President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi installing Alex Gomani as Inkosi yamakosi Gomani IV, paramount chief of the Maseko Ngoni of Malawi and Mozambique on 21st June 2009.
The colourful coronation of Inkosi yaMakhosi Gomani IV at Lizulu or Lizwe lamaZulu (Land of the Zulu) in Ntcheu should bring to the fore the need for the Government and all of us to work towards the preservation of our cultures and languages. Seeing Ngonis dressed in traditional regalia and singing traditional dances was quite a spectacle. It made one feel good to be a Ngoni.
It is therefore gratifying to note that Ngwenyama Yethu has promised to revive thanksgiving festivals such as Incwala. In an age when western culture is in vogue, we need to show that we too are proud of our cultural heritage and want to share it to the world.
It is my hope that companies such as Celtel which sponsored the coronation ceremony will assist the Inkosi and others in establishing cultural centres where one can go to learn our traditions. These cultural centres can be promoted as tourist attractions where tourists will go to experience Ngoni culture at its best and can therefore in the long run ultimately be self supporting.
It was also exciting to hear during the coronation ceremony a few ngoni words in songs and statements made at the ceremony. It at least in a small way compensated for the sense of loss that I feel when I realize that most of us Ngonis, no longer speak Chingoni or Isingoni and have adopted Chichewa and Tumbuka as our mother languages.
It is even more painful when you realise that more than forty years after leaving Zululand and Swaziland, the Maseko Ngoni were still speaking perfect Ngoni. According to the Malawi Ngoni history classic, ‘From Nguni to Ngoni’ by DD Phiri, William Koyi, the famous South African Xhosa missionary was able to say that ‘that these people have preserved all the Zulu clicks’ and were able to speak with him in perfect Zulu (page 104).
As one American Indian, who too knows what it means to lose a language, has pointed out, the loss of language is more than just losing a certain way of speaking. The loss of language also spells the loss of culture. Without language, which is one aspect that makes a culture distinct, culture loses some of its distinctness or uniqueness.
And as someone who is learning isiZulu through a Multimedia CD Rom self study language program I know by experience the joy and excitement that you feel when for the first time you are able to understand the gist of those Ingoma, Ngoma and Msindo songs sung in chingoni language. To any proud Ngoni there is nothing as exciting as understanding the Lizwe Lonke, Abafana bonke etc ngoni songs of this world.
As I travel a lot in my work, I have noted that if no effort is made to preserve them, some languages such as Yao and Lomwe, more especially Lomwe may be heading in the same direction. Rarely do you hear people speaking Lomwe in predominantly Lomwe areas. It is therefore pertinent for traditional leaders and parents in those areas to promote their languages. We all need to deliberately create opportunities to speak our indigenous languages.
No one language should be given more prominence than others as has been the case with Chichewa. I long and look forward to the day when for instance students are given an opportunity and choice to learn Tumbuka or Yao grammar and literature in school. This will go a long way in preserving these languages. Let us emulate the example of countries such as South Africa where are all languages are considered almost at par and are promoted equally.
I also hope that organizations such as the Abenguni Revival Association will be supported in their efforts to revive ‘dead’ languages such as Isingoni. While I understand and respect the position of some people who have said that it’s not possible to revive Chingoni, the experience of the Jews in reviving Hebrew after being ‘dead’ for 2000 years shows that it is possible to revive a dead language. What is important is the people’s will to revive their language and necessary resources.
I have of late also noted the increasing number of kids in this country whose only language of communication is English. These children speak and go to school where only the English language is used. It is fine for our children to be fluent in the Queen’s language to improve our competitiveness in this global village but not at the expense of our beloved indigenous languages.
We are first and foremost Malawians and need to be proud of our cultures and languages and should work towards their preservation. Once again Bayethe Nkosi yethu.