Zambian Cultural Heritage – Chewa People – Their History and Culture

The Chewa people of Zambia live in the Eastern Province of the country. The language of the Chewa is Chichewa and Chichewa speaking people are Malawi and Mozambique. The reason for this is that historically before the white colonial masters came to Africa, the Chewa people of Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique had one ruler – His Royal Highness Kalonga Gawa Undi. But when the colonialists came and created national boundaries, the Chewas were separated and found themselves living in three countries with different colonial masters. Zambia and Malawi fell under the British colonial rule while Mozambique belonged to Portugal.

However, the Chewa continued to recognise themselves as one despite colonial rule and new country boundaries. The traditional Zambian Chewa headquarters are in Mkaika, Katete and today ceremonies (in particular the Kulamba Ceremony) take place every year that bring the leaders of all three countries together.

The Chewa people are known for their love of farming and in particular for their craftsmanship – the women for their pottery skills and the men for their skills in making bamboo basketry, hoes, axes, arrows, reed mats and palm tree leaf mats. The men are also good hunters and fishermen and these skills are believed to bring honour to manhood. The Chewa are hard working people who are known to despise any form of laziness believing that it leads to the demeaning practice of begging.

The sacred sites of the Chewa

  • The royal cemetery at the Mano headquarters in Malawi
  • The shrines at Msinja and Mankhamba
  • The grave of Undi Chisakamzondi who dies whilst travelling in Mozambique
  • Kaphirintiwa in Malawi where marks in the rocks resembling human and animal footprints which is believed to be the place of creation
  • The ancestral graves at the Mkaika Traditional Headquarters

The Chewa clans

The original two main clans were the Banda who historically were healers and mystics and the Phiri who were said to the aristocracy. Other clans are:

  • The Mbewe’s known to enjoy the delicacy of mice eating (although the Phiri’s and Banda’s will also enjoy this delicacy)
  • The Kwenda clan which comes from the word ‘mkwenda’ which means ‘the stripper’. The tail suggests a man from the Phiri clan inappropriately stripped his sisters’ clothes whilst travelling – the rest is history!
  • The Mphandwe clan who are an offshoot of the Banda clan. The story goes that a man eloped with a woman of his clan (a disgraceful thing to do) and as a result wanted to be known as Mphandwe not Banda
  • The Mwale clan from the word ‘kumwalira’ which means ‘to die’. History suggests there was a bloody fight between two groups of people because they shot an animal and could not agree on how to divide the head.
  • The Linde clan from the word ‘kulinda’ which means ‘to watch’. This was the group who did not join in the above fight but instead watched over the carcass of the animal that was being fought over.

Leadership and political organisation

Interestingly the traditional Chewa social structure is matrilineal – property and land rights are inherited from the mothers and it is the woman’s bloodline which keeps the lineage alive. The traditional Chewa leader is usually male but the descendance is carried through the female side deriving its identity from the woman and villages are made up of matrilineal relatives by marriage.

The overall Chewa leader is known as the Kalonga Gawa Undi who is in charge of all Chewa chiefs who in turn supervise village headmen. Kalonga Gawa Undi has the following meaning:

  • Kalonga: ‘one who identifies and installs office in others’
  • Gawa: ‘one who allocates land and shares wealth with others’
  • Undi: ‘one who protects citizens, keeping them under his wings as a bird protects its young’

Those in line for leadership compete for their Chieftainship right but contrary to popular belief this does not necessarily mean conflict. Wise chiefs will select a nephew as their successor and send out their other nephews to establish subordinate chiefdoms. In fact, this system has avoided major dispute for centuries.


The Chewa people will take offense if they are mistaken for the Nyanja because this propagates the colonial misinterpretation of their origin. Though the Nyanja and Chichewa languages are similar they are different and to say they are one and the same denies the validity of the Chichewa language.

Another taboo is to mention, call or write the birth name of the successor to the Kalonga Gawa Undi. The office of the Kalonga Gawa Undi must be seen to never die. Before the burial of the Kalonga Gawa Undi his successor is chosen by the royal family and the birth name of his successor is ceremonially buried together with his forerunner. The name of the current Gawa is therefore simply Kalonga Gawa Undi XI.

This article is inspired by the book ‘Ceremony! Celebrating Zambia’s Cultural Heritage’. It’s fabulous and a visually pleasing book which I would encourage you to get. I got mine from ZAIN in Lusaka, Zambia. It is published by Celtel Zambia PLC and Seka. Original photography, Francois d’Elbee. Coordinating author, Tamara Guhrs. Editor, Mulunga Kapwepwe. Contributing authors, Akashambatwa Mbikusita-Lewanika, Prof Mapopa Mtonga, Mulenga Kapwepwe, Isaac Smogy Kapinga, Miranda Guhrs, Msatero Tembo, Matiya Ngalande and Joseph Chikuta.

