Written by: Carien Soldatos
Malawi is fondly known as the warm heart of Africa, and after a visit you will appreciate why. Having recently visited the communities surrounding Majete Wildlife Reserve the only way I can describe the people is as warm and welcoming. Although communities have little at their disposal they make the most of every opportunity and are grateful for any support.
African Parks works with government to manage Majete Wildlife Reserve. Part of their management strategy is to work with communities, ensuring they derive tangible benefits in order for them to support the long term survival of the park. In addition to education programmes, school visits and assisting the communities with sustainable resource harvesting, communities have developed their own micro-enterprises which the park supports.
The community is heartening, with each member learning a different skill, supportive of each other’s initiative instead of being competitive. Roger Powl, from the village Kamfozi, has learnt to make drums and toys from recycled and sustainable materials. Using empty cans and goat hide, he sells approximately 200 drums a month. He makes toy balls from recycled paper for the children to play with. Phillip Lauju from the village Lyva, has learnt to weave baskets. It takes one and a half hours per basket and he produces about 40 a month to sell to visitors. Simon Augusti, from Gogogo, has a talent for making straw hats. He has been able to save enough money to buy a motorbike which he uses to transport raw material and take the hats to market. He also transports his children to the clinic and helps his wife collect maize meal. He assures us that he never drinks and drives and that he always wears a helmet, as safety comes first.
Mr Elson Lucius from Tsekera village has learnt the art of making mats from reeds. It’s a timeous process of collecting the reeds, drying them out, and then preparing them for the weaving process. He makes approximately USD5 per mat and is able to support his family with the funds. He insists it’s a man’s job and his wife is only too happy to let him teach their children the skill.
Mrs Catherine Dines from Tsekela village kindly invited us into her home and taught us the skills of harvesting and processing millet. It’s no easy job – from the initial planting and harvesting to processing it for consumption. Being such a social culture, often the ladies in the community will come together and work as a team, while processing and grinding. It’s amazing how from one product they can make a sweet snack, African rice, a type of pap and many other dishes. Once the work is done, the food is eaten communally where everyone shares plates and its fastest eaters first.
The communities stick close to their traditions and cultures, with the Gule Wamkulu dance being performed on regular occasions. The “Gule Wamkulu” meaning “Great Dance” consists of many different dances. The secret society of masked dancers honour their forefathers, entertain the communities and guide them in tribal lore. It’s a display of passion and drama, and having been to a few traditional dances in the past, it’s by far the most authentic event I’ve seen. The community performs this part of their tradition for enjoyment, with visitors being welcomed to join in their celebrations.
While in Malawi, you find there is always a smile on your face and then you realise, their joy is the source of your smile!
Read more about the Gule Wamkulu in Africa Geographic’s article ‘When the Ancestor’s Dance’