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

Young Pakistani Satirist Work to Change Narrative

Pakistani artists have long been tackling issues considered to be out of bounds for media, and a new breed of musicians, comedians continue to satirize many of them More

Is The Partition of Iraq Inevitable?

Analysts say formation of independent Kurdistan could threaten nation-state system of entire region More

Ramones Punk Band Co-founder Dies

Drummer, songwriter Tommy Ramone, 65, had been in hospice care following treatment for cancer of the bile duct and died at home in Queens, NY 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.
Pakistani Offensive Empties Biggest Town in Militant Sanctuaryi
X
Ayaz Gul
July 11, 2014 4:03 PM
Pakistan's military recently took a group of journalists to Miranshah, North Waziristan, the main city in a region that has been stronghold of militant and terrorist groups. Ayaz Gul brings us a first-person view of the trip to a city that is now empty of residents, but full of evidence of the militants who were once based there.
Video

Video Pakistani Offensive Empties Biggest Town in Militant Sanctuary

Pakistan's military recently took a group of journalists to Miranshah, North Waziristan, the main city in a region that has been stronghold of militant and terrorist groups. Ayaz Gul brings us a first-person view of the trip to a city that is now empty of residents, but full of evidence of the militants who were once based there.
Video

Video Hotel in Rio Favela Attracts Jazz Enthusiasts

You might not expect to find a hotel in one of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas -- the local name for the city's shantytowns. But VOA’s Brian Allen has the unlikely success story of “The Maze.” Though it's located in one of the poorest parts of the city, it has also been named as one of the best places to hear live jazz music in the world.
Video

Video Smart Road 'Talks' to Cars, Warns of Dangers

How would you drive differently if traffic signals could tell you when they were about to turn red? Or, if your car could warn you of a pedestrian crossing the road ahead of you? Researchers are working on these advances on what’s called a “Smart Road” in Virginia. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti puts you in the driver’s seat to show how it’s done.
Video

Video California Dance Company Aims to Break Belly Dance Stereotype

In the United States, and some other countries, belly dancing is often perceived as a seductive dance, performed mostly at specialty restaurants. One California dance company is trying to get more people to appreciate it as form of art. The group Bellydance Evolution is hoping to redefine people's view of belly dancing by fusing western dance styles with belly dancing and performing around the world. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Restored Papyrus Swamps Can Help Fight Pollution, Conserve Water

Papyrus is a light but strong reed that grows well in shallow, fresh water. The plant stood at the center of the ancient Egyptian civilization. It was used as paper and the reed's shape inspired the fluted columns of ancient Greece. Most of the papyrus swamps gradually disappeared from Egypt and other parts of Africa. As VOA's Faiza Elmasry discovered, though, restoring the papyrus swamps could hold the key to solve many of today’s problems, from pollution to water wars. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Virginia Site Tests Drones for FAA Rules

Blacksburg, a college town in southwestern Virginia, is one of six locations chosen by the FAA - the Federal Aviation Administration - to test drones. Researchers are sending feedback to the FAA as the agency develops national drone regulations. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti traveled to the town to check what’s up in the air there.
Video

Video Israel, Hamas Trade Blame, Dig in

The military conflict between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, continues to escalate. As VOA’s Brian Padden reports, both sides blame each other for provoking the conflict and neither side at this point is ready to back down.
Video

Video Burma Football Friendly Brings Together Battlefield Opponents

As most of Myanmar’s ethnic armies maintain a fragile ceasefire with the government, some of the troops were able to let off a little steam, World Cup - style. Steve Sandford reports from Karen State, Myanmar, also known as Burma, on a peace initiative aimed at building trust between the opposing sides of one of the world’s longest-running conflicts.

AppleAndroid