation' train traveled at more than 600 kilometers per hour during test run Tuesday More

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

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Paini
X
Shelley Schlender
April 20, 2015 7:03 PM
Pain has a purpose - it can stop you from touching a flame or from walking on a broken leg. As an injury heals, the pain goes away. Usually. But worldwide, one out of every five people suffers from pain that lasts for months and years, leading to lost jobs, depression, and rising despair when medical interventions fail or health experts hint that a pain sufferer is making it up. From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Italy Rescues Migrants After Separate Deadly Capsize Incident

Italy continued its massive search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Monday for the capsized boat off the coast of Libya that was carrying hundreds of migrants, while at the same time rescuing Syrian migrants from another vessel off the coast of Sicily. Thirteen children were among the 98 Syrian migrants whose boat originated from Turkey on the perilous journey to Europe.
Video

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs