Water engagements in Malawi

While in Malawi I spent some time taking photographs and making some sound recordings of engagements I had with different water that I encountered. While I could use some of the images in my thesis, I wasn't sure what I might do with the sound recordings. It nonetheless felt important to try and record the water's voice from those moments. At the very least listening back to the clips would distinctly remind me of the places and occasions of these water engagements, jogging my memory of my experiences, and helping me to reflect on, and write about, them later.

While some video clips I took were very visually descriptive, the separate sound recordings I had made were somehow more impactful than the audio on the videos. It seemed to be something to do with them, and me, being more acutely focused on my aural engagement with the water rather than its visual impact (also the device I used made higher quality recordings).

Here I have 'layered' photographs I took at some locations I visited along with a water sound recording I took at the time. The images give some context to the place, but it is the sound that I seek to give more prominence to in this format rather than the more 'secondary' role audio has in a video clip. I also want to play with space and time a little in a sense- as while the sound clips are single continuous recordings of up to a minute, the images have been taken over a longer period of time.

I also include some hand drawn maps from my fieldnote diaries made during my visits. These maps describe the daily journeys I took when visiting each of these locations, and contain reflective notes and sketches of the experiences, events, and locations that I encountered. 

Madzi ndi Moyo- Water is life (frequently used/heard maxim in Chichewa (Malawian) language)

Mount Mulanje

Dziwe la Nkhalamba ('Old Man's Pool') is a natural pool at a waterfall in Mount Mulanje in the south east of Malawi. It has natural and cultural significance, and which is recounted in local folklore, mythologies and storytelling. Last year a new pipeline project was built to divert water from the pools to the capital city of Blantyre, about 80km away. Deeply embedded water relationships are potentially affected and changed through this, as well as impacting the natural water courses, flows and ecosystems.

Downstream from the pipeline project at Dziwe la Nkhalamba are Likhubula Pools, part of the natural water course as the mountain's water flows to the landscape below. Initial evidence from a local guide's account, as well as markings in the rocks, indicate a reduced water level. What impact does/will this have on the local landscape, as well as the human and non-human life in the area? There is clearly a pressing need to manage water resources for growing populations in urban areas, but it is important to consider what this 'enclosure' of water in infrastructure has in altering the spatial and cultural landscape, and the impact on water relations that are affected by it. 

Lake Chilwa

Lake Chilwa, near the city of Zomba, is the second largest lake in Malawi- only Lake Malawi is greater in surface area. But in 2018 this lake dried up so much you could drive or walk this journey from the mainland to its island, Chisi... The lake does have a history of occasional drying. But is climate change playing a part in more recent occurrences? What is the local impact of this? 

Kungoni Centre of

Culture and Art

A visit to Kungoni Centre of Culture and Art at the village of Mua near Lake Malawi is layered with some crepuscular sounds of frogs at the river the centre is built around. This engagement with water is more about its symbolic and cultural meanings, and I am introduced to some cosmological and cultural symbols and narratives with links to water that I encounter recurringly during my time in Malawi- such as the chameleon, python, rainmaking rituals. Close to the shores of Lake Malawi, I would also spend some time engaging with its cooling waters.

Kabula Lodge,

Blantyre

Early November is the cusp of the rainy season in southern Malawi. Getting up at 5.30 in the morning, I’d attend to the social/natural aural soundscape in the relative coolness of the morning. Sounds of nearby birds and human life in the valley below would merge. Would rain ever come? Later the sun would suddenly set.

 

This everyday engagement with water is more about its absence rather than presence. Often it is water’s shadow or absence- manifest in dried river beds or inoperable pumps- or its promise- expressed in everyday conversations or in cultural narratives- that becomes a major part of attending to water in Malawi, especially in the dry season. 

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