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Cultural encounters

Rachel - Dedza and Mua Mission

After a brief stopover in the capital Lilongwe to sort visa extensions and pick up some bits and pieces we doubled back to visit a remote museum attached to an old Scottish mission settlement in Dedza.

The accommodation at the site is just outside the village so we went for a late evening stroll into town and while we were there we saw these three or four lads in proper traditional costumes painted in ash and with masks and feathery dresses running around the town. Nobody in town really explained what they were for other than to say vaguely that it was something from their culture. A bit puzzled we finally left and bumped into the boys in costume later in the graveyard of all places. A bit creepy but relieved when they held out their hands to beg for money :)

Back at the lodge we found out that this is a ritual that takes place for the anniversary of a death. The boys are to run around town and tell the villagers that someone is commemorating the anniversary of the death, that there will be a ceremony soon and that the spirit of those who have died are going to be at peace. Later in the week there will be a big ceremony with dancing and drumming to mark the end of he mourning. Finding this out was a treat for us because reading about that famous dance and the associated masks and costumes is partly what brought us to the mission and attached museum in the first place so to see it for real was pretty special.

The mission has an impressive museum describing Chewa and Yao tribal culture. It describes all their rites of passage rites for births, circumcision, puberty lessons, marriage, family life and deaths as well as village elder responsibilities and ceremonies and some witch doctor rituals. Together with all the descriptions and history were masses of artifacts and costumes. But the real reason we came was to see the masks which filled a whole room from floor to ceiling. In each ceremony there are actors who tell a story and each actor and mask has a significance and often illustrate a moral point. For example there is a character whose significance is to warn that bad deeds will make you ugly, and another to warn that a young man who thinks only of sex will not be a good citizen. Others represent characters in the creation stories, or represent typical village roles. Some were introduced recently such as a mask to represent the Pope when he visited Malawi, and several amusingly pink masks to represent various outsiders, ie. white people, in the historical stories.

There was soooo much to read, and an impressive art/carving gallery to visit as well, but we had to leave in good time to catch the lake ferry so we dragged ourselves away and walked/bussed/bussed/cycle-taxi-ed to the nearest harbour looking forward to be surrounded by the lake for a good amount of time.

Posted by rachndave 23:24 Archived in Malawi Tagged museums culture

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