There are Chewa Chiefs, in Tongaland

Richard Jack Mdyetseni

In his article ‘There is no Chewa chief in Tongaland’, in the Nation newspaper, Zeleza Manda attempts to put Tongas and Chewas apart, he deals injustice to history and the truth rendering himself victim of hear-say with his motives left to speculation.

There are, in fact, many Chewa Chiefs in Tongaland, prominent of which is Kabunduli. The subtle differences among tribes in Africa emerged because of the fraudulent methods the Whites deployed to make up nations. Their ways of administration to unify different tribes deliberately left out indigenous values, institutions and heritage. The existing nations are a cobbling together of diverse ethnicity in order to unite and entrench their rule on the natives under their jurisdiction.

Ethnicity is commonly defined as an embodiment of institutions, values, patterns of behavior representing people’s historical experience, aspirations and world view. It goes beyond having common language, dances and songs. In the case of Tongas and Chewas, the people are of indisputably common ethnic heritage with strong affinity of norms, customs and values in practice and as indeed observed the dances, songs and the languages are slightly different. So, it can arguably be said that naturally the two tribes have common ethnicity and this is augmented by a written and acceptable history.

Another casual and self-implicating attempt by Zeleza is made on the origin of Tongas as people who originated from the Great Lakes region. Why it bears the hall marks of the same Chewa origin and if the two tribes migrated from same area what sets them apart and different. Is it also by coincidence that they are together in present day Malawi? Why, unlike with Ngonis and others, an encounter between Tongas and Chewas did not lead to blood-letting as was usual in old times? As he spins it, why would the Tongas and Chewas make a memorandum of understanding and over what?

A while ago, there was a case at the Mzuzu High court that sought to right the disputed chieftaincy of Fukamapiri of Nkhatabay in terms of who was the right heir to the throne. Without fully detailing the proceedings here, the then incumbent inherited paternally and that was ruled to be against the Chewa tradition as observed by the courts where upon ascendancy to the chieftaincy was supposed to be maternal. This case is a vivid testimony of the Tonga-Chewa connectedness and that the names in fact are a variation of a people with common ethnic origin.
An attempt to identify and create a difference to separate tribes supposedly conjoined at birth cannot just be done over a glass of wine, so to say.

If the present history is in dispute, then evidence based research needs to be undertaken. Making statements to the contrary without the support of credible research findings is not only delusional but unprofessionally painstaking. An attempt to make misleading historical facts under guise of a satirical article is full suspect.

I am not trying to draw a dagger against Zeleza, whom I respect as a person equipped with a powerful mind and sharp fingers for weaving words to his credit. I still can develop goose bumps when unsupported assumptions are put in ink to the public consumption.

In my informed view, personal reflections and prejudices need to be muted in the public domain unless there is an orchestrated attempt to invite a deluge of protests from patrons to fulfil certain clandestine goals. One wonders as to why unfounded and provoking assumptions get published without an iota of guilt?

There is an observable trend that would cause one to cringe. There is a subtle political hand in many attempts by tribes to disassociate with others whom history has effectively established and re-joined together. This is being overtly driven from the top state echelons of power under the guise of re-establishing cultural heritages. Could Zeleza be using his journalistic space and prowess to advance this not so palatable agenda? Only he knows the truth.

All I can manage is further to remind; the litany of conflicts in Africa are built along ethnic loyalties. I have come to conclude that the state in the present-day Malawi has sown seeds of future conflicts at the scale of Sudan or Rwanda in that the promotion of ethnic identity ignores the underlying aspect of ethno-territorial identity which exists independent of political manoeuvres.
Bluntly put, the promotion of ethnic identity to promote customs and forgotten culture is a cover project or resource for political manipulation and entrepreneurship.

We live in very dangerous times and people like Zeleza better realize this quickly.

The Author:
An Executive Director for Human Rights Local NGO: Richard Mdyetseni

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