Sunday, April 24, 2016

MALAYSIA: THE FOOD


So, it’s been a busy week with working, luncheons, my son’s animal biome project, and the annual Arts and Sciences Day that Center For Inquiry held yesterday. I’ve barely had time to just sit down and relax. But it sure beats having nothing to do and being broke. And the weather is finally warming up, which makes me very happy!  You know what else makes me happy? Malaysian food. 

Intensionally obscuring the edges: it tasted good, even though I have my doubts as to the authenticity.
I kind of didn’t prepare for this as well as I should have. There were some preparation things I needed to do that I forgot simply because I didn’t read through my recipes closely enough before I got ready. I started with the bread: roti canai. (I cut this recipe in half, so if some of my measurements seem lik an odd amount, that’s why.) In a large bowl, I combined 4 c of flour, ¾ Tbsp salt, 1 egg, 50 mL vegetable oil, 1 Tbsp sweetened condensed milk, 1 ¼ Tbsp sugar, and about a cup of water. I mixed everything together until it came to be a somewhat sticky dough. I divided mine into four pieces and rolled these into balls. Then I took just a little bit of ghee and rubbed the outside of the dough balls, covering them in plastic wrap. Now, here’s where I messed up. They’re supposed to rest for 8 hours, but if I were to do that, I’d be making these as I was putting the kids to bed. So, I let them rest for 4 hours and hoped it was ok. When the resting time was “over,” I took each piece and spread it out with my hands until it was pretty thin, but not thin enough to tear through. I got a little confused as to what the directions were saying, but I think it’s probably ok.  Using some ghee on my griddle, I fried each side until it looked browned (and blackened). For the most part, it didn’t puff up like I think it was supposed to. But the ghee gave it a nice flavor. It certainly went well with the rest of the meal. So, it served its purpose and is living nicely in my belly. 

This goes with the roti canai like Sonny and Cher.
A common side dish eaten with the roti canai is dhal curry. This is basically lentils in curry sauce. I soaked my red lentils for about an hour. I drained my lentils then put them in a pot with 2 c of water and a little turmeric powder. After bringing it to a boil, I turned the heat down and let it simmer for about 30 minutes, keeping an eye on it so that it doesn't cook all the way down and burn the lentils (I have a bad habit of doing that). Then I fried my onion until it was soft before adding in my ground mustard, ground cumin, ground coriander, ground turmeric, and curry leaves (I didn’t find curry leaves, so I used a little basil with a dab of lime zest instead). After cooking this down for a minute, I poured in my lentils with a little more water, letting it simmer for 5 minutes. I seasoned this with a little salt at the end. I liked this, and I thought it went well with the bread. My husband didn’t like the texture, but I thought it was fine. He’s weird, though. 

Clearly my favorite part. I'm not even sure there's much left for my lunch tomorrow.
Our main dish for today is Malaysian Beef Rendang. It’s a dish common in Indonesia, Thailand, and other nearby countries, and each country has their own slight variations. I started out by toasting my coconut flakes in a dry skillet until it was fragrant and turned golden brown. Then I set them off to the side. Using my blender, I mixed my onions, minced garlic, dried chilies, ground ginger, and chopped lemon grass with a little bit of water to blend it into a paste-like consistency. (Ok, so here’s what really happened: I TRIED to use my blender, only to find out it died. Thinking quickly, I put my ingredients in my coffee grinder, and it did a fabulous job! Thank you, coffee grinder. You saved the day.) I fried this onion paste in a little oil for a few minutes. Then I added in my ground spices: nutmeg, cumin, and coriander. After letting it sauté for a few minutes, I added in my stew beef that I cut into small pieces and cooked until the meat was browned. Finally, I added in the sugar, coconut flakes, cloves, cinnamon stick, coconut milk, and some more water, letting the dish simmer until most of the liquid is gone (about 35-45 minutes, my heat was too high, so it cooked faster than I would have liked). Before serving this, I made some rice to put this on because I thought that it might be better that way. And it was. I loved this. I’m always worried about meat cooked down in sweet spices, but this one was great. The coconut was pretty mild in the end but definitely there. I thought it was wonderful. 

