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.

TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid