Migrant Chewa Identities and their Construction through Gule Wamkulu/Nyau Dances in Zimbabwe
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This paper focuses in the construction of the Chewa identity in Zimbabwe through the use of Gule Wamkulu or ‘nyau’ dances. The Chewa are an immigrant ethnic group from Malawi and are a matrilineal entity who distinctly use the Gule Wamkulu (‘big or great dance’) institution to initiate their members into an exalted status of adulthood as well as for entertainment or leisure purposes. The paper is anchored in the assertion that identities are either real, constructed or imagined from a plethora of variables. Thus, it basically argues that these dances are rich traditions that have gone a long way in the construction, reconstruction or imagination of the Chewa identity and in carving a niche for the migrants on the Zimbabwean landscape since the pre-colonial times to the present. The dances have acted as a distinct variable in identity articulation against other popular concepts like race, class, religion, linguistic as well as ethnic characteristics and stereotypes. In other words, the rites have over the years been the most conspicuous identity marker upon which the Chewa identity has been reconstructed or imagined. Despite such vitality and uniqueness, people in general; have tended to misrepresent these dances, which together with their xenophobic tendencies has in the process greatly distorted the image of the traditions and ultimately misconstrued and prejudiced the identity of Chewa people. Therefore, this paper attempts to uncover the dynamics involved in Gule Wamkulu traditions as well as show their role in the construction or imagination of the Chewa identity both amongst the Chewa themselves and the autochthonous groups in Zimbabwe.