About the Society of Malawi

Man shall not live by bread alone but also the words of God. Truly man, especially a civilised man, does not spend all his time and days minding his stomachs. He has other forms of hunger that cannot be satisfied with a loaf of bread.

Incidentally, the words ‘he’ and ‘man’ take care of women as well.

The American psychologist Abraham Maslow identified five needs of human beings at the bottom of which is the need for food, clothing and shelter followed by the need for security and friendly companionship ending with the need for self-actualisation (meaning to achieve one’s highest potential).

The Society of Malawi was founded in 1946 as the Nyasaland Society with His Excellency the Governor of Nyasaland, Sir Edmund C Richard (1946-1948) as patron. Thereafter, patrons were Sir Geoffrey Colby (1956-1961) and Sir Glyn Jones (1961-1966).

From the date of independence, patronage of the now renamed The Society of Malawi was held by the presidents of Malawi.

Among Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which one does The Society of Malawi carter for? Perhaps we should suspend judgment until we have digressed to other matters.

Several decades ago, I read a book of essays on South African tribes. The authors were mostly Anglo Saxons though some of them were British by nationality while others were South African. The principal contributor to the book stated in his introduction that the Bantu were luckier than the Anglo Saxons in that extensive records were being made about their way of life by scholars of different nationalities. He lamented that when the Romans were ruling England, they did not make similar studies of Celts, the oldest inhabitants of the British Isles.

We, Malawians, like our South African counterparts have a lot to thank the missionaries, civil servants and others who came to Nyasaland. Apart from doing what they came for, they took keen interest in our culture, history and languages and wrote books and articles which we find most valuable today.

During the past 150 years or so that we have been exposed to Western civilisation and Christianity, our history and culture have experienced almost kaleidoscopic change, But for the writings of expatriates among us, we would have only vague knowledge of how ancestors lived a century ago.

Members of The Society of Malawi are dedicated to preserving and unravelling historical and scientific knowledge of Malawi. In the society’s journal which has been published regularly since 1948, they have published articles on a variety of subjects. The society does not necessarily subscribe to the views made by individual contributor but most of the articles are of high standard. The contributors comprise both academics and non-academics.

One feels amazed and at the same time grateful that some of the contributors are professionals who were here decades ago and left and yet retain keen interest in Malawian historiography. I have in mind particularly Professor Colin Baker and Stuart Mogg. The former was principal of what used to be called College of Public Administration, Mpemba, from whose first intake emerged the first head of civil service George Jaffu.

Professor Baker has published monumental histories of Malawi and biographies of men who influenced the course of history in Malawi such as governors Colby, Armitage and Glyn Jones as well as nationalist Henry Masauko Chipembere.

I have been told by my son Kwame that Mr Stuart was once the general manager of Sunbird Mount Soche. He takes unusual interest in digging the past about Malawi’s history.

For those of us who are interested in the history of our country and its culture, The Society of Malawi Journal is an indispensable source of further research. Most of us have heard and read that John Chilembwe had three children and have seen the children’s photographs with their parents.

But how many of us have seen the photograph of John Chilembwe Jnr (alias Charlie)? You will see it on pages 37 of volume 63 Number 2 of 2010 with Chilembwe’s main biographer Professor George Shapperson. The photo was taken in 1970.

It is not possible to give full justice on what members of The Society of Malawi are doing to revive and retain people’s interest on what has made Malawi the country and nation it is.

May I appeal to the Malawian elite to take up membership of The Society of Malawi in greater numbers than they have done so far? The society is for us.

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