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MALAWI UNESCO HERITAGE DANCES
Most patients are women who suffer from various forms of mental illness. They are treated for some weeks or months by renowned healers who run a temphiri, a village house where patients are accommodated. After the concrete diagnosis has been made, patients undergo a specific healing ritual. To this purpose, women and children of the village where the temphiri is located form a circle around the patient who is slowly getting into trance and sing particular songs in which helping spirits are called. The only men taking part are those who beat spirit-specific drum rhythms accompanying the songs and, in some cases, the male healer.
Tchopa is practised among Lhomwe communities in southern Malawi. The dance is usually performed during celebrations after good harvests and successful hunting trips and during offerings to ancestral spirits after calamities such as droughts and outbreaks of disease. Knowledge and skills for the dance are transmitted by bearers during practice sessions and occasional performances. Tchopa strengthens social cohesion among Lhomwe communities, with members providing mutual support in times of need, such as during ill health and bereavement, and assisting with communal labour in the field.
Gule Wamkulu is both a secret cult and ritual dance practiced among the Chewa people living in Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique. It is performed by members of the Nyau brotherhood, which is a sort of a secret society of initiated Chewa men. Within the Chewa’s traditional matrilineal society, husbands played a rather marginal role so that the Nyau offered a means to establish some kind of counterweight and solidarity among men of various villages. Nyau members are responsible for the initiation of young men into adulthood, and the performance of the Gule Wamkulu at the end of the initiation procedure to celebrate the young men’s integration into adult society.
Gule Wamkulu is performed in the season following the harvest in July, accompanying initiation ceremonies but also weddings, funerals, and the installation or the death of a chief. On this occasion, the Nyau dancers wear costumes and masks made of wood and straw, representing a great variety of characters, such as wild animals, spirits of the dead, slave traders as well as more recent figures such as the honda or the helicopter. Each of these figures plays a particular, often evil, character representing certain forms of misbehavior in order to teach moral and social values to the audience. These figures perform dances and artistic movements with extraordinary energy, partly entertaining and partly scaring the audience as representatives of the world of the spirits and the dead. Mask carvers may either be professional or occasional artisans.