Why 15 January is important to Malawians: John Chilembwe beheaded a colonialist

Chilembwe: Fought for native's land rights and conditions of labour tenants
Chilembwe: Fought for native's land rights and conditions of labour tenants

Chilembwe: Fought for native’s land rights and conditions of labour tenants

Every 15th January in Malawi is a sacred day. We remember the brave acts of the noblest of Malawians in the struggle for independence, John Chilembwe. He was the messianic kind. When Joseph Booth took with him Chilembwe to USA in 1897, we could’ve lost him had it been he had the mind of an average person. Don’t try counting how many we have lost to westernization now in the name of modernization and civilization.

Chilembwe went to America to drink from imperialists’ well of wisdom so he could come back and liberate his people. (It doesn’t need to be mentioned anywhere in books, but his brave acts are a proof this must have been one of the aims). He didn’t return a very alienated man though colonialists then briefly treated him as a semi-equal, with the rest of the natives as non-equals. Instead of bathing in the glory of a status accorded to him by whites, he managed to spend nights in zones of discomfort in his mind, figuring out how best he could help himself and us, his people, attain self-rule from the ruthless whites.

Doesn’t it shame our generation then to think of this man as useless? We don’t blame you, we blame your ignorance. It can be dealt with by reading Malawian literature though. Otherwise, I don’t see how you will notice the significance of John Chilembwe if all you do is place your bottoms on couches watching Big Brother year in year out when books about the Chilembwe Uprising are gathering dust in bookstores and libraries.

You cannot discredit a man who as early as 1905 was able to deplore the condition of Africans in then Nyasaland and voice criticism openly over the state of African land rights and conditions of labour tenants when all you do with your education is become a fabricated elite and scorn your own past. Where then do you think our liberation struggle stemmed from? For generations born when stories of anti-colonialism look like tales, the only way of dis-fragmenting ourselves with the past is through books detailing accounts of our heroes because we don’t have grannies readily available to detail to us about such battles.

But some have tried before, only that because we feel we are educated, we simply look down on the information they provide. The burning of the bell you joke about just a feat in war time, but you should not show your stupidity by coiling the whole you around such sorry thinking. If you don’t think Chilembwe, the man who beheaded the ruthless William Jarvis Livingstone, is no hero in the country’s history, you have a problem. Or it might be the country’s education system that is at fault for teaching you more of the whiteman’s story than our own.

It is so pathetic how we rush to praise and quote Malcolm X, Martin Luther, Steve Biko and a lot others yet we fail to recognize what John Chilembwe did for the nation, scary as it was that time. You will do yourself a little justice therefore if you read more of our history the same way you have with Abraham Lincoln and Mao Tse Tung tales. Rid your brain of the images you have of today because that’s not what 1915 looked like. Do you even know there was Alexander Livingstone Bruce that time, of the A.L. Bruce Estates, who believed educated Africans had no place in society? The John Chilembwe you feign ignorance of rose against all that insanity.

You should also know John Chilembwe, as early as 1915, was among the first Africans to notice that World War I wasn’t an African affair. (You can extend the reasoning to WW II as well). Some of you are even shocked at the mention of this fact. What was African about that war? Because Germans and Brits left their homes and fought in East Africa? Because they conscripted our grannies into the King’s African Rifles, with some serving as porters? Yet Chilembwe was able to see what the young man today, with the internet making him connected to geniuses worldwide, is unable to notice. He was able to petition the colonial government protesting the invitation of his men to drill and die in a course that wasn’t theirs. How many have you heard of who had their governments deport for fear of a rebellion? Many. John Chilembwe was the first to be thought of as material worthy deportation on such grounds here, just that he found himself a few yards ahead.

I would urge you therefore to consider your stance on Chilembwe’s heroism, and give respect where it is due. Because some of you will never come back to help your people once you graduate and go to America. Or you will come back changed men advocating for alien ideas in the name of civilization. John Chilembwe beat you, you must be feeling low losing out to a 1915 hero with all the resources you have now.