Last week as I was coming from a friend’s wedding at Comesa Hall at Trade Fair in Blantyre, I was booed, threatened and called all sorts of nasty names by a group of men. They shouted and uttered almost every unprintable word they could. I was called hule, mfiti, chitsiru, wakuba (whore, witch, fool and thief) but that’s just the few words I can write, the rest were obscene utterances.
One of the men blatantly told me that if he had a gun with him, he would have just shot me dead. Mtundu uwu ndiofunika kungowupha (this tribe should be killed). He continued: Ine kungokhala president ndikhoza kungowathamangitsa anthu amenewa. Amabowa (If I were president of this country, I would chase this tribe out of Malawi).
The only crime I committed was to speak Chitumbuka which according to these men, disgusts them. I was told when in Malawi I should be speaking Chichewa which according to them is the only true local language. I was told that Tumbukas are foreigners in Blantyre hence they ought not to speak their “foreign” language while in Blantyre. These people were eavesdropping in a conversation which I had with a colleague also from the north.
I never bothered to ask them what wrong I had done neither what wrong did “this tribe” do to them—doing so was going to be futile as my voice could not have been heard over their loud voices. I chose not to dignify their hate with a response. I simply walked on but terrified.
This scenario made me realise that we still have many Malawians who are yet to embrace cultural and linguistic diversity that exists in our country. Many Malawians do not realise that people have a right to express themselves freely. If one thinks they can express themselves better in Chiyao, so be it. No one should be gagged.
I am a staunch believer in language being part of one’s identity. Those who know me know that I am not someone who would feel ashamed of speaking Chichewa, Chitumbuka and a bit of Chitonga. We are able to identify ourselves with one another either through our shared cultural beliefs and language. I have always insisted in preservation of our languages and what a better way to do that than speaking them? We definitely cannot preserve our language only on paper—that’s doomed.
Linguist Ken Hale talks of the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity. He says because of historical events and human migrations the maintenance of the languages of the various ethnic and cultural groups is critical for the preservation of our cultural heritage and identity. The loss of language means the loss of culture and identity.
I would hate to see my language die because of the dominance of one language as the bullies wish. We need to accept that we have a multilingual society. We cannot expect everyone to speak our language. Let’s respect one another and respect other people’s cultures and beliefs. Remember there is no one who is more Malawian than the other, we are all Malawians.