Info Panel
You are here:   Home  /  1940s  /  Hastings Banda

Hastings Banda

Image is a reproduction courtesy of the The National Archives, reference CO1069/165/5

By Henry Mitchell

The University of Edinburgh renamed the Hastings ‘Kamuzu’ Banda building on Hill Place in the 1990s. Whilst fellow independence leader and Edinburgh alumni Julius Nyerere is still regarded as a saint across the world, Banda died with an appalling record of human rights abuses and extortion – personally owning as much as 45% of Malawi’s GDP. There are no plaques in Edinburgh commemorating Kamuzu, and rightly so.

Banda’s time in Edinburgh does, however, give us a lens through which to think about the University and colonial knowledge production in the 1940s and ‘50s; how numerous ‘fathers of the nation’ who led African independence movements were heavily involved in the linguistic, historical and anthropological codification of their own people during the late colonial period; why a cultural nationalist (who would later lead an anti-colonial independence movement) would write ‘tracts of empire’ whose intended audience were missionaries and colonial officials; and how such tracts reconciled imagined modernities and traditions.

Fellow-Edinburgh student Julius Nyerere showed considerable interest in the ‘new science’ of anthropology during his time in Scotland, and Jomo Kenyatta – the first president of independent Kenya – penned a cutting-edge ethnography of the Kikuyu whilst studying under Malinowski at the LSE, published as Facing Mount Kenya in 1938. Banda himself sat down and co-edited Our African Way of Life, writing an introduction outlining Chewa and broader ‘Maravi’ traditions, with the Edinburgh-based missionary anthropologist T. Cullen Young in 1944.

Before arriving in Edinburgh in 1938, Banda had already furthered his education in the US through his expertise on Chewa language and culture: Banda was offered a place at the University of Chicago in the 1930s on the strength of his knowledge of chiChewa, with Mark Hana Watkins’s 1937 A Grammar of Chichewa: A Bantu Language of British Central Africa acknowledging that All the information was obtained from Kamuzu Banda, a native Chewa, while he was in attendance at the University of Chicago from 1930 to 1932”, and Banda also recorded ‘together with others’ four Chewa songs for Nancy Cunard’s Negro Anthology. In Britain in 1939 he was appointed as adviser to the Malawian chief, Mwase Kasungu, who spent six months at the London University of Oriental and African Languages to help in an analysis of chiNyanja; an experience that “must have reinforced” Banda’s “growing obsession with his Chewa identity” (Shepperson, 1998).

Banda in Edinburgh

In Edinburgh, Banda shifted from being a source of knowledge to a knowledge producer – a shift that demands we think harder about why African students were encouraged to Edinburgh in the first place and what they did here. Having already gained a medical degree from Chicago, Banda was primarily at Edinburgh to convert this into a British medical degree. This undoubtedly was Banda’s main focus, and the “techniques of men like Sir John Fraser electrified him, and he grew fascinated with his subject in a way which only a truly dedicated man can” (Short, 1974, p.38).

Yet Banda also engaged with linguistic and ethnographic codification, notably with the missionary anthropologist, T Cullen Young. And whilst black Edinburgh doctors were seen as key to maintaining the health of colonial officials across British Africa in the 19th century, black anthropologists became key to a “more and fuller understanding of African thought and longings” (and controlling an increasingly agitative and articulate British Africa) in the 20th century (Banda & Young, 1946, p.27-28). Indeed, having acquired ‘expertise’ and status, it is also these select few black anthropologists – Banda, Kenyatta and Nyerere – who led the march for independence across East and Central Africa in the 1950s and 60s.

Banda was born in c.1896-1989 in Kasungu, central Malawi. He attended a Scottish missionary school from the age 8, but having been expelled from an examination in 1915, by the same T Cullen Young he would later co-author with, Banda left Malawi and walked thousands of miles to South Africa. Banda came to live in Johannesburg at a time when his ‘Nyasa’ cousin, Clements Musa Kadalie was the ‘most talked about native in South Africa’ and the ‘uncrowned king of the black masses’, leading Southern Africa’s first black mass movement and major trade union, the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU).

Banda was friends with Kadalie, and may have been involved with the Nyasaland Native National Congress which was formed around 1918-1919 with around 100 members in Johannesburg, though no record of this remains. Together, Banda and Kadalie were the two leading Malawian intellectuals of the first half of the twentieth century and, in exploring the type of ‘colonial knowledge’ produced by Africans in Edinburgh, it is productive to compare their contrasting accounts of ‘African history’.

In 1927 Kadalie wrote an article for the British socialist journal Labour Monthly entitled ‘The Old and the New Africa’. Charting a pre-capitalist Africa, Kadalie set out that the

“white men came to Africa of their own free will, and told my forefathers that they had brought with them civilisation and Christianity. They heralded good news for Africa. Africa must be born again, and her people must discard their savagery and become civilised people and Christians. Cities were built in which white and black men might live together as brothers. An earthly paradise awaited creation…They cut down great forests; cities were built, and while the Christian churches the gospel of universal brotherhood, the industrialisation of Africa began. Gold mining was started, and by the close of the nineteenth century European capitalism had made its footing firm in Africa….The churches still preached universal brotherhood, but capitalism has very little to do with the ethics of the Nazerene, and very soon came a new system of government in Africa with ‘Law and Order’ as its slogan.” (Kadalie, 1927).

Banda’s own anthropological history, written 17 years later with Cullen Young, is a remarkably different tale. Banda and Young valorise the three authors within the edited volume as fossils of an ideal, isolated age, “the last Nyasalanders to have personal touch with their past; the last for whom the word ‘grandmother’ will mean some actually remembered person who could speak of a time when the land of the Lake knew no white man” (Banda & Young, 1946, p7). Already in 1938, Banda was beginning to develop an idea for a Central African nation.

Writing from the Edinburgh Students Union to Ernest Matako, he reflected: “the British, the French and the Germans were once tribes just as we are now in Africa. Many tribes united or combined to make one, strong British, French or German nation. In other words, we have to begin to think in terms of Nyasaland, and even Central Africa as a whole, rather than of Kasungu. We have to look upon all the tribes in Central Africa, whether in Nyasaland or in Rhodesia, as our brothers. Until we learn to do this, we shall never be anything else but weak, tiny tribes, that can easily be subdued.” (Banda, 1938).

Banda after Edinburgh

But by 1944, with his hopes of returning to Nyasaland as a medical officer thwarted and the amalgamation of Nyasaland and the Rhodesias into a single administrative unit increasingly on the cards, Banda appears to have been grounding this regional identity in a linguistic-cultural history of the Chewa, writing in Our African Way of Life: “It is practically certain that aMaravi ought to be the shared name of all these peoples; this carrying with it recognition of the Chewa motherland group as representing the parent stock of the Nyanja speaking peoples.” (Banda & Young, 1946, p10). Noting the centrality of “Banda’s part in the renaming of Nyasaland as Malawi”, Shepperson asked in 1998, “Was this pan-Chewa sentiment all Banda’s or had he derived it largely from the influence of Cullen Young? My old friend and collaborator, the great Central African linguist Thomas Price, thought the latter. But looking to Banda’s Chewa consciousness as it developed in Chicago, I am by no means sure of this.” Arguably it is Shepperson’s view that is vindicated by two 1938 letters unearthed by Morrow and McCracken in the University of Cape Town archives in 2012.

In 1938, Banda concluded another letter, this time to Chief Mwase Kasungu: “I want you tell me all that happens there [Malawi]. Can you send me a picture of yourself and your council? Also I want to know the men who are the judges in your court now, and how the system works.” (Banda, 1938). Having acquired and reworked colonial knowledge from Edinburgh, Our African Way of Life captures an attempt to convert British colonialism to Banda’s own end, writing against ‘disruptive’ changes that he was monitoring from Scotland: the anglicisation of Chewa, the abandoning of initiation, and the shift from matriarchal relations. Charting and padding out ideas about a pan-Chewa cultural unit – critical of British colonialism, but only for corrupting Chewa culture – Banda was concerned with how to properly run the Nyasaland state, an example that productively smudges the ‘rupture’ of independence and explains, in part, neo-colonial continuity in independent Malawi.

For whilst the authors of the edited works wrote their original essays in chiNyanja, with the hope that it would be reproduced for Nyasaland schools, the audience that Cullen Young and Banda addressed was that of the English missionary or colonial official, poised to start their ‘African adventure’, noting:

“A number of important points arise for English readers, particularly for any who may be preparing to work in African areas where the ancient mother-right still operates.” (Banda & Cullen, 1946, p.11).

After a cursory summary readers are directed by a footnote “for a fuller treatment of mother-right, extended kinship and the enjoined marriage in a Nyasaland setting, see Chaps. 5-8 in Contemporary Ancestors, Lutterworth Press, 1942.” (Banda & Young, 1946, p.11). In contrast to the authors who penned their essays so “that our children should learn what is good among our ancient ways: those things which were understood long ago and belong to their own people” the introduction to Our African Way of Life is arguably published in English, under ‘war economy standards’ in 1946 (post-Colonial Development Act), for the expanding number of British ‘experts’ heading out into the empire; and an attempt to influence their ‘civilising mission’. (Banda & Young, 1946, p.7).

By the 1950s, Banda was fully-assured of his status as a cultural-nationalist expert – writing to a Nyasaland Provincial Commissioner, “I am in a position to know and remember more of my own customs and institutions than the younger men that you meet now at home, who were born in the later twenties and even the thirties…I was already old enough to know most of these customs before I went to school…the University of Chicago, which cured me of my tendency to be ashamed of my past. The result is that, in many cases, really, I know more of our customs than most of our people, now at home. When it comes to language I think this is even more true. for the average youngster [In Malawi] now simply uses what the European uses, without realising that the European is using the word incorrectly. Instead of correcting the european, he uses the word wrongly, himself, in order to affect civilisation, modernity or even urbanity.” (Shepperdson, 1998).

This however also obscures the considerable investigatory correspondence that he engaged in whilst in Scotland. Banda was highly critical of indirect rule in Our African Way of Life, but from emerging archival evