Malawi: Bloggers to watch in the arts in 2010

Of the many Malawian bloggers who have been active throughout 2009, a remarkable number of them have been posting works of art, especially poetry, short fiction, literary analysis, and pictures of paintings. Others have been focusing on the arts and entertainment in Malawi, more broadly.

In this roundup we are looking at five blogs authored by individual Malawians as well as groups of Malawian bloggers, mostly concentrating on creative writing and other forms of art and entertainment. This is the first time we are featuring most of these bloggers on Global Voices.

Blogger Patrick Achitabwino writes about many aspects of Malawian life, but three of his most recent posts discuss developments in Malawian writing. Through his recent posts, we learn that Mike Sambalikagwa Mvona, current president of the Malawi Writers Union, and a prolific writer in his own right, has published an 80-page document, “A Guide to Writers’ and Artists’ Contracts.” Mvona's guide is aimed at helping Malawian writers familiarize themselves with the book publishing process, especially on signing contracts. Achitabwino writes:

By the time you will have finished reading this guide you will have been conversant with general publishing contract guidelines on illustrations and quotations; infringement of existing copyright, libel, and censorship laws; obligation to publish, advance payment and royalties; choice of law among many others.

In another post, Achitabwino analyzes a short story that won first prize in the 2008 First Merchant Bank/Malawi Writers Union Literary Awards. The story is titled “Sins of Our Fathers,” by Chikumbutso Ndaferankhande, and has been included in a new anthology of Malawian short stories, titled The Bachelor of Chikanda, featuring young Malawian writers previously unpublished, as well as seasoned, published old hands. The new anthology is the subject of another of Achitabwino's posts.

More literary news comes from a blog that was set up in June 2009, by a group of students at the University of Malawi's Chancellor College. Known as The Writers’ Workshop, the blog carries poems, short stories, and news about literary events at Chancellor College and across the country. The Chancellor College Writers’ Workshop dates back to the early days of the establishment of the University of Malawi in the mid-1960s. It has played a pioneering role in the literary history of Malawi, having been associated with Malawi's most important poets, novelists, playwrights and literary scholars.

Through the blog we learn of the group's activities that involve lots of travel and outreach with other universities, secondary schools, groups and associations across the country. The group has links with the recently established Catholic University of Malawi, the 12 year-old Mzuzu University, the Malawi Writers Union, the Book Publishers Association of Malawi, and various associations and secondary schools. They travel to other university campuses and secondary schools, as well as to publishing houses. They also host other writers’ groups at the Chancellor College campus.

The most recent entry on the blog is a short profile of the group's member, Hardson Chamasowa Davie, a poet who writes in the local language Chichewa, and has been enjoying airtime on national radio stations where his new poetry album, titled “Ku Smongolia”, is being played.

Also utilizing blogs to publish literary works is the Lilongwe Writers Circle, a group of Malawian writers residing in the city of Lilongwe. The groups meets once a month, and discusses the works of members. Their blog carries short fiction, poetry, literary commentary, short essays, and announcements. A poem titled “Space on Trip“, by Tendy Kay, posted in November, starts:

The room spinning
My temperature constricted in one valve about to POP!
Eyes doubled in size
Am sure I hit the light switch
Was it off or on?
. . .

The most recent entry on the blog is an announcement by one of the members of a new online magazine called “Afrocentric,” to which we turn next.

Afrocentric Magazine started out as a blog, with first entries appearing in August 2009. The initial entries sought to define and explain the term “Afrocentric,” depending on how each of the magazine's editorial team saw it. Nimbi Chiko wrote:

The afrocentric discourse attempts to shift, construct, critique and challenge the way of knowing or discerning knowledge from an epistemology endangered within a European cultural mind set to an African one, whites think blacks are of no value and it makes me sad that’s why I would rather embrace where I come from. The term afrocentric makes me feel safe and accepted in society.

A 2008 edition of the magazine is available for free download, as is a short promotional video. A description of the magazine reads:

The online magazine created for the young, hip and innovative person. The magazine features exclusive live interviews by 3rd Eye and D1, find out why Tex is Malawi’s new R&B sensation, download and stream videos, listen to music by various Malawian artists, watch fashion redefined by MIA by Mia Nisbet, articles, profiles, features and forums. Included is the 2008 Unpublished Edition free for download!!! .

Another blogger to watch out for in 2010 is poet Sinthalunda, who started posting in October 2009. Sinthalunda mostly posts poems, accompanied by photographs. A recent poem posted on the blog offers advice for safe sex:

It's best to use your brain before your eyes.
Truthfully, it's better to condomise.

Though you might like to shag with oohs and sighs.
Remember it's better to condomise.

Blogger Jessica Mack manages a number of blogs, where she posts various types of writing, commentary and art. On Acacia Excerpts, she posts excerpts of poetry by well-known poets, and other well-known writings, accompanied by pictures of paintings. On another of her blogs, face value, she writes about art produced for purposes of raising awareness about social issues such as HIV/AIDS or gender-based violence. She argues that some art does not come out of the personal experience of the artist, or at least an attempt by the artist to fathom a deeper understanding of the issue. The artist ends up having nothing substantive to say, other than plain, uninspiring platitudes:

Unfortunately sometimes artists present clichés, simplistic fantasies, pure conjecture… social stigma is bad, beaten wives are miserable, orphans are sad. It must be hard to empathise with someone you know nothing about. Personally I find this uninformed art rather dull; it doesn’t engage me or add anything to my understanding. It doesn't ‘raise’ my ‘awareness’.

Writing about not just poetry but the arts more broadly is journalist-blogger Gregory Gondwe. More specifically Gondwe's posts offer updates on Malawian music, musicians, dances, and entertainment. A recent post informs readers about the tragic death, on June 30th, 2009, of a young Malawian drummer from the group Body, Mind and Soul, McEwen Manda. Gondwe reports that Manda was struck by a vehicle near Mzuzu Stadium, in Mzuzu City, and killed. He was 28, and his death went unnoticed. During his time with Body, Mind and Soul, the group won local national and regional competitions, and in 2008 toured eight European countries.

Gondwe's other posts discuss Malawi's traditional dances, two of which he informs have been designated by UNESCO as “protected heritage.” Some of the articles are also posted on facebook under the name “Drumming Pen,” self-described as a “column that comes out in Malawi's oldest weekly, the Malawi News and tackles issues to do with music and is hosted by Prof. Zungwala.” Other topics include music played at Malawian entertainment joints, quality control in Malawian music, and royalties for deceased musicians, among others.

In the next roundup, we will continue featuring Malawian bloggers who are either new, or have become active recently, and whose content reveals the issues that have been foremost on the minds of Malawians in recent months.

The country has just undergone its most trying economic period ever, with crippling shortages of foreign exchange and fuel, and thirty earthquakes in three weeks, that have killed several people, and have displaced hundreds of thousands.

Meanwhile, the Malawi government has invited Malawians to express their views on a highly controversial proposal by the government to change the national flag. Malawian bloggers have been writing and commenting on these and many other issues. That's for next time.

1 comment

  • Just as an fyi wanted to make sure you saw this post called ‘Malawi’s Real “Miracle”’ written for the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet blog

    You can also follow us as we travel through Malawi and across Africa on Border Jumpers []

    All our best, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack


    This is the first in a two-part series about my visit to the home of Kristof and Stacia Nordin in Lilongwe, Malawi.
    Stacia and Kristof Nordin have an unusual backyard. Rather than the typical bare dirt patch of land that most Malawians sweep “clean” every day, the Nordins have over 200 varieties of mostly indigenous vegetables growing organically around their house. They came to Malawi in the 1990s as Peace Corps Volunteers, but now call Malawi home. Stacia works for the Malawi Health Ministry, educating both policy-makers and citizens about the importance of indigenous vegetables and permaculture for improving livelihoods and nutrition.

    Malawi may be best known for the so-called “Malawi Miracle.” Five years ago the government decided to do something controversial—provide fertilizer subsidies to farmers to grow maize. Since then maize production has tripled and Malawi has been touted as an agricultural success story.

    But the way they are refining that corn, says Kristof, makes it “kind of like Wonderbread,” leaving it with just two or three nutrients. Traditional varieties of corn, however, which aren’t usually so highly processed, are more nutritious and don’t require as much artificial fertilizer compared to hybrid varieties. According to Kristof, “48 percent of the country is still stunted with the miracle.”

    Stacia and Kristof use their home as a way to educate their neighbors about both permaculture and indigenous vegetables. Most Malawians think of traditional foods, such as amaranth and African eggplant, as poor people foods grown by “bad” farmers. But these crops may hold the key for solving hunger, malnutrition and poverty in Malawi.
    Rather than focusing on just planting maize—a crop that is not native to Africa—the Kristofs advise the farmers they work with that there is “no miracle plant, just plant them all.” Maize, ironically, is least suited to this region because it’s very susceptible to pests and disease. Unfortunately, the “fixation on just one crop,” says Kristof, means that traditional varieties of foods are going extinct—crops that are already adapted to drought and heat, traits that become especially important as agriculture copes with climate change.

    And indigenous crops can be an important source of income for farmers. Rather than importing things like amaranth, sorghum, spices, tamarinds and other products from India, South Africa, and other countries, the Nordins are helping farmers find ways to market seeds, as well as value added products, from local resources. These efforts not only provide income and nutrition, but fight the “stigma that anything Malawian isn’t good enough,” says Kristof. “A lot of solutions,” he says, “are literally staring us in the face.” And as I walked around seeing—and tasting— the various crops at the Nordins’ home, it’s obvious that maize is not Malawi’s only miracle.
    Stay tuned for more about my trip to the Nordins.

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