MUSEUMS OF MALAWI
One of my favorite things to do when I travel to another country is visit a museum (or two or three)! I always love seeing the way other countries present history and culture--their own as well as that of other places. What story do they tell? How well does that story match my own understanding? What can I learn about how they see themselves, and maybe how they see me? How do they interpret events from history? What tools and artifacts do they use to tell this history?
I was surprised when I went to the Museums of Malawi location in Blantyre (Chichiri Museum) to find that the museum is actually quite small. In fact, with the exception of a small entry area display of natural history, and a few machines housed outside of the main building, all the artifacts in the museum are housed in one room roughly the size of a small indoor basketball court. All the displays line the walls with nothing in the middle--though our friend Aaron told us the central area is often used for special collections. Please excuse if some of the photos are a little blurry--I was shooting through glass in poor light.
We learned that there are actually several museums in Malawi all linked together through the Department of Antiquities under the Ministry of Culture. For example, in Mangochi Town there is the Lake Malawi Museum, which focuses on the history of the lake and its people. There are exhibits on fishing, natural history, boat-making, history of the slave trade linked to the lake, and a special exhibit on the Yao people. The Cultural and Museum Centre in Karonga focuses on displaying important archeological artifacts found in that area of Malawi, including the fossils of dinosaurs and early humans. There is also the Mtengatenga Postal Museum; this museum, housed in an old post office, documents the history of communication in Malawi. Aaron told us about an exciting new expansion to this museum that will include new exhibits on Malawi's leap into the digital age, including the age of the internet. Alongside the new exhibits will be an internet cafe where Malawians can connect with each other and the broader world.
So while the Chichiri Museum may seem small, it serves a purpose of housing important artifacts related to the evolution of Malawians through time. For special exhibits on the impact of the Lake or how communication and transportation shaped the country, you will have to travel a bit to see the other museums!
DR. LIVINGSTONE, I PRESUME?
One of the more interesting exhibits at Chichiri houses information on the travels of Dr. David Livingstone (1813-1873), the Scottish medical missionary and explorer credited with "discovering" Lake Malawi. One of the artifacts includes an original letter from Livingstone penned in 1859 on the River Shire, which flows from the south, emptying into Lake Malawi.
MY FAVORITE ARTIFACT
This was my favorite artifact in the Chichiri Museum--a small metal stool. This was the royal throne used by Chief Kanyenda in the 1500s. When we compare it to other examples of kingly thrones, it is rather underwhelming. However, for that time in Malawian history, the fact that the Chief was not sitting on the ground, that he was slightly elevated over his people with the help of this small stool, made him appear kingly indeed. No red velvet or the swords of conquered foes needed here to make a statement!
There are a few important exhibits and artifacts located outside the museum building, including a traditional style hut used for education demonstrations and a series of transportation and industrial machines including the steam engine that paved Malawi's first road, one of the first fire engines for the city of Blantyre, an original peanut oil press, and the original hydroelectric turbines that provided water to all of Zomba.
Jordan tried for a while to get some good pictures of the trains, but the lighting was not cooperating! After such a long morning of touring and picture taking, there was only one thing left to do: visit the Colonel!
That's right, after days of searching, Jordan finally found the KFC in Blantyre and made us all go there for lunch. Sadly, it honestly wasn't that satisfying. We know several Malawian restaurants that make much better fried chicken, Jordan even said the mashed potatoes and gravy were nothing to write home about. Oh well, we tried it!!
I always recommend visiting a museum in a new place if you can, and the Chichiri Musuem is no exception! Yes, it is small, but you will see some interesting exhibits and there are always several museum staffers around you can chat with and ask questions. Happy exploring, fellow adventurers!!