Who doesn't love papaya (besides my daughter)?
Finally, I wanted something to balance all of this, so I bought a papaya. I had always served papaya freshly cut up and nothing more (except serving it with other fruit). But in Malaysia, they like to add some lime juice to it. I had tried to find a starfruit, but for some reason, I couldn’t find one anywhere! Maybe they’re not in season? Maybe something happened to the crop this year? Who knows? But I also read that they like to dip their starfruit in salt, and I wanted to try it that way. I wonder if it has a “melon effect,” where the salt actually brings out the sweetness of the fruit since starfruit is kind of sweet and bitter at the same time (at least, in my opinion). But alas, I will have to try to another day. I actually kind of liked the papaya with lime juice, but I may have used a little too much for my liking, but it was still good. Even my husband liked it. 

A very good meal. I loved it all!
I learned a lot about this country that I didn’t know before. I think it might get pushed closer to the top of our list of countries we want to retire to. Or at least visit. But I’m afraid that if I were to visit there, I might not want to leave. I’d just travel around the country eating and listening to music. I think it sounds like a plan to me. The $1.37 in my pocket will barely get me to the corner store down the street. I should probably start saving.

Up next: Maldives

MALAYSIA: MUSIC AND DANCE


In Malaysia, as you might have guessed, there are three main types of traditional music (plus a few other influences): Malay music, Chinese music, and Indian music. 


Malay music is teeming with theatrical and dance music. Many of their songs are tied to religious purposes, ceremonies for royalty, story telling, and martial arts. Although there are a variety of instruments such as the seruling (type of flute), the rebab (type of stringed instrument), the serunai (like a double-reed oboe), Malay music is very much based on percussion instruments. And like neighboring Indonesia, the gong also plays an important part of Malay music as well. 


Percussion ensembles are common. There’s a type of ensemble called kertok that is made of a group of xylophones playing fast rhythmic music. The government has actually promoted this type of music as a national style of music. 


Chinese music has certainly has made its way into Malaysian music. Chinese orchestras and Chinese melodies infiltrate their music, and these orchestras regularly perform Malaysian folk songs. 

Indian music has also made its impact on Malaysian music; it’s mostly tied in with religious music. In comparison to Chinese music, Indian music has not changed as much in Malaysia – it remains closer to its original forms. Punjabi music like the bhangra and the instrument called the dhol has been incorporated into Malay music. 


Many times, the arts of dance and drama are so intertwined in Malaysia. One of these dance-drama forms is called mak yong. Silat is a type of music that is tied in with martial arts. Immigrants from Java who moved to Malaysia introduced a dance style called Kuda Kupang; this dance style is centered around the dancers pretending they’re sitting on fake horses and telling stories from the Islamic wars. However, there are a number of other dances spread across the country with a various influences and origins. 


I came across several bands and singers in my search. There were far more listed than what was available on Spotify. The problem with some of the listings were that some of the people had their names written in Chinese characters, so it was harder for me to figure out who was who. The first person I listened to was Fish Leong. She was definitely pop but would incorporate periods of acoustic piano and/or guitar. It was pretty catchy. Eric Moo is another pop artist known for his ballads. He’s also an award-winning singer-songwriter and producer. Penny Tai also falls into this category. I was actually impressed she used quite a bit of style variety in her songs. 


As far as Indian-inspired pop music goes, there is basically one group that dominates this category. Goldkartz merges bhangra with dance music and hip-hop music. I think it’s super catchy. 


Malay pop music was influenced by a myriad of musical styles. Western and European rock were among the early influences along with other Asian styles. Siti Nurhaliza has a fairly typical pop sound and is pretty famous in this area.


Hip-hop certainly has its presence. Kru has a rock hip-hop sound. They’re probably the most famous hip-hop group coming out of Malaysia. 


