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When Animals Sing

And Spirits Dance

When Animals Sing and Spirits Dance is Claude Boucher Chisale’s account of his forty years encounter with Gule Wamkulu, the Great Dance of the Chewa people of Malawi.

Gule Wamkulu is an extraordinarily rich tradition, which UNESCO recognised as constituting part of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005. Boucher understands it as the vehicle by which the ancestors return to the village to offer social commentary and advice to the living: a vast plethora of characters, both masked and concealed within structures, serves to convey their teaching. Gule is an indispensable part of initiation and funeral rites and of ceremonies to commemorate the dead; and nowadays, increasingly of cultural performances and of political gatherings. The artistic and dramatic skill which is evident in the characters is also remarkable.

In the book Boucher describes more than two hundred characters, grouped into seven major themes. He prints also the songs that accompany the dances (with translation). Dr. Gary Morgan, Director of Museum Services, Michigan State University, who worked with Boucher at Kungoni for two years, has contributed an introduction and an afterword. Arjen van de Merwe, a professional photographer, is responsible for many of the illustrations, which include photographs of Gule in action, exhibits from the Museum and Boucher’s own artwork. The book carries the endorsement of Prof. Brian Morris, Professor of Anthropology emeritus in the University of London.

When Animals Sing and Spirits Dance is available from the following distributors:

Kungoni Centre of Culture and Art (within Malawi)

Michigan State University Press (outside Malawi)