The Flames Heritage Project will be on the oral history of the Malawian community living in Manchester, for the benefit of the young generation especially children born of Malawian parents and the wider community for social integration. 30 people will be interviewed to give their accounts as told through oral stories which will be preserved. The heritage exploration will focus on life events practices for the Malawians living in Manchester on such occasions as birth, marriages and death. This particular project will focus more on the practices of courtship which the youth asked showed more eagerness as the first thing they want to learn from Malawi traditional practices. These practices would have been brought from traditions in Malawi and passed on through generations. The project heritage aspect will help in preserving these traditional and cultural practices for the benefit of present children born from Malawian parents as well as the general public which will then be passed on to their future generations. Project outcomes include; the people involved in this project will gain a better understanding of their Malawian heritage in the context of their transition into the wider multi-cultural British society. At the end of the project, one of the outputs will be a documentary video and a dedicated website developed alongside.

What is the heritage project focuses on?

Oral history based on life events and practices, particularly births, marriages and death in the Malawian community living in Manchester. The project aims to preserve and pass on to the younger generation, especially children born to parents of Malawian origin, the practices described below and to also to understand whether with cross cultural issues experienced, most of these are still relevant and in use.

Malawians living in Manchester cut across the different tribes and Malawi regions, this project will try to enlighten the new generation on the most predominant practices where two cultures come together or indeed races come together, for the purpose that the traditional practices should not all be discarded as they contribute to stronger community understanding and heritage. Some of the tribes in Malawi and also found amongst those living in Manchester UK are; Yao, Chewa, Tonga, Tumbuka, Ngoni, Llomwe, Sena, Ngonde, Mang’anja, Nyanja. Although Malawi is a multi-tribal country, most practices vary in the three regional areas that make up the nation namely; the south, central and north. The project will help us to see which of the Malawi tribes are now living in Manchester for heritage purposes and also how then these people are able to preserve and or adopt new ways of practices in terms of the highlighted life events of births, Marriages and Deaths. More focus for this project will be on courtship and marriage practices which are an area the children born of Malawian parent have shown more interest. The others birth and death practices will be subjects of focus in subsequent projects.

Marriages and courtship which is the focus of this project, are more a three pronged affair. The differences can be identified on tribal and or regional basis. More variation are pronounced on the first stage of the marriage which some may call the engagement event. In some areas a dowry is required particularly the north while in larger parts this is not a requirement. Duration of the process and other aspects such as the party’s relatives who have to be involved in the negotiation also vary. The significance in practices and their meaning, vary from the Courtship stage all the way to the engagement and marriage. The engagement stage may be the first type of marriage in our categorisation of the three as in some cases this is adequate to qualify a relationship as a marriage. The second for some is a semi – western type of marriage which most often involves a church blessing ceremony followed by a party where the program is more and more becoming multi-cultural although most of the Malawi tradition is still maintained. The third for some is to go back to Malawi and have a traditional wedding there. For others they do all the three types though the most popular format, is at least two stages with the engagement part given more prominence. In the Malawi context there are several items, tools that are used as symbols of the union or institution of marriage right from the stages of courtship to when the two join together.

We will be asking the respondents both those who had their marriages in Malawi and those who had it in the UK, Manchester, how they celebrated these significant life events and including any information and advice they may have received. Finding out if there are notable differences in how they celebrate them here. This may include own experience and that of other Malawians living in Manchester. It would be for those who did it in Malawi, by asking them how their practice, views were before they came to live in the UK and contrasting it with now, how they view and celebrate these life events after staying in the UK, Manchester for some years.

It is with the above in consideration that this project will be useful for preserving heritage especially for Children born of Malawian parents who may be wondering why and how the events are celebrated in the way they are. The understanding, adaptation and appreciating on how these events are celebrated will preserve the core practices for the young Malawians in the diaspora to pass on these practices which will in a way strengthen their identity, to future generations. Knowing and understanding ones heritage contributes to a stronger society with easier integration and builds confidence in individuals.

What outcomes will the project achieve?

The project will upon its completion achieve the following outcomes:

i. The people involved and the community in general including non-Malawians living in Manchester will learn about Malawi’s cultural practices for better understanding and integration of society in general. It is also envisaged that researchers on people’s cultural practices will be able to see if there are any transferable traits in the practices that can be adopted for harmonisation of society and or better families. Also people involved in the project for instance the youth will have learnt various skills through participation in the project such as project leadership, interview skills.
ii. The project is expected to bring out rich heritage from the Malawian practices on courtship and marriages that will help children born of Malawian parents and those intermarried, associated with them to better understand themselves and also the things that they learn from their parents. It will be used to foster acceptance of identity and the their roots amongst these children which will then be passed from generation to generation as the project will make it possible to preserve the practices and findings for future generations. Without the project the story of Malawi heritage will be lost.
iii. The community will benefit from the project as they will be introduced to an understanding of other cultural practices in this case Malawian practices which are good for integration. It is planned that the outputs of the project be shared to the wider community within Manchester who will benefit through learning of a different cultural practice than their own. Volunteers and participants some of whom will be non-Malawians will also benefit through skills development and understanding of Malawian Heritage in the context of community cohesion in Manchester.

At the end the outputs which will contribute to the outcomes will be; Recorded and transcribed oral histories of Malawians living in Manchester for heritage purposes through documentary video production depicting that heritage. A website dedicated to the heritage uncovered by the project.

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