“You don’t have a headman, how do you live?” -Abambo

One afternoon, Abambo greeted me and I asked how his community meeting had gone.

Earlier that morning he told me that he would be going to a community meeting involving multiple schools in the area, he is on the Parent Teacher Association at the primary school behind the house, Mphungu. For that reason, he was going as a representative from the school. It is really wonderful that he is still involved at the school even though all of his children no longer attend.

He responded to my question with enthusiasm, telling me about what had been discussed. From what he said, I gathered that the school wanted to get a water pump so that they could clean the grounds and water the plants to make it a more welcoming environment. He went on to explain that it was especially good that the headman of the village and the traditional authority had come to the meeting. He was happy to say that all seemed to come to an agreement on the issue, the only problem was, of course, ndalama money. He then went on to ask me, “Where you are from in America, do have a headman?” I responded that no we did not. A dumbfounded look crossed his face and he said, “You don’t have a headman, how do you live?” I couldn’t help but laugh at the question. We both laughed for a few minutes before I went on to explain about our local government system. Conveniently, he is very familiar with the Presbyterian system, and so I was able to use that in order to explain how decisions are made, with a group meeting and deciding together or with a majority vote.

He seemed to understand what I was saying but I could see the mystification he was experiencing to think of a world where there was no concept of tribes, clans, chiefs, headmen, and traditional authorities. You don’t have a headman, how do you live!

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Filed under adventures, community, Malawi

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