— By Harvey from Malawi
“How much do you know about Malawi as a country? Probably very little. Experience everything about the country through Harvey’s eyes, a local who is traveling across the country, reporting for YaLa Africa Press. You might just like it!”
Welcome to Mtukwa village, a somewhat remote place southwest of Mchinji district in Malawi. In this place, being an archetypal village without electricity and internet access, everything is somewhat bizarre to a stranger from another place such as myself. I immediately felt the need to adopt new hobbies, the usual hobbies I am accustomed to could not sustain me in this new world. Luckily, I was not to brace this new reality by myself. Meet Manase Kaligere, a man indifferent in character as his name in itself. He hails from the northern region of Malawi, a place where culture still flourishes and the people are well mannered and live a communal system of life. The man did fit into this place like a well-fitting sock to a foot. I was a little jealous about it.
As if he was not interesting enough, another equally interesting character joined us a week later. His name is Tenneson Destone, hailing from Nsanje, located in the southern region of Malawi. He is a good talker and he likes to talk all day long. If you get a chance to speak while in his presence, consider yourself a very lucky person. All I had to do was listen, and perhaps find something within the stories to psychoanalyze later when I go to bed at night. Like Manase Kaligere, this man comes from a place where culture is still rife and respected a great deal. He is from the Sena tribe, while Manase is from the Tumbuka tribe. Though a different culture in contrast, they share a lot of norms and these two gentlemen held a great deal of respect for either’s culture.
On the other hand, I hail from the central region, belonging to Chewa tribe – a culture losing values and identity faster than you can say hello. We are very different from the Tumbukas and the Sena’s to the extent that some radical members of the latter cultures disapprove of any forms of associations such as intermarriages with Chewa tribe. No big deal though, as things are changing. The extremist cultural tribes are becoming moderates – it’s the 21st century model.
But there we were, the three different tribesmen congregated in a village near the border with Zambia seeking to make sort of a living by providing social services to the rural masses on behalf of our beloved government. Among one of our many late afternoon chats, a very important issue came up. An issue that had the potential to tear nations apart, especially fragile African nations with so many distinct cultural tribes. It was the issue regarding economic opportunities and how they are shared among the different cultural tribes.
Among people of my culture, the Chewa’s, there is a common belief that when it comes to issues of hiring and job opportunities, within the different institutions spread all over the country, northerners favour fellow northerners. And even though the Sena tribe is small and less influential, it is said that this is also their common practice. Although I take no part in such speculative discourses, the two gentlemen from the accused tribes vehemently accepted that this practice is true and they’d do it all day long. When Destone opened his mouth to give a definitive reason for such practices, I was left surprised, concerned, and at the same time humbled.
It’s simple and it’s a cultural thing. Collectivist cultures such the one which Manase and Destone subscribe to have stronger values and practices – in their villages, there is no “I”. What echoes in everything they do is “We”. Basically, it’s simple arithmetic: if one of the members from such tribes acquires a job, it is his obligation to aid his fellow tribesmen to have the same opportunity. There is an unwritten law about it, and it has its own punishment if you fail to abide by it. It’s always “Us” before “Them”. Yes, I know what you are thinking – it is depressing as well as admirable at the same time. They earned this luxury. These cultures have prevailed over western influence – individuals from such cultures do change but they also do not change. They adapt.
At the end of it all, I was left appreciating the power of culture to unite and transform, but at the same time, its destructive force grounded in the principle of difference. At least now I have an understanding why things are as they are.