Love Me Butch is a metal band and actually kind of reminds me of Alesana or Anti-flag at times. (And they sing in English!) Iklim definitely has a 1980s metal sound to them and almost reminds me of a cross between Yngwie Malmsteen and Megadeth. Estranged is another metal band out of Malaysia. I thought they were pretty good. And they sung in English. 


Bunkface has more of an alternative rock sound. Meet Uncle Hussain is another alternative rock band, although there are a couple of songs that make me think they borrowed some elements of the 1970s rock bands.

Up next: the food

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

MALAYSIA: ART AND LITERATURE


While Malaysian art is similar to the art of other nearby countries and cultures, it has its own distinct styles. And even within Malaysia, each region has its own distinct variations. In the rural areas, handcrafted woven baskets are common. Because many people practice Islam, and it’s forbidden to depict prophets and deities in Islam, most of the baskets and tapestries are decorated with colorful patterns and geometric shapes rather than people. It’s also common to find elements of nature like flowers and grasses. 

 
Malaysia is known for its textiles, namely in the practice of songket, pua kumbu, tekat, and other traditional patterned batik fabric. Each style is a variety of dying threads and weaving them. For example, batik is generally based on dying techniques with different strands of thread, and songket uses various metallic threads. Jewelry is also popular and often uses gold or silver, adorned with gems, beads, or pieces of leather, depending on the region. 


Clay pottery is an art dating back to antiquity. The shape of each piece depends on its purpose. Woodcarving is also an old art in Malaysia and one surrounded in superstitions and rituals. Although some areas of eastern Malaysia are known for wooden ceremonial masks, woodcarving is far more used as ornamentation. Woodcarvers spend years learning to have a special bond with the wood. The buyer also has to have a special bond with the wood as well, so there are several rituals that carvers and buyers go through just to get started on a project. It’s like dating or something. 


Because Malaysia is so multicultural, you can also see its diversity come out through its arts and especially its architecture. Chinese and European architectural styles certainly had its effects on its buildings, and there are many Indonesian styles utilized for the purposes of simply being a tropical country. One example of this is the houses on stilts with large windows that can be opened and tall roofs to allow for air flow. Indian and Middle Eastern influences are seen in colorful tiles and large courtyards. 


Literature in Malaysia is mainly written in the Malay language. Before written language was introduced in the form of Jawi (the Arabic-based script used for Malay), stories were told orally. But afterwards, they began to write down these stories that were mainly based on Hindu and Buddhist moral stories. 


Poetry is an art practiced in Malaysia. There are three main types of Malay poetry: mantera (like a mantra), the syair (4-line stanzas rhymed a-a-a-a), and the pantun (quatrains with 8-12 syllable lines).
 
Sejarah Melayu
The earliest known works include Sejarah Melayu and Hikaya Rajit Pasai, both written during the 15th century. Up until the 19th and 20th centuries, literary topics tended to involve religion or stories from the courts. The 20th century brought about some significant changes in Malaysian literature. The government classified Malaysian literature into three categories: literature written by Malays in the Malay language (called “national literature”), literature written by Malays but in Chinese, Tamil or another regional language of the country (called “regional literature”), and literature written in any other language (called “sectional literature”). 

A. Samad Said, considred Malaysia's national poet
The latter part of the 20th century brought about a change in topics. Race, the economic state, and everyday life were becoming an important part of Malaysian plot lines. Female authors were starting to emerge as well as the expansion of literature in other languages like Chinese and English. Some names of writers to look for if you’re interested are A. Samad Said, Abdullah Munshi, Abdul Rahim Kajai, Harun Aminurrashid, Abdullah Sidek, Ishak Haji Muhammad, Usman Awang, Poesy Liang, Khoo Kheng-Hor, Khasnor Johan, Huzir Sulaiman, Fatimah Busu, Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, Ee Tiang Hong, and Abdullah Hussain.

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, April 17, 2016

MALAYSIA: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE


When I was an elementary school student, we used to have pen pals where we would write actual letters to kids from across the country or across the world. I had three, some I kept longer than others: Arlington, Virginia; Cebu Island, Philippines; and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. If I remember correctly, I wrote to a girl from the Philippines for the longest, but I believe the girl from Malaysia was the last one I had. Pen pals were great – it not only helped with letter writing skills, but it also allowed you to learn language skills and other people’s culture. But with all the technology we have, I think this seems to be a lost art. 

