Claude Boucher Chisale
and Kungoni Centre of Culture and Art
Claude Boucher was born in Quebec in 1941. He followed in the steps of his maternal aunt to come to Malawi as a priest of the Missionaries of Africa (the White Fathers) in 1967. Apart from brief periods of study in Uganda and London (SOAS), he has remained in Malawi ever since.
Boucher’s life work has been at Mua Mission, Dedza District, where he founded Kungoni Centre of Culture and Art in 1976. Kungoni Centre started as a cooperative for wood carvers. Over the years, it has grown to encompass the Chamare Museum (which holds important ethnographic collections on the Chewa, Yao and Ngoni peoples of Malawi), the Kafukufuku research library, Namalikhate lodge and Ku Mbewu (a women’s cooperative). Kungoni Centre has decorated churches throughout Malawi and elsewhere, as far afield as Kenya and Germany; and examples of its work, both religious and secular, are to be found in collections which include the Vatican Museums.
Boucher took the name Chisale when he became one of the few non-Chewa to be initiated into Nyau, the secret society which is responsible for Gule Wamkulu. He has sought over the forty years of his work at Mua Mission to create dialogue and understanding where before there was hostility and suspicion. As a result, he has been granted unparalleled access to Chewa traditional custom; and Chewa participants in Gule Wamkulu no longer feel themselves excluded from the life of the Church.
There is an extensive account of Claude Boucher Chisale’s life and his work at Kungoni Centre of Culture and Art in the introduction to When Animals Sing and Spirits Dance. See further the website of the Kungoni Art Project, which seeks to construct a virtual museum of all Kungoni work and to produce an artistic history of Kungoni Centre in time to celebrate Kungoni Centre’s fortieth anniversary and Claude Boucher Chisale’s seventy-sixth birthday in 2016.