After driving past miles of cornfields whose plants had just barely started to emerge, and house after house surrounded by swept-bare earth, the Mua Mission is an oasis of lovely landscaping that surrounds beautiful statues and painted buildings.
We weren't the only ones to appreciate the landscaping! I was really excited to see this harmless snake hanging out in a hedge. We also found a cement statue of a python, which you can see in the picture above.
The Catholic mission itself dates back to 1902. In the 1970s the European priest in charge added a woodcarving workshop to teach craftsmen the trade. After Vatican II he also started a cultural center there, with the goal of preserving the cultures of three major local tribes and interpreting them for visitors in a museum. There are also sometimes cultural performances with music and dance.
By this point Logan was feeling bad too and spent the time laying on a bench outside. The rest of us followed the guide through the museum, though by now I was feeling pretty bad and Emma was starting to feel sick too. We were allowed to take pictures in the first room which told the story of the mission, but not in the other rooms. The other rooms had life-sized carved wooden people wearing costumes and ceremonial objects from the three tribes, with pictures and text on the walls to explain various cultural traditions.
I was quite surprised to see a large collection of masks of Gule Wamkulu, the Chewa secret society, and to hear that the priest in charge had actually undergone the initiation ceremony. This is the same Gule Wamkulu that Malawian friends of ours had told us they as Christians can have no involvement with, not even going to the funeral of a member of the society. I am not sure our Malawian guide completely understood what I was getting at when I questioned him about the priest's involvement in the society. It is also possible that I was not communicating as well as sometimes, since by now I was lying down most of the time and observing the displays from the floor! But I think I heard that this priest saw understanding and preserving these cultures to be part of his God-given vocation. I found this idea an interesting contrast to the ethos that has flooded Malawi with images of a blue-eyed Jesus, but wasn't sure exactly what I thought about this either given what I'd been told about Gule Wamkulu. This topic led to an interesting conversation around the Maliro dinner table later. I gather that this priest's respect for local cultures has in turn earned him the respect of many Malawians. Our Malawian Christian friends see aspects of traditional culture that are worth honoring, like respect for elders and care for extended family members, but also identify some traditions as not compatible with a Christian lifestyle. Obviously this priest feels that no cultural information at all should be lost. As an academic I can see the argument for preserving information; as a Christian I can see the argument for identifying the aspects that should not be practiced.
Long before we managed to resolve this complicated issue we had to cut short our tour of the museum, as I was feeling worse by the minute and Emma, Angie, Logan, and Andrew weren't getting any better either. So we staggered back to the van and set off for Bunda. I was disappointed to not spend more time at Mua, but glad for the chance to see at least a little.