BY RICHARD CHIROMBO:
Christopher Kumikundi, Salima District Education Manager, smiles widely as primary school learners, aged between eight and 15 years, dance their miseries away in the sun on a cool afternoon.
It is Friday, June 29, and although Salima is well known for its sweltering weather, the Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services indicated that the weather hovered between 15 degrees and 22 degrees Celsius that afternoon— weather that was fair enough to those who like to drown in the happiness induced by traditional instruments such as the drum, visekese and rattles.
Just that, this time, the singers are learners who, for all intents, are supposed to be in a formal classroom set-up, learning mathematics, biology, sociology and other subjects.
As Kumikundi, has it, though the learners, who are dancing to beni, chiterera and other traditional dances, are in class— a Musical Arts Education training session convened away from Chigombe, Chimweta, Kaputu, Kalonga, Msalura, Salima and Simaiwa primary schools.
These are the schools the 84 learners, and 21 of their teachers, are drawn from in the district of the lake.
“It is our hope that, once learners have been acquainted with musical arts knowledge, they will be able to promote our culture. On our part, we plan to establish clubs,” Kumikundi says.
The learners he is referring to attended two-day Musical Arts Education training sessions for selected primary schools in Msalura Zone, Salima, from June 28 to 29 this year. The training was organised by the Department of Arts in the Ministry of Civic Education, Culture and Community Development.
Activities included workshops on indigenous music and dance, discussions on the practical aspects of classroom musical arts education, group and massed performance among others.
Salima District Commissioner, Charles Mawembe, says there cannot be sustainable development at Local Government level if learners are not in touch with their culture; hence, he welcomes the initiative to promote knowledge on indigenous music and dance.
There are many benefits associated with the arts, among them, “it unites us; hence, the need to preserve our culture”.
He has one call to make though.
“In future, we should take arts and culture as priorities in district councils. If we start with children, we will be building the future of our culture on a strong foundation. Let us start working from the roots [children],” he says.
Gift, a 12-year-old learner at Kalonga Primary School, says “I am now equipped for the future” since no one can take the knowledge he has acquired “away from me”.
Gift says: “In the past, I used to take anything about culture for granted. I used to think that the preservation of culture through, say, traditional dances, rests in those who have no time for school.
“I was wrong. There is as much money in culture as there is in employment. I will be able to teach others now and I believe I will be able to relay the knowledge to those I chat with.”
Deputy Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Civic Education, Culture and Community Development, Symon Maliko, says it is his hope that the learners will become messengers of the good news of cultural preservation in their schools and communities.
Maliko says the learners, who are now acquainted with knowledge on indigenous music and dance, will also grow up steeped in the knowledge that they have a role to play, locally and internationally, in promoting their culture, which acts “as a signpost”.
“This [the training], coupled with efforts of community development assistants the ministry [Ministry of Civic Education, Culture and Community Development] has, will promote the cause of promoting national development through the arts,” he says.
It is a view shared by Civic Education, Culture and Community Develop Minister Grace Chiumia, who calls for increased collaboration between education authorities and those in her ministry.
“Children, in particular learners, are our window of hope. Once we equip them with the necessary knowledge, they will have the potential to carry the country’s flag outside the country. We have seen people in the creative industry go places. There is nothing to stop these learners from doing the same.
“It must be borne in mind that some of the renowned people in the creative industry are ageing and it is up to the learners to carry the work forward. On our part, we are doing our best to establish, for example, heritage sites. The aim is to promote cultural preservation,” Chiumia says.
The hope is that, when learners are acquainted with knowledge about their culture, they can as well be said to have the keys that may make their parents’ last days happy.
And members of the old generation who preserved it can rest, their faces untroubled by any form of anxiety.