Protecting Culture in Malawi


Chongoni Rock Art
By Malawi at ja.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Do you think it is important to protect ancient things from your country? Ryan Geertsma and Liz Waid look at the man who does this job in Malawi: Moses Mkumpha.

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Transcript


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Ryan Geerstma.

Voice 2 

And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 3 

“The Chongoni site has the richest rock art in the whole of central Africa. The rock paintings are of two kinds, red and white. The red paintings are the oldest. They were made during the Stone Age period by hunter-gathering BaTwa Pygmies. Chewa farmers, using white clay, made the white paintings during the Iron Age period. The rock paintings had, and still continue to have, cultural importance. They were a center of traditional religion for their creators. And they continue to be this for people today.”

Voice 1 

The Chongoni rock paintings are in Malawi, a country in Southern Africa. Moses Mkumpha described them in a newsletter for the University of New York. Mkumpha is a conservator. He works to protect parts of Malawi’s cultural history. These can be places such the rock paintings or traditional buildings. It also includes artifacts. These are often objects, such as instruments or containers like woven baskets or round clay bowls. Mkumpha’s job is to conserve and protect these important parts of culture. Today’s Spotlight is on Moses Mkumpha, Malawi’s only cultural conservator.

Voice 2 

Moses Mkumpha grew up as the son of a postmaster. As a child, he lived in many different cities in Malawi. When he grew up, he became a biology teacher. One day Mkumpha was reading the newspaper. He saw an advertisement for a conservator. This position was with the Malawian government. They were looking for someone to protect and conserve historical areas and objects, or artifacts. Mkumpha was very interested in culture and conservation. He knew a lot about science. He applied for the job. And he became a conservator. Mkumpha told Al Jazeera why this new position was so exciting for him:

Voice 3 

“It combined science and history. It is about the love of my heritage. I am proud of who I am and my background.”

Voice 1 

But as Malawi’s conservator, Mkumpha had a difficult job to do. The government was storing thousands of artifacts in a large house. But no one was taking care of these ancient objects. No one had a system for knowing what was there. The artifacts were decaying. They were becoming ruined. These artifacts and sites are an important part of Malawian history. For example, there are forts in Malawi from the nineteeth century. These were built during the slave trade. They were very important in the history of the country. But these buildings are growing old. If they become ruined Malawi will lose this reminder of history and culture.

Voice 2 

In the same way, there are objects or artifacts that are very important in Malawi’s cultural history. These include musical instruments and masks for people to wear on their faces. Even everyday objects can be important. Traditional baskets woven from grass or round clay bowls and pots teach people about the past. However, these things are fragile. Without special care, they will not last very long. Conservationists like Mkumpha work to protect and preserve these objects. Then future generations can see them. They can understand their cultural history.

Voice 1 

When Moses Mkumpha became a conservator he saw all these ancient sites and artifacts. He did not know where to start! So he became a student at the Institute for Fine Arts at New York University. This is a place where people learn skills for conserving and protecting. At New York University Mkumpha learned how to preserve artifacts. He learned how to clean and store ancient objects without damaging them. For example, bones must not get dusty or have great changes in temperature. Many materials, such as metal or cloth, must stay dry and clean or they will decay.

Voice 2 

Another technique that Mkumpha learned in New York was to make replicas. These are copies of original objects. This is important for teaching and sharing culture. For example, scientists from Germany came to Malawi. They removed some very old bones from the earth. They then took these bones to Germany. Now people in Malawi cannot see the bones. In the future, Mkumpha will be sure to make replicas of important objects. Then other people can share and teach about things like the bones in other countries of the world. But the cultural artifacts of Malawi will remain in that country.

Voice 1 

One of the lessons Mkumpha learned is that it is most important to prevent damage. He is doing this at the rockpainting site. He has stopped people from building fires too near the rocks. Mkumpha also discourages young people from putting other paint on the walls. This will protect the rockpaintings. But Mkumpha is also careful not to completely separate people from the rocks.

Voice 2 

Traditional sites and objects can still be an important part of everyday life. Webber Ndoro is a professor at the University of Zimbabwe. He is an expert in conservation management in Africa. Ndoro wrote an article for The Getty Conservation Institute. He talks about how modern people are connected to their cultural history:

Voice 4 

“Interaction with cultural property by local and indigenous communities is very important. This is not only because the history is theirs. Such connection also helps heal damaged self-confidence. For conservation projects to succeed, the communities concerned must be self-confident. This confidence comes once people regain a sense of ownership of their history and begin to be proud of their past.”

Voice 1 

This sense of pride in cultural history is also very important for Moses Mkumpha. He wrote in the newsletter for the Institute for Fine Arts at New York University:

Voice 3 

“I loved my experience at Chongoni Rock-Art Area. During the cleaning exercises, I learned so much about the conservation of the paintings. I was satisfied with the work and how it increased the appreciation of the rock art. In the future, I envision further schooling in conservation studies. I want to publish research and help to develop and establish a curriculum for conservation studies in my country.”

Voice 2 

For Mkumpha, training other people in conservation is very important. He aims to teach young people about their cultural history. He thinks this will increase understanding of the past. And he hopes it will also have a positive result for the future of Malawi.

Voice 1 

The writer and producer of this program was Rena Dam. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘Protecting Culture in Malawi’.

Voice 2 

Tell us what you think about today’s program. You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net. And find us on Facebook - just search for Spotlight Radio. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

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Question:

What are some important historical things or places in your country? Do you think it is important to protect these things and places?

Comments


Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on September 26, 2018

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: to answer to the questions below
Date: Wednesday 26, September 2018
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Liz Waid, Rena Dam, and Ryan Geerstma:

First of all, I thank you for bringing us that important theme.
Questions:
Question 1 - What are some important historical things or places in your country? Well, here in my country Brazil there are many historical things and places in which should be protected by our brazilian nation.
So, I named some of them: O rio São Francisco ( The San Francisco River) That river is a very important historical thing for us because it is a large area in water and it supplies a lot of people from north and northeast of my country.
Another historical things in my country that is very important, too is the Amazon forest.
It represents for us our lungs and hearts. There are a lot of trees, rivers, animals, and a lush field of forest.
Question 2 - Do you think it is important to protect these things and places? Yes, I do. It is very important to protect them.
Thank you very much.
Your regards,
Severino Ramos
From Brazil

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Honneur
said on September 28, 2018

Thanks for this very good and instructive text. I think that a people without memory of his own history isn’t a really a people, but only a gathering of persons living in the same place. When a conqueror, like the romans, imposes his language on the dominated people, he, actually, eliminates the existent culture and try to create citizens of he’s own culture. So whit removing instruments and objects that represent the past of the local country, the conqueror don’t kill persons but a people…

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quantuminds
said on October 05, 2018

I have learnt so much from this article which reminds about an importance of historical conservation. It helps young generations understand themselves instead of blinding on the internet.