afrika aphukira

Midwiving the Afrikan rebirth. . . Views of Afrika and the world, on the path to the renaissance, from a social justice and an Afrikan epistemological perspective--uMunthu. Includes specific commentary on Malawi and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Malawian cuisine, cosmopolitanism, and mental colonization

When Alexander Hotels Limited launched their 'Malawi Night' event at the Shire Highlands Hotel in Blantyre on Friday, January 27, the earliest news reports on the occasion focused on the late arrival of the Minister of Information and Tourism, Hon. Patricia Kaliati, rather than on the issue of why the menus in Malawian hotels and restaurants look more British than Malawian. The Nation newspaper titled its report "Kaliati delays Malawi night," giving details of how the minister, who was guest of honor, kept patrons waiting for two hours, and how she later went table to table apologizing. Only towards the very end of the article does the reporter, Edward Nyirenda, describe the traditional Malawian foods that were on the menu.

Four days later, the Friday February 4 edition of the newspaper published Edward Nyirenda's feature article providing more details on what for me was the more important news of the night. Titled "A pure magic that was Malawi night," Nyirenda puts the event in a more elaborate perspective, starting with how the idea of a Malawi night came about, providing views of some of the Malawians who patronized the event, ending with how successful the event was.

For me, news of the event came when just the week before I had mentioned to a friend that the extent to which most of us Malawians are still mentally colonized can be seen in the stark differences between the foods we eat at home and the foods we serve in our restaurants and hotels. In our homes, we eat foods such as nsima, beans, mfutso, masamba otendera, nsomba, among many others, while in our hotels and restaurants we serve mostly rice, beef, chicken, spaghetti, and other foods mainly guided by Western tourist tastes. Alisa Makawa, the managing director for Alexander Hotels Limited, noticed this discrepancy, which triggered her mind into motion, leading to the Malawi Night.

Most of the patrons quoted in the report spoke about how wonderful the food tasted, and how the Malawian traditional music in the background made the occasion even more graceful and meaningful.

On the Malawi Internet discussion listservs Nyasanet and Malawitalk, the news was all about the minister's late arrival, and not one posting made mention of the significance of the event in the context of Malawian identity and heritage. To give credit to the two listservs, the topic of tourism has dominated discussion since the event, homing in to critical questions of how a British historian and researcher of Malawi, David Stuart-Mogg, ended up owning a skull of Mlozi, described by some historians as a 19th century half-caste Arab slave trader who ruled the area now known as Karonga, on the northern end of Lake Malawi. Mr. Stuart-Mogg himself made the revelation of his prized possession in a posting to both Nyasanet and Malawitalk on August 18, 2005, but nobody paid attention, until Bright Malopa raised the issue yesterday in the current Tourism debate.

Several Malawians are asking Mr. Mogg to explain how he ended up with the skull, issues that I would like to address in another posting. For now my main point is to congratulate Ms. Alisa Makawa and her Alexander Hotels Ltd for bringing up the idea of a Malawi Night and successfully pulling it off, putting onto the national agenda the question of how our tendency to copy everything Western inhibits our capacity to come up with original ideas in solving some of our problems.

I am talking about issues of Malawian identity and heritage here with the full understanding of the idea that no culture is pure, and that to view cultures in that way is to be narrow-minded and unaware of the influences cultures have on each other. This happens to be the message in Kwame Anthony Appiah's new book titled Cosmopolitanism: Ethic in a World of Strangers. While I agree with Professor Appiah's argument about the importance of recognizing what he calls the "contamination" that makes no culture pure, I also agree with those who have pointed out to the brilliant philosopher that the reality of globalization is such that rich and powerful nations and their multinational corporations bulldoze their will and way onto weaker nations, an idea that Professor Appiah does not appear to have been addressed in his book. Nor does he seem to have addressed the issue of how it is in fact Western societies with their insistence on the terms “Western,” “free world,” “universal,” etc, that need a lesson on what a cosmopolitan world we live in.

The recognition of how Malawian restaurants and hotels tend to offer Western menus and little traditional Malawian foods is a necessary step in understanding why Professor Appiah's idea of cosmopolitanism, while excellent, needs to be taken in context, and with caution
.


View blog reactions posted by steve sharra @ Thursday, February 09, 2006

6 Comments:

At Thursday, February 09, 2006 10:05:00 PM, Blogger Ogama said...

The point you are making is very valid. I had an experience recently where someone here at Ohio University was glad to know I came from Malawi. He then went ahead and told me he once visited Malawi in the early 90's. I was interested to find out what he remembered most about Malawi and what food he liked. He remembered our beautiful lake but when it came to food his resply both astonished and angered me, "Oh there wasn't much of a difference. Isn't it the same you find in every British restaurant?" This when I realised something was really wrong.

It is true that we need to be proud of our culture, food and way of living. It all goes to the fact that people think that things western are superior and things local are useless and hence inferior. Ms Makawa is a good example of people who are beginning to come to their senses and re-discover their roots. We can only hope that more hotel owners will emulate this example and sample the real Malawian food for our visitors to taste and take home real Malawi memories.

 
At Tuesday, May 02, 2006 6:52:00 AM, Anonymous mshairi said...

Hi Mlauzi,thanks for stopping by my blog and listening to the interview:) The blogger from Malawi who was featured in the interview was http://mymalawi.blogspot.com/

You have an excellent blog!

 
At Sunday, December 02, 2007 10:55:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steve

Kanyama did not leave Malawi in the 1990s. I don't even bel;ieve he sold because he had virtually nothing to sell. His Banana Grove was a mere pile of brick and grass.

You may be interested in the interview he gave to the Lamp magazine in (May-June) 2002. He was a man of principles and wethics. He refused a "bribe" from Muluzi. He left Malawi much much later. I can't exactly when.

In that interview he also said he was writing a book called The Fall of a Dictator. Did he publish it?

Greetings from Malawi.

Levi Zeleza Manda

 
At Wednesday, August 04, 2010 8:40:00 PM, Anonymous Lisa from Canada said...

I read your entries with interest. I also agree that having events like the Malawi Night in Blantyre is great way to nudge interests in the right direction. I do not agree with your statement, though, that "rich and powerful nations and their multinational corporations bulldoze their will and way onto weaker nations", at least not in a intentional, mean spirited way. In my opinion the simple fact that some countries are wealthier than others means that their cultures are more upfront, in your face, while developing countries have their treasures still relatively hidden. Also people (the emerging middle class), as they acquire wealth, have the tendency to emulate the richer, the more powerful, while turning their backs on the lesser, poorer world they are leaving behind. So I dare to speculate that when restaurants in Malawi offer Western style food, they subconsciously do so to show off their sophistication, ignoring the "low class" home style dishes. If I may suggest, one of the good chefs should be encouraged to embrace and elaborate on some Malawian recipes, and (!) start a blog, showing off his creations. You would be surprised how many foreigners would be attracted to such a blog (myself included), thereby producing tourists who will ask for those dishes when visiting Malawi.

 
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