Zambia encourages tourists to witness traditional ceremonies and you’ll find local tourism service providers particular helpful.

The Resurrection of the Cinematic Culture in Nigeria

Films such as The primitive, Primitive Man, Buffalo Hill were considered suitable while Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, The Isle of forgotten sins, House of Frankenstein were considered unsuitable for viewing. The Yoruba travelling theatre group of the 60’s and 70’s is renowned for being the arrowhead of movie productions in Nigeria. They took their theatrical skills a step further to film productions using the celluloid format.

Notable filmmakers during the 70’s celluloid boom era include but not limited to Ola Balogun, Eddie Uggbomah, late Herbert Ogunde, Adeyemi Afolayan (father of Kunle Afolayan), Moses Adejumo, Ladi ladebo, and Afolabi Adesanya. Movies released during that era include Kongi Harvest, Alpha, Bull frog in the sun, Amadi, Muzik man, Bisi daughter of the river, Ija ominira, Aiye. Our founding film makers were faced with the herculean task of raising funds to produce their movies.

Nigerians further worsened the situation by opting to watch movies of occidental and oriental origin at the cinemas and exhibition centres. Chinese films with the late legendary Bruce lee thrilled us with films such as Big boss, fist of fury, while Indian films from 60’s to 70’s paraded stars such as Rajesh Khanna, Dharmendra singh deol, Amitabh bachchan, Hema Malini and recorded hits such as Bobby, Sholay, kabhi Kabhi, Dharamaveer, Amar Akbar Anthony.

The movies treated Nigerians to outstanding combat/sound and special effects, cinematography, good story lines amongst others. The founding fathers could not recoup their investments and with fewer investors unwilling to take a plunge into the dicey venture, the number of films produced began to decline. The deluge of VCRs in the 80’s provided the alternative of making movies on VHS format than on Cine. Productions turned out to be easier to make, faster, cheaper by a mile stone in comparison to the cine productions.

Cinema houses and other exhibition centres were finally shut down in the early 80’s. The 1992 rise of Ken Nebue’s “Living in bondage” brought forth the Home video industry a.k.a Nollywood, though it was debunked by late prince Alade Araomire who insisted that his movies actually paved the way for the industry. Nollywood, blossomed over the years with the telling of our stories, projecting our lifestyle, culture, local fashion, burning issues and problems affecting our society. However, the presence of over flogged themes and trippy plots, flawed scripts, choppy editing, high predictability rate, formulaic movies amongst others, have added to the declining rate at which home videos are purchased and watched. Home video thrived in the 90’s and early millennium. Foreign movies were still patronised by those who were tired of the lack lusture performances seen in home videos.

The cinematic culture was resurrected through the establishment of the Silver bird galleria (which houses the cinema) by chairman of the Silver bird group (Ben Murray Bruce). At first people thought it was a flash in the pan judging from the fall of yester years, but over time the galleria has played host to thousands of movie enthusiasts through its release of latest movies(dominantly Hollywood). The galleria capitalizes on its synergy (silver bird TV and rhythm 93.7fm radio station) and of course movie listings in Friday Vanguard and The Sunday edition of the Nation newspapers. Nollywood movies have also been accorded the same opportunity to be viewed by all.

Kunle Afolayan’s “Irapada”, Jeta Amata’s “The Amazing Grace”, kingsley Ogoro’s “Across the Niger”, Teco Benson’s “Mission to nowhere”, were among the early set of Nollywood movies viewed at the galleria. Perhaps, the booster for the film makers to have their movies on the big screen came with Stephanie Okereke’s “Through the Glass” which made N 10 million in two weeks at the galleria. This has further prompted filmmaker / producers to go for the big screen rather than the customary straight to the VCD /DVD approach. Tunde kelani’s “Arugba”, Vivian Ejike’s “Silent scandal”, Emem Isong/Desmond Elliot’s “Guilty Pleasures”, “Nollywood Hustlers” co-produced with Uche Jumbo, Lancelot Imaseun’s “Home in exile”, kunle Afolayan’s “The Figurine, araromire, Teco Benson’s “High blood pressure”, Jude Idada / Lucky Ejim’s “The Tenant” have towed the cinematic path.

Nu metro and Genesis Deluxe cinemas also exist and even the cinema halls at the National Theatre have come alive! Foreign investors can catch in on the growing profitable trend to establish cinema houses in other parts of the country. We can only hope that the cinematic culture will thrive across our Greenland and will never undergo the dearth experience of the 80’s.

Why India Needs Culture of Entrepreneurship in Classrooms

While there are successful examples of young innovators like PC Musthafa (iD Fresh), Sampriti Bhattacharyya (Hydroswarm) and Vijay Sharma (One97), the harsh reality is that an inordinately large number of start-ups fail. That’s the reason why academic institutions and organisations must assist and support the development of entrepreneurs in order to ensure high survival rate.

Young Indian entrepreneurs are making headlines with regularity. After an entire generation of cautious Indians who viewed entrepreneurship with suspicion-preferring stable and predictable careers in government service, banks, as doctors, lawyers and engineers-the tide is turning. There is optimism in the air as young entrepreneurs are daring to go global, drive innovation and experiment with unique business models.

The latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report reflects this important cultural shift. The report noted that 58% of Indian adults (18-64 years old) consider entrepreneurship a desirable career choice and 66% think that entrepreneurs receive a high level of status and respect. And this is not just because Indian tech entrepreneurs are becoming global rock-stars. It is because young entrepreneurs from every sector-from agriculture to manufacturing-are putting India on a new path of growth and development.

Take the story of 42-year-old PC Musthafa, who quit a well-paying bank job in Dubai to return to India because he wanted to create job opportunities for the rural youth. He started iD Fresh Food, a dosa batter company, with his cousins, 550 square feet of space, two grinders, a mixer and a sealing machine. They began by selling 10 packets of batter a day. Today, iD Fresh Food sells 50,000 packets a day, has expanded its product range to ready-to-eat foods, and is a R100 crore company employing 1,100 people. Musthafa’s goal is to become a R1,000 crore company employing 5,000 people in the next five years.

Among the more innovative ideas his company is exploring is that of a Trust Shop-in apartment complexes and corporate offices-where you can pick up idli-dosa batter, ready-to-eat wheat parathas and chapatis, and drop the money in a box at the store. The store has no salesmen and is not monitored by cameras to keep an eye on shoppers who don’t pay. The stores are proving to be a success. Shoppers who don’t have money on them are coming back the next day to drop the cash. It is a unique low-cost model that can be scaled, ensuring that prices are kept low and stores are conveniently accessible 24×7.

Now let’s take the case of 28-year-old Sampriti Bhattacharyya, whose company Hydroswarm designs and manufactures autonomous drones that can scan ocean floors, look for lost aircraft, identify oil spills, and spot radiation under the sea.

Entrepreneurs and innovators like these are playing a major role in bringing unique ideas, offerings and business models to market-ideas that large companies don’t want to explore because they don’t have a clear and well-charted future and could pose a risk to their growth plans.

One recent study by a leading analyst has suggested that the micro, small and medium enterprise (MSME) sector-which includes such entrepreneurs-will increase its contribution to India’s GDP from the 8% share in 2011-12 to 15% by 2020.

The growth is not just because young Indian entrepreneurs are daring to dream up great new ideas, but also because they understand the value of hiring the best talent in the country. Take Vijay Sharma’s One97 Communication, the digital goods arm of Paytm. Sharma’s company announced its expansion into Europe and the US this July, using some of the best business talent in the country to enable the growth. In other words, Indian entrepreneurs are aware of what it takes to be globally competitive.

Going global should not be difficult for Indian entrepreneurs. Today, the best minds in the country are dreaming of entrepreneurship. This year’s IIT-JEE topper, Deepanshu Jindal, says that after graduation he wants to become an entrepreneur. Youngsters from prestigious educational institutions all over the country such as the IITs and IIMs are showing similar inclinations.

All this makes great news. But the harsh reality is that an inordinately large number of start-ups fail. Studies have shown that 47% of the jobs created by start-ups are eliminated because the business folds up in the first five years. This emphasises the importance of having academic institutions and organisations to assist and support the development of entrepreneurs in order to ensure a higher survival rate.

If India is to continue on its growth path, the contribution of entrepreneurs to wealth creation will play a pivotal role. This is why the importance of including entrepreneurship as part of standard curricula cannot be undermined. We must begin by creating a formal culture of entrepreneurship starting in classrooms where young minds and the nation’s future are shaped.

Culture Shock in Public Restrooms – Oaxaca, Mexico

Oaxaca is a haven in many rights… beautiful valleys, delicious food, exciting tours, ancient Zapotec ruins, colorful traditions and warm, friendly people… but eventually you’re gonna need to go to the bathroom!

Now if you are in places that cater to international tourism, there is no culture shock involved when you 1 and 2. You go to the bathroom like you would in any other place in the states, the only difference being the little figures usually used to distinguish between the men’s room and the ladies room are a sombrero and a traditional dress, (not always in that order). Yet, if you’re in Oaxaca, then you are most likely looking to experience the real Mexico. If it weren’t so, you would go to a place like Cancun or Acapulco where everyone speaks English and you can pay in dollars. But if you’re going to be here in Oaxaca, you gotta accept the “trabas“, (the obstacles), here. Let me tell you a little story:

A few years ago I was sitting in the ADO bus station in Oaxaca on my way to the airport in Mexico City where I needed to catch a flight to Miami to visit my dad. (Flying out of Mexico city instead of flying out of Oaxaca is a good idea if you’re on a budget and want to save money.) Anyways… I was sitting in the terminal munching on a Twix bar, when I saw a tall, thin, blond-haired woman rush by me towards the bathrooms – obviously in a hurry to get there. Completely blowing off the woman who was sitting behind a desk in front of the bathrooms, she hurried into the women’s room. Caught off guard, the short, chubby, dark complexioned woman behind the desk stood up and yelled out to the foreigner, “Señorita! Señorita! SEÑOOORRRIIITTTAAA!!!!”

Half scared out of her wits, the blond haired woman peeked her head out of the bathroom door, but before she could say anything, the attendant firmly said, “5 pesos por favor!”. Stepping completely out of the bathroom now, the foreign woman approached the desk where the attendant then sat down and pointed to a sign over her right shoulder that said, in English, “YOU MUST PAY 5 PESOS TO USE THESE FACILITIES”. Reading that sign, obviously not seen due to the urgency of the situation, the foreign woman got angry, she said something not very complimentary to the bathroom attendant and went back to her seat in the terminal. I watched her as she threw herself into her chair and started to mumble, with tight lips, to a gentleman next to her that could have been her brother because he looked like the male version of her.

I just sat observing the spectacle because I had forgotten to bring a book or to buy a magazine and was horribly bored. After about 20 grueling minutes where I could observe the foreign lady’s face getting progressively redder and redder, she stood up, unwillingly, and stomped towards the bathroom. Arriving at the attendant’s desk where the attendant, obviously privy to the situation the foreign woman was in, cracked a half smile triumphantly as she slammed down the 5 pesos on the desk and stormed in the bathroom without even receiving the toilet paper that the attendant hands out at the door.

I just kind of shook my head and acknowledged the difficulties that many foreigners encounter when they come and partake in the Mexican culture for a while. I know that it’s not always easy but you CANNOT come down here and be inflexible in situations like this. Patience, understanding and then more patience is needed if you want to enjoy Oaxaca or Mexico in general. You must accept these cultural differences if you want to enjoy the culture at all and believe me, the pros outweigh the cons 100 to 1. Now let me make you privy to other “inconsistencies” when going to the bathroom in Oaxaca just to save you the trauma:

Aside from the fact that you might have to pay between 2 to 5 pesos for entrance into a “public” bathroom, you may also be given a moderate quantity of toilet paper as you enter because there are no toilet paper rolls in the stalls themselves, in most cases. Now let me tell you, they do this to save money, so sometimes they give you a very, very small quantity of toilet paper that is of no real help if Montezuma is paying you a visit. So please learn from my not-so-pleasant experiences… Always take extra toilet paper with you wherever you go. You might notice that many bus and taxi drivers in Oaxaca have toilet paper nudged between the dashboard and the windshield. Well… this is why!

Now upon entering a bathroom stall and closing the door behind you, (that may or may not have a lock), you may notice that there isn’t a bathroom seat. That’s right! You gonna have to sit directly on the porcelain if you’re gonna sit at all. If you do, you have to hurry up because the edge of the toilet is going to cut off your circulation pretty fast which makes it hard to walk when you finish, believe me. Ohhhh… and when you do finish and try to flush the bowl, there may not be any water. In these cases, the bathroom attendants leave buckets outside the stalls and provide a place for you to dip your bucket in and get water to dump into the toilet.

When you are finished using the necessities and go to wash your hands and… oooopppssss…. forgot… no water! That’s when you get the “jicara“, (plastic bowl), and go back to where you got the water to dump into the toilet. Fill your jicara and go back to the sink and wash your hands the old fashion way.

Now I don’t want to scare you. If you are just coming to Oaxaca to tourist around for a week or two, you won’t come across too much of this. But if you are coming down for more than a month or to live, like I did, you will definitely have to deal with this at one point or another. After a while, believe it or not, it all becomes quite natural. So natural in fact that when I do go back to the states, I’m sure I`ll be sitting on the porcelain, leaving 5 pesos outside the bathroom door, washing my hands with a bowl of water and filling up my bucket in the shower:)

Hope you enjoyed this article. Keep an eye out for more that are sure to come.

See you next write!

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