 
The name Malaysia came from the word “Malay” (as in Malay Peninsula or Malay people or Malay language) with the Greek ending “-(s)ia.” As the Europeans moved into the region in search for spices among other things, it took a while for people to finally agree what to call this area. It was generally some variant of Malaya, and eventually everyone landed on Malaysia. 

 
Malaysia is located in Southeast Asia and is divided into two regions: one region consists of the Malay Peninsula and is attached to the Asian mainland via its border with Thailand, with Singapore hanging onto its southern border. The other part of the country is located on the island of Borneo, the third largest island in the world. This island contains the Malaysian regions of Sabah and Sarawat along with the countries of Brunei and Indonesia. These two regions are separated by the South China Sea that runs between them. Because Malaysia is a tropical country, it has an immense biodiversity. Nearly two-thirds of the country is forested, and they boast a megadiverse ecology comprised of hundreds of varieties of snakes, frogs, birds, plants, and other wildlife. 


It’s thought that the first inhabitants of Malaysia were Negritos, a dark-complexioned people who have ties with Africa. Traders from India and China started moving into the area sometime during the 1st century. They began establishing trading centers and outposts throughout the lands, spreading both Hinduism and Buddhism at the same time. Different kingdoms began to pop up, like the Langkasuka, the Srivijaya, and the Majapahit Kingdoms. The Malacca Sultanate was an important center for commerce and was the first independent state in the area. The Portuguese took over Malacca, and then the Dutch came in afterwards and took it for themselves. During the late 1700s, the British moved into Malaya and established the East India Company, taking Malacca, Singapore, and other nearby areas. During WWII, the Japanese invaded and set up an occupation over much of the country. Ethnic tensions led to a sense of nationalism, and although the British had their suggestions as to how to establish their autonomy, the Malays didn’t like it at all. After the war, the communist party built momentum in order to kick out the British. They eventually did gain their independence in 1957. Singapore, Sabah, and Sarawat joined in 1963, but Singapore later removed itself to establish its own country. The 1980s brought Malaysia a period of quick growth and urbanization in a shift to becoming more dependent on industry, manufacturing, and eventually technology. Although they went through an economic collapse during the 1990s, Malaysia now frequently makes the list for best countries to visit and/or retire to. 


With nearly 1.6 million people (and an estimated 7.2 million for the metro area), the capital city of Kuala Lumpur is the most populous city in Malaysia. It acts as Malaysia’s commerce, financial, media, and educational center. Many of the federal government duties are centered in the city of Putrajaya, about 15 miles south of the capital. Not only is the city on the Formula One circuit, but it’s also home to the futuristic Petronas Towers, the world’s tallest twin towers. They officially surpassed the Sears Tower in Chicago (No, I’m not calling it Willis Tower. Sorry, it’ll always be Sears Tower to me.) in 1998, and in 2004, the Taipei 101 building took the crown for tallest building. Located on the Peninsula, the city also acts as an arts and sports center for the country. 


Malaysia has an industrialized economy and is one of the stronger economies in Asia. It ranks as the 28th strongest economy in the world, and some reports estimate that it’s well on its way to becoming part of the “developed” countries. It also depends on mining and agriculture as well: Malaysia is a leading exporter of rubber, tin, and palm oil. Tourism (especially ecotourism) also plays a factor, although recent mishaps with Malaysia Airlines led to a slight decline in flights. The country ranks high on retirement studies based on long-stay visas (up to 10 years!), warm weather, a modern infrastructure, and a large number of people who can speak some English.   


Although the country says it has a freedom of religion, Islam is listed as the state religion. Of those who practice Islam (over 61% of the population), Sunni is the dominant denomination. Because of its ethnic makeup and history, Buddhism, Christianity, and Hinduism are also significant religions in Malaysia. There are also smaller numbers who follow other Chinese religions and philosophies, such as Taoism and Confucianism. 


