The art of conservation

A three-by-one-foot board dexterously carved to show several activities in a typical Malawian village was one marvel to behold when we visited a group of 60 men who specialise in curios production at the famous Mua Mission in Dedza’s Traditional Authority (T/A) Kachindamoto.

But, later, we learnt that there were several others like this piece of art whose creator, Raphael Gufu, told us he knows pretty well that through a fallen log, desiccated and nearly decaying, a life’s full episode can be told.

The unpolished curio—with over 100 miniature humans undertaking different activities—was drawn from the scraps of time, from a tree felled perhaps over a decade ago, but inflexibly refusing to disappear in the immense force of nature.

Masterpiece: One of the group’s creations

“Most of our forests here are now without trees, but sometimes we find fallen pieces of wood which we turn into curios like this one,” said Gufu of his piece which he argued is a perfect symbol of environmental conservation.

Once the final titbits of the creation are concluded, Gufu hopes to make some K50 000 from the job that he has been doing for the past three months.

From there, narrates the 47-year-old resident of Kamchamba Village, two important acts will be accomplished: perfect messages on resisting environmental ruin and purchasing tree seedlings to be used in reforestation drives.

On the board, there is a full story of a man who has fallen sick and is being looked after by those close to him. Then they take him first to a witchdoctor where after an unsuccessful diagnosis, they consider a ‘formal’ hospital.

With traditional beliefs crudely coming into play, so depicts the work of art, the man is saved by the invocation of Gulewamkulu’sspirits which finally cures him.

“But if you look at this board, you discover that there are several other activities which explicitly or implicitly tackle issues to do with the environment,” says Gufu.

He adds: “For instance, the sick man is carried on a wood-made stretcher; women are pounding maize in wood mortars; drums made from wood are used during the mask dance. Wood is present everywhere in the activities depicted on this work of art. This tells us that we will always need wood.”

One of the core ideals upon which Carvers Community Savings and Investment Promotion (Comsip) Cooperative—to which Gufu belongs—was founded was responding to climate change through activities which also generate income for its 60 members.

“Our core business is curio carving. Curios need wood, but even if we use already dead wood, we take it upon ourselves to plant more trees. Even if we use mere tree branches, we will feel the urge to plant more trees,” says the cooperative’s chairperson Peter Phanisi.

So, on a normal day, these men are champions of environmental conservation and passionately take pride in this art, reminding others about the need to recreate sustainable and resilient communities.

“We want to take this art throughout the country. As Malawi, we should not only be known when it comes to corruption; we should also be known because of our skills which can tremendously change things for the better including the environment,” Phanisi states.

With a present of K4.5 million and having been trained how to effectively conserve the environment and how to manage finances, members of Carvers Comsip Cooperative are more eager than ever to use their art to plant more trees.

In fact, in Gufu’s, just like in many other members’ artistic depictions through sculpts, there is a clear message that all humanity is involved in ruining the environmental.

“Destroying the environment is so interconnected that no-one can claim to be an outsider. If you make a chair or sit on it; if you don’t follow proper farming practices, you destroy the environment.

“These are some of the things which we portray in our sculptures in a bid to rally everyone to conserve the environment,” says Phanisi.

And as they wait for more trees to mature and be ideal for curio production, members of Carvers Comsip Cooperative are trading in agricultural produce. Nothing like idle moments.

They buy and sell maize and rice and from what they share, everyone is heartened to spare something for a tree seedling or two. At the end, the art of conserving nature is fortified. n

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