How an ancient rainmaker inspired a quest to nurture female writers in Malawi | Global development

I’ve typically tried to think about what Makewana, the unique female rainmaker of ancient Malawi, will need to have regarded like.

There’s a statue of her with lengthy hair at Mua Mission in Dedza, since to minimize her hair would have signified drought.

The title means “Mom of Youngsters” – a title handed down via the generations of rainmakers. As soon as recognized as Makewana, a girl would dwell at Msinja shrine and be deemed accountable for rain.

Makewana is the title we determined to use when, in 2014, Hendrina Kachapila, Ranka Primorac and I have been speaking about Malawian writers. Ranka was in the nation researching girls’s writing in southern Africa. She requested, “The place are the Malawian female writers?” We didn’t have a prepared reply.


Have been there any girls writing in Malawi? Oh positively. There was Walije Gondwe, Emily Mkamanga, Catherine M’bawa, Cecilia Dube. We paused, attempting to assume. The truth that we had to pause, search and keep in mind, spoke volumes. It was not so difficult to provide you with names for male authors. In seconds, I might provide you with the names of 5: Jack Mapanje, David Rubadiri, Steve Chimombo, Aubrey Kalitera and Ken Lipenga. That day, the three of us determined that we might do extra to discover out the place the ladies have been.

Hendrina got here up with the title Makewana’s Daughters for our online forum, the title of Jessie Sagawa’s PhD thesis, Daughters of Makewana: A examine of girls in chosen Malawian novels in English. We considered Malawi’s historical past, and the management of rainmakers in the 18th century. We couldn’t resist the urge of connecting creation and creativity, and we felt that the rainmaker’s robust picture could be inspirational to girls in search of to finish the nation’s literary drought. Our slogan, “Let phrases rain and reign”, mirrored all that Makewana’s Daughters was aiming for.

We’ve not discovered all of the solutions as to why Malawi doesn’t have as a lot inventive writing by girls. I’ve talked to girls and women who’ve been writing for a very long time, not due to Makewana’s Daughters, however as a result of they felt that urge. For some, their work has been stored hidden in closets. They felt it was sufficient to write. For others, the work was rejected by publishers.

However there’s additionally the query of literacy ranges, which stay decrease amongst girls in Malawi than males. However this doesn’t imply that the ladies who didn’t have a formal schooling shouldn’t have a story to inform. Makewana’s Daughters has transcribed tales in addition to songs composed by rural girls: songs are only one approach in which girls specific themselves.

Utilizing our on-line discussion board, we publish brief tales, poems and songs in addition to private narratives. We’ve even created a sketch, Nerdy Niva, which addresses one other sort of drought – female protagonists created by female writers in comedian strips.

Students attend a class at a school in Blantyre, Malawi, in March, 2021
College students attend a class at a college in Blantyre, Malawi, in March, 2021. Regardless of efforts to shut the literacy hole and main progress in rising the variety of women who attend major college, women in Malawi proceed to be deprived. {Photograph}: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

We’ve managed to go to major faculties and to run two writing competitions in English and Chichewa. We’re primarily self-funded, however have had monetary assist in operating the competitions from Asbjørn Eidhammer, Norway’s former ambassador to Malawi, and Asante Mtenje, affiliate professor in English on the College of Malawi.

Among the many many issues I’m glad about is that we’re now not simply an on-line discussion board, there have been instances when we’ve been to a college and heard women clap their arms and shout, “Makewana!”

We’re thriving.

We’ve additionally taken half in workshops with organisations resembling Pepeta Malawi, a feminist platform preventing in opposition to gender-based violence, and Wona Collective, which focuses on social advocacy utilizing the humanities. Our interactions with the individuals have made us much more humbly conscious of the tales on the market and of the artists in this nation, even when publishing alternatives are uncommon.

I’m impressed by how some Malawian girls are embracing traits resembling self-publishing. Having looked for retailers for years, they’ve stepped up, taking again the manuscripts that they had put apart, and are getting their work printed on their very own phrases.


Visiting the statue of Makewana at Mua, and seeing her lengthy hair, intrigued me, particularly since I had grown up in an period when schoolgirls had to hold their hair brief. That is nonetheless the case in authorities faculties, and is seen as a type of self-discipline.

Taking a look at a time earlier than all this, the picture of Makewana makes me marvel how she negotiated the problem of self-discipline in her time. I hope that I can write with out a paralysing sense of self-censorship, and that girls writing in the nation will proceed to let phrases rain and reign.

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