The official and national language here is Bahasa Malaysia (or sometimes written as Bahasa Melayu). Although the Latin script is used most of the time, the Jawi script is also used. Jawi script is an Arabic-based script used to transcribe several Southeast Asian languages. While English served its purposed once upon a time, it’s not used as much now in any official status (except perhaps in the Sarawak region). Malaysian English is based on British English but also uses elements of Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. The government doesn’t really like the use of non-standard Malay, but what can they do without looking like jerks? You’ll also find pockets of various Chinese dialects, Tamil, Thai, and other Creole languages spoken throughout the country. 


Malaysia is a land of tradition mixed with modernity. It’s a land of ancient superstition mixed with a fast-growing high-tech jobs market. It’s a diverse mix of cultures that still divides itself between Malay and non-Malay (bumiputra). It’s a country that uses herbs and plants from its ancient rainforests to make modern medicine. In one state, movie theatre lights are kept on to discourage people from making out, but in another state, there’s a tribe where the men pierce their male parts with a bunch of random stuff and show it off trying to entice the women. (Does this even work??) Perhaps it’s this dichotomy that makes the country what it is. And I’m excited to venture into what they have to offer and taste what delicious food they have.

Up next: Art and Literature

Sunday, April 10, 2016

MALAWI: THE FOOD


For being April in Indiana, it sure doesn't feel like it. The other day it was actually snowing. It’s probably trying to make up for the fact that it was 60 degrees for most of December. But I don’t like it. Not one bit. But I suppose it’s a good day to stay inside and make a meal from a warm-weather country. Maybe if I stand in from of the oven, I can pretend I feel the warm breezes in my hair. 

Sweet potato stars. They look like the gold stars they deserve.
There were a couple bread recipes that popped up when I did a search. One was for a banana bread, which I’ve done several times before. When I landed on this recipe for Mbatata cookies (sweet potato cookies), I knew I had to do this one. I started out peeling and boiling two sweet potatoes to mash. I really only needed one (just enough for ¾ c), so I had a lot left over. I mixed the mashed sweet potatoes with ¼ c milk, and 4 Tbsp of melted butter and mixed it together. (I should’ve got my hand blender out because there were still some lumps of sweet potato, but it ended up ok.) Then I stirred in 1 ¼ c flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 4 Tbsp sugar, ½ tsp salt, and ¼ tsp cinnamon. Once it was mixed together, I kneaded it by hand and rolled it out to about ½” thick, cutting out cookies in whatever shape I wanted (I happened to have a star cutter I used from when I made Liechtensteiner Christmas cookies). I sprinkled a little cinnamon-sugar mix on top. I put my cookies on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and baked them at 375ºF for about 18-20 minutes. I really liked the cookies. You could see some of the larger chunks of sweet potato that didn’t get smashed up as much, but the flavor was excellent. I think it’ll go quite nicely with a cup of coffee in the morning. If my husband doesn’t eat them all up in the middle of the night. Of course, my son hated them. Because, you know, sweet potatoes. 

This is probably the fountain of youth.
Today’s side dish I made was called Ndiwo. I sautéed some diced onions in oil until they were translucent. Then I added in some chopped kale, bok choy, a small can of diced tomatoes (with its juices), and a canful of water. I stirred everything together to make sure it was mixed well and covered it for ten minutes or so. It definitely needs a little salt, but I also added a little pepper as well. I only added in the pepper because I love to hear people complain about how “spicy” it is, even though it’s not even. I liked this. I think it was probably a good decision to go with kale because it tends to hold its shape a little better than other greens. The bok choy was good, just wished I had more of it in the dish. The store I was at had a limited selection of fresh greens. I wanted to go with mustard greens to add a different flavor. It’s essentially a mix of greens, so I’m sure you can use whatever you have on hand. Many people serve this dish with a traditional accompaniment called Nsima. It’s essentially pouring white cornmeal into boiling water and constantly stirring it until it is thick but without lumps. I was going to make this, but I ran out of time. 

