Our African Way of Life
Translated and edited with preface by Cullen Young and Hastings Kamuzu Banda.
In 1915 an examination was held for teachers under the Livingstonia Mission in northern Nyasaland. Selection of men to go to the training centre for the course leading to full certification was the purpose. A very youthful pupil teacher, not more than thirteen years old and not very tall, had passed all tests open to him until then. The examiner was a European who happened to be available for the examination. He was not attached to the district and the candidates were not known to him. There were too many examinees and the unlucky candidate was too far from the backboard to see easily the questions written on it. At one point he stood up to see more clearly over the shoulder of the pupil in front. The invigilator misconstrued the action and barred the boy from further examination.
Years went by and there arrived in Edinburgh a young African with a full US Federal Diploma in Medicine. He had come to take a degree at Edinburgh School of Medicine to qualify for practice in British territory! By chance he met the same missionary who had brought down his dreams, twenty years earlier. Contact was maintained but only after the ex-missionary had turned to the Nyasaland doctor, now working in England, for a translation of the works in this book – aimed as a contribution towards more and fuller understanding of African thought and African longings – did the doctor tell of their previous unhappy interaction.
The missionary had become, by then, the well-known writer on Africa, Cullen Young, and the young doctor none other than Hastings Kamuzu Banda. Dr Banda went on to lead his country to independence and thereafter to run the country with an iron fist for close on thirty years. This was the only second published work in which he had collaborated and, more remarkably, the last. His enthusiasm for the editorial task provided no inkling of the more negative attitudes he was to develop, in the decades of his autocratic rule, towards publishing and freedom of the press. Journalists, authors, and even poets could be, and were frequently imprisoned on a whim. This is just one of the startling enigmas of the Our African Way of Life, and the interpretations by Dr Banda are such that modern Malawi, so much later, still struggles to come to terms with them.
The three essays in this book about the African society and culture were written almost seventy years ago. They were submitted in the ChiNyanja language, as competition entries in the Prize Scheme of the International African Institute. In 1946, they were given a lengthy preface dealing with the history and social structure of the people and published by Lutterworth Press. The 1946 publishers indicated on the original dust jacket ‘their hope that the work may be enlightening to a wider circle among those to whom the future of African peoples is a growing concern.’
This book thus appeals to Malawians, wherever they are, whose concern is that their strong traditional culture is being fast eroded by ever stronger foreign cultural influences, communicated by ever more pervasive international media.