Collections: Lisa Gilman - The EVIA Digital Archive Project

Dance Forms in Malawi, Nkhata Bay, Tonga, Tumbuka and Ngonde (1996, 1998-1999)

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A chilimika dance team performing at a UDF rally for Aleke Banda, Tukombo, 1999. Image © Lisa Gilman.

This collection provides a sampling of some of the dance forms active in the Nkhata Bay District during the late 1990s. It provides examples of malipenga, chilimika, chiwoda, masiawe, honara, samba, and the idiosyncratic School Band as they occurred in various types of performance contexts.

Dance in Malawi has always had important social and political functions. The thirty-year authoritarian rule of Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda greatly impacted the Malawi dance landscape. During Dr. Banda's rule, the government regularly orchestrated local and national functions that featured dance performances from across the country. Women had especially important roles as praise performers for Dr. Banda, and all women in the country had to regularly dance and sing Dr. Banda's praises. The introduction of a multiparty system of government that culminated in the end of Dr. Banda's rule in 1994 further impacted Malawian dancing because what had become the primary context for many dance performances suddenly disappeared.

This research began in 1995, one year after the transition to the new government. Some of the footage included in this collection represents the reemergence of political dancing that came with the campaigns for the second multiparty elections that took place in 1998 and 1999.

Dancing in Nkhata Bay District during this year was interesting because some dance forms that had previously been very popular, such as malipenga and chiwoda, were rarely performed outside of political contexts. Other dance forms that had in the past been less popular, such as Chilimika, experienced energetic rebirths.

This footage offers some dance performances in this district during this period. Notice the predominance of Chilimika performances in addition to the centrality of political rallies as contexts for dance performances. In addition, tourist venues provide some opportunities for dance performance as do events organized for special events, such as the installations of village leaders or the visits of special guests, such as when researcher Lisa Gilman first visited the district in the summer of 1995 inquiring about dance performances.

This collection is peer reviewed and available online in the EVIA Project Archive.

Image © John Fenn

Lisa Gilman is a folklorist/ethnographer of performance, with a primary interest in the intersections between performance, gender, and power. The collection proposed here comprises part of a larger research project she has been conducting since 1995 into the political use of dance in Malawi. Her initial focus was on the ways in which women in the Nkhata Bay District use music and dance as a tool for resistance, and her focus later shifted to the political arena because of the controversial ways in which political parties were organizing their female members to dance. Her interest in intersections between performance, gender, and power has also been the basis for past research on the silencing of personal narratives about sexual violence, and she is planning a future study on music, dance, and leisure in American military life.

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