This is the type of dish you make when you're trying to impress a date.
The main dish for today is Malawian Mango Chicken. I actually started out by wrapping my boneless skinless chicken breasts in foil and baking them for about 55 minutes. I let it sit aside for a minute before shredding it. While the chicken was cooking, I made my marinade: ¼ c pineapple juice (I actually used pineapple nectar because it was super cheap), ¼ c soy sauce, 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar, 1 Tbsp ginger, 1 Tbsp flour, and 1 Tbsp brown sugar. Once all of my chicken was shredded, I put it in the same large bowl as my marinade, mixing it together well and let it sit for about an hour. When the hour was up, I sliced a green bell pepper and sautéed it in a little bit of oil to soften it before I added in my chicken to heat up again. In three separate bowls, I had my garnishes ready to top the chicken: diced mango, crushed peanuts, and lime wedges. I served this on a bed of steamed white rice. This. Right. Here. It was amazing. I loved everything about it. And even though I was slightly skeptical about the mango, it went really well with the marinated chicken. And what I liked about it was that it was pretty easy to make, and the ingredients are readily available and fairly inexpensive. Definitely a repeat recipe. 

This wasn't a good meal. -- It was an excellent meal.
I picked these recipes solely on what I wanted to eat this time. I know I typically think of what my family wants to eat, but this time was different. My husband is a strict “no fruit and meat together” type of guy. So, Hawaiian pizzas are definitely out. When I picked mango chicken, he automatically figured I was trying to kill him. (There are much faster ways of doing that, dear: getting rid of your project truck would be a start.) But even though it seemed a little odd of a combination even to me, it was actually really good. I got him to try one toddler-sized bite of it together, and as he grimaced through the swallow, he said it was “ok, but I don’t want to do it again.” And I’ll take that. After 11 years of marriage, we’re making baby steps toward a wider palate. Kind of.   

Up next: Malaysia

Saturday, April 9, 2016

MALAWI: MUSIC AND DANCE


The music of Malawi is fairly diverse. It’s a blend and fusion of various musical styles from British, American, and African traditions. Its location has been a prime merging of cultures through trade and travel for centuries. During WWII, there was even more Western musical influences; soon guitar and banjo duets became really popular among Malawian musicians, especially when it came to dance music. Malawians who worked in South Africa and Mozambique brought in Dutch and Portuguese traditions as well. These styles together created a genre called Kwela. However, even though some musicologists believe these Malawian workers added more to the genre, South African Kwela bands tend to be more popular. 



During the early years of independence when Kamuzu Banda led the country, music was highly censored. Nothing political or anti-government in anyway would be tolerated. Only music that praised how awesome he was would be permitted. Now that multiparty elections have been established for some time now, musicians and artists alike are freer to practice their arts. In fact, just last year, Malawi made news when The Zomba Prison Project’s I Have No Everything Here album won Best World Music Album. 


In Malawi, dance plays an important part of their culture. The National Dance Troupe, which got its start in 1987, focused on promoting traditional dance styles. Many of these dances are performed during rituals, marriage celebrations, and other rites. The Gule Wamkulu dance is performed by the dancer who wears a mask.


Over the years, there have been many different types of music in Malawi. Besides kwela, Malawi also developed its own genre called kwasa kwasa that was influenced by the soukous music of 1980s Democratic Republic of the Congo. 


Jazz is also popular with jazz fests happening throughout the year. Jazz musicians like Wambali Mkandawire and others utilize several different styles of jazz. One musician I listened to was guitarist Erik Paliani. I really liked his work; it’s a little jazz, a little Afro-pop, a little reggaesque (maybe) at times. Gospel music is also fairly popular in Malawi as well. 


Hip-hop music has been influenced by American and European traditions. It really got its start in Malawi with a group called Real Elements. Since then, they have paved the way for a myriad of other rappers and hip-hop stars to emerge on the scene. Likewise, there have been several successful R&B artists as well, like Maskal. Rappers like Young Kay, Pop Dogg, and Gwamba have made names for themselves on an international level (and/or based out of other countries). House and electronic music is also pretty popular with DJs like Phyzik and Cyclone dominating. 


Reggae and pop music also have a presence in the country. Lucius Banda is a musician who is widely listened to across Africa. His lyrics often criticized the government, and his music was subject to quite a bit of censorship; his music was banned for a while as a result. Reggae music has especially been popular and promoted by the country’s Rastafarians. One of the more popular reggae bands is Black Missionaries. 


One artist that blew me away is Tony Bird. Not because I have a writer friend of the same name, but because he’s basically Malawi’s answer to Bob Dylan. It’s uncanny. I am fairly impressed and entertained.

Up next: the food

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

MALAWI: ART AND LITERATURE


Known as the “Warm Heart of Africa,” Malawian artists are definitely one to show you their creative hearts. The earliest forms of art are its famous Neolithic rock paintings. The best example (perhaps because it’s the best preserved) is found at the Chongoni Rock-Art area, now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These paintings show the hunting and farming lifestyles of the ancient BaTwa people. 



Malawians have long preferred three-dimensional carving and sculpting to two-dimensional drawing or painting. Woodcarving not only had its practical functions in furniture and tools, but also in spiritual relics and honorary gifts to the community/spiritual leaders and basic animal sculptures. Malawi has a wide variety of woods to work from; some are pretty common, but others are rare. 


Another item that is carved are masks. Wooden masks are not unique to this area alone; they’re commonly found across West, Southern, and Eastern Africa. But each culture has their own style and variation and are often worn ceremoniously.  Typical masks here are made from wood and bronze and are adorned with feathers, beads, cloth, and even hair. They’re often worn by supposedly secret male-only groups (shhh, don’t tell anyone) and tied to their religion. 


Members of the community also create textile crafts, and these skills are passed on from generation to generation. People will often specialize in one particular skill like cloth dying or weaving and will work together providing the skills for others. One style many Malawian textile artists use is a wax print in designing their cloth. 

Linda Gabriel, poet
The earliest forms of literature were stories told orally. In Malawi today, most literature is written in English. During the first couple of decades after the country gained its independence, there was a push for a literary community. It was mainly the feat of some enterprising young college students at that time. And it did lift off of the ground. However, times have changed.

You should check out this blog post for the story behind this photo here.
Today with a growing poverty and a dire need to only pay for the essentials, books become luxuries. Besides, with fewer children being able to afford to attend school, the literacy rate struggles around 64%. Publishers are few, and many are discerning as to what they publish in order to get the most out of what they think will sell. What’s being sold tend to be textbooks and NGO pamphlets as opposed to novels and poetry (novels and poetry are still sold, but not quite at the rate of the others). 


Most people get their books from the National Library Service; there’s one branch in all the major cities. However, the majority of their books are either donated as unsold copies from Western book publishers or used books from Western schools and such. 

Q Malewezi
Spoken poetry is quite popular in Malawi. Perhaps it’s a tie to being entertained; perhaps it’s a tie to their oral history. One well known poets from Malawi is Qabaniso Malewezi. Whatever the reason, people are interested. There are also literary clubs popping up throughout Malawi, mostly tied to Chancellor College. Some established writers started various literary clubs, and often bring in authors from throughout Africa to talk to new writers not only about the ins and outs of how to write well and storytelling but the secrets of getting published and marketing their book as well. 
 
Shadrech Chikoti
There have been several influential writers not only in the literary culture of Malawi but in promoting literacy and writing in general. But one name that seems to keep popping up is Shadrech Chikoti. As a successful short story writer and novelist, his stories “The Beggar Girl,” “The Baobab Tree,” and “The Trap” have won several awards. He also started The Story Club as a means of bringing together writers and critics to talk about and promote Malawian literature. It has grown so much that there are actually two branches: one in the capital Lilongwe and another in the northern city of Mzuzu.

