Sunday, February 2, 2014
Looking for the Malawian incarnation of Mothers’ Day
Leicestershire-born British essayist and lawyer, Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800 – 1859), may be long dead, and relatively unknown in Third World countries, but his observation that some things in life belong more to the age than the people of that age ring true today.
For instance, the burial ceremony of a family member in a remote village in Makuni Village, Rumphi, or Bitchayi Village in Salima, is an event of the people, and not the age, in these respective areas because it has no national relevance, while the composition of the Malawi National Anthem by a hitherto ordinary man, Michael Sauka, is a thing of the age because his creation (the national anthem) had eternal characteristics that gave it a life of its own.
In most cases, one of the things that characterise things of the age is the creation of national and public holidays to commemorate them. For instance, The Malawi Government’s calendar of national and public holidays this year saw Malawians commemorating New Year’s Day (Tuesday, January 01); Chilembwe Day (Tuesday, January 15); Martyrs’ Day (Sunday, March 03); Good Friday (Friday, March 29); Easter Monday (April 01); Labour Day (Wednesday, May 01); Independence Day (Saturday, July 06); Eid al-Fitr (End of Ramadan on Thursday, August 08) and, today, Mothers’ Day, among other events.
The second characteristic of things that belong to an age, enthuses human rights activist Kenwilliams Mhango, is that various nation-states have their own version of reincarnated national days and public holidays.
He cites Mothers; Day in the United States of America, saying “Their incarnation of Mothers’ Day was, indeed, created by someone. It is impossible for, say, all the people of Malawi, to develop the idea that ‘Let us create a Mothers’ Day, or this other day, at the same time. It takes someone: may be the Head of State, or someone in authority acting on a suggestion from people’.”
Student-historian Owen Petersen Misoya concurs with Mhango, saying there is always an individual who brings up an idea. He says, even though the idea of Mothers Day did not originate from Malawi, there must be someone, apart from the Head of State who established the day, who brought that idea.
“We should find that individual, as a nation. And we must record the name of that individual and keep it at heart. You see, we have a very big problem as a nation; that of poor record-keeping. If we cared about records, we would have documented the name of that individual but we have not done that. That is why, I am not surprised, we do not have the record about Mlauli and Mbona- the rain-makers,” Misoya says.
What is the cost of forsaking records?
“People perish,” Fred Kwacha, of Chipembedzo cha Makolo (Traditional religion), says. “And that is why we have pestilence and so many problems in Malawi. People have forsaken Mbona and other ancestors, and are worshipping foreign gods, and all this is because people do not appreciate the good things Mbona and our ancestors did. So, they adopt anything foreign.”
However, while it may be too late to redeem the history- bit by bit- of the likes of Mbona, Misoya says it is not too late for Malawians to trace the individual, or individuals, who came up with the idea of introducing a Mothers’ Day in Malawi.
In the case of the United States of America, for example, the holiday of Mothers’ Day- which is observed throughout the world to honour mothers- the incarnation of Mother’s Day was created by Anna Jarvis in 1908 and became an official U.S. holiday in 1914, according to official records in the US.
The irony is that Jarvis later attempted to denounce the holiday, angered by the level of commercialization of the day, and spent the latter part of her life trying to remove it from the calendar. This time, though, she was not as successful and, today, people in various parts of the world continue showering mothers with an assortment of gifts.
A questionnaire sent to the Ministry of Information on who introduced the idea of Mothers’ Day- apart from the political leadership- was yet to be responded to by Sunday.
Which, inevitably, means that the search for the one who created the Malawian incarnation of Mothers’ Day is on.
Malawians can, however, find solace in the fact that the origins of Mothers’ Day are well-documented in Greek mythology, dating as far back as the ancient annual spring festival the Greeks dedicated to maternal goddesses such as Rhea, the wife of Cronus and the mother of many deities of Greek mythology.
Internet research also revealed that the Ancient Romans, too, celebrated a spring festival they called Hilaria dedicated to Cybele, a mother goddess, which dated some 250 years before Jesus Christ was born.
However, things have so much changed in the past 50 years that no one would bet on Anna Jarvis being pleased!