“I am just a farmer” and other anecdotes from Malawi

Its 2012 and I am attending a community workshop in Central Malawi. Our topic of discussion is community driven heritage conservation and community livelihoods around Chongoni World Heritage Rock Art Site. About 20 people are in attendance. It is time for the break and we all go out to have a chat and some refreshments. My colleague gets into a conversation with one of the participants and asks so, what do you do? To which he quickly responds “I am just a farmer”.


My colleague quickly to points out  that farming is a very important undertaking and that he should be proud because farmers feed the world.  That conversation got me thinking.  How many of us respect or even think of where the food we eat comes from? Somebody has to grow it. And farming is HARD WORK, yet those who toil on the land so that we can eat do not get the respect they deserve not to mention fair compensation. So, how can we show our respect for farmers? How about by not wasting food? (which is a very serious global challenge).

Photo Courtesy of http://www.thisisrubbish.org.uk/

How about by not being so fussy about if the tomato is perfectly round and without blemish? How about just thanking any farmer(s) you know?  How about not bargaining so much when you go to buy food? We are not willing to question the prices in the supermarket but the poor mama mboga/grocer  will have to wake up at 4am to go buy the stuff from wherever, transport it and then you come and say “niko na kobole”/”I only have 5 shillings” when you can actually afford the 10 bob/shillings you are being asked for. We (including me) need to stop that. : )


Gule Wa Mukulu

One of the greatest joys of working in Malawi was the opportunity to see Gule wa Mukulu or the great dance performed by  members of the Nyau secret society. This is a tradition dating back to the 17th Century and that has somehow survived colonial and missionary assaults and I think it ought to be celebrated. It is great that it is recognized by UNESCO as a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity.


The Chewa are the largest ethnic group in Malawi and are  matrilineal society.  Men are therefore not at the pinnacle of social organization and it is believed that the Nyau  created an opportunity to establish solidarity among the men. It is also a bridge between the present, the past and the future and is performed during initiation, marriage, funerals and other ceremonies. When not performed in a formal setting, the dancers wear masks (each of which represents something- ranging from wild animals, spirits, slave traders etc ) and move around the villages dancing and children enjoy making the Nyau dancer run after them by taunting them. I  was lucky to see one up close because one of the people with us could communicate with the Nyau using a secret code. He was a former member before he converted to Christianity. Sorry, the video is all shaky and even upside down – too much excitement!!!

Lake Malawi

Running the full length of the country this lake plays a vital role in the Malawian economy. I love lakes more than oceans or seas and I am on a mission to see and touch the waters of as many lakes as possible. Lake Malawi is spectacular and the Chambo/tilapia from this Lake is absolutely delicious.

Lake Malawi
Nsima – usually served with Chambo

Wood carving heritage

There is a great wood carving tradition in Malawi and you find lots of very high quality products of all sorts at various outlets.

Malawi wood carvings – this is the backrest of a chair

The people of Malawi

One of the greatest things about Malawi however, is the warmth of the people. That is the one thing that will take me back to Malawi. Zikomo kwa mbiri to all the people of this great land. IMG_4535 IMG_4398 IMG_4374


2 thoughts on ““I am just a farmer” and other anecdotes from Malawi

  1. Indeed its a good master piece. Next time you are going to Malawi….I shall be part of the trip. “I am just a farmer also”…..farmers are not treated with respect. Individuals, governments and business people, all are after exploiting a farmer…..Small scale farmers play a significant role in feeding the entire globe….next time you visit those roadside sellers….don’t exploit them….empower and reward them by less bargaining.

    Liked by 1 person

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