The Chewa: Gule Wamkulu

With thanks to Unesco for permission to use their video – see below for explanation.

gule wamkulu

I went to Gule Wamkulu in a village in Eastern Province, with the director of the NGO where I was staying. She and I were the only muzungus (white people) there so it was very personal; arranged for us by a local Chief  and village Headman. It took place at night, with just the fire, used to warm the skins of the drums, to show the amazing costumes on the different figures as they danced in and out of that firelight. Magical, especially with the relentless drumming and singing of the girls. Not like the nice choral singing I heard in the schools and stuff, much more from the earth, from nature. You must not talk to the guys before or after as traditionally it is not them dancing, but ghosts, hence sometimes translated as ‘ghost dance’. Afterwards, the atmosphere was raw earth energy; I saw the mothers  making haste to hustle their daughters away quickly!

Unesco says:

‘Gule Wamkulu was a secret cult, involving a ritual dance, practiced among the Chewa in Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique. It was performed by members of the Nyau brotherhood, a secret society of initiated men.Within the Chewa’s traditional matrilineal society, where married men played a rather marginal role, the Nyau offered a means to establish a counterweight and solidarity among men of various villages. Nyau members still are responsible for the initiation of young men into adulthood, and for the performance of the Gule Wamkulu at the end of the initiation procedure, celebrating the young men’s integration into adult society.’

This video was made in Malawi. The Chewa people are mostly across Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique. Click on the link below for the video, or below that for the Unesco source.

The People Chewa: Gule Wamkulu/ Chew Nyan