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, April 3, 2016

MALAWI: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE


Several years ago, I read about Madonna’s nonprofit charity Raising Malawi. The program aims to help the state of extreme poverty in the country by focusing on education and health care. The nonprofit has erected several schools and healthcare facilities, and as far as I could tell from the website, it has made some impacts. Of course, there have been plenty of criticisms as well. Even though there are some obvious problems with poverty and lack of adequate healthcare in Malawi, I have a feeling there’s more to this country than this. So, I can’t wait to find out more. 



The name Malawi may be derived from a word meaning “tongues of fire” possibly in references to the way the sun reflects off of Lake Malawi. However, the first president of Malawi, Hastings Banda, said during the time the country was known as Nyasaland (“Nyasa” means “lake”), that he once saw a “Lac Maravi” on an old French map, and it got him thinking. He decided “Malawi” would make a better name. 



Malawi is a landlocked country in southeastern Africa. It’s surrounded by Tanzania to the northeast, Mozambique covering most of the southern parts, and Zambia on the northwest side. Lake Malawi runs along its eastern border with Tanzania and Mozambique. It also includes the island of Likoma that is located in Lake Malawi and actually closer to Mozambique than Malawi. The southern part tends to be hotter than the more temperate northern regions. 
 
Hastings Banda

The original inhabitants were Bantu-speaking people who migrated here from northwest Africa. There were several tribes here who united and created the Kingdom of Maravi. During the 1600s, they worked with the Portuguese traders, but by the 1700s and 1800s, large numbers of people were caught up in the Swahili-Arab slave trade. In 1859, David Livingstone reached the shores of Lake Nyasa and decided that was a great place for Europeans to settle. In the following years, missionaries and trading companies began to settle in the area and set up their own towns. In the late 1800s, the land known as the Shire Highlands was placed as a British Protectorate which was later expanded to include the entire country, renaming it as Nyasaland. The African nationals created a group to present their own interests to the British government. During the early 1950s, the British combined Nyasaland with Northern and Southern Rhodesia (mostly modern day Zimbabwe) and renamed the entire area the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. As they gained independence, Hastings Banda was declared the first prime minister of the country and renamed the country Malawi. Since its independence, the country had its struggles economically and politically and is trying to overcome poverty and strengthen their economic ties. 



The capital city, Lilongwe, is named after the Lilongwe River. It’s located near the central region of the country, not far from the border with Mozambique and Zambia. The city itself is divided between the Old City and the New City. There’s a definite distinction between the modern shops and the old walled sections of the city. Several smaller local markets are spread throughout the city. And because of the number of tourists in Lilongwe, you can find a number of diverse cuisines. As far as transportation goes, there is an international airport, regular bus service, and there’s also a limited rail service. The city does have a sports stadium as well. Although the city is the fgovernmental center of the country, the financial and commercial capital is located in Blantyre. 



Malawi has its struggles. It’s among the least developed countries in the world. The vast majority of its people live in the rural areas, and its economy is largely based on agriculture and especially tobacco, tea, and sugar. It also depends on foreign aid and aid from the World Bank and the IMF. Although the country battles high unemployment and poverty rates, there are some small strides being made, but they tend to be few and far between at times. 



Because of Malawi’s history with Britain, it is a majority Christian country. Of the Christian population, the largest denomination is Roman Catholicism with a number of other smaller denominations present as well. About a quarter of the population is Muslim, mostly Sunni. Of course, there are also a significant number of Baha’is, Hindus, Rastafarians, Jews, atheists, and people who practice traditional African religions. 


While the official language is English, there are many local languages spoken throughout Malawi. The majority of Malawians speak Chichewa although Chinyanja, Chiyao, and Chitumbuka also have large numbers of speakers. 


I’m a fan of the Danish beer Carlsberg and have been for some time. In 1966, the Danish Foreign Minister took a trip to Malawi, and when he returned he had this idea that Carlsberg should open a brewery there. It didn’t take terribly long for the negotiations to manifest itself, and two years later, Carlsberg built their first brewery outside of Denmark in the city of Blantyre, Malawi. (And now I’m craving a Carlsberg.) All I know is that there are a lot of interesting things I’ve already come across in reading about this country. So let’s find out what Malawi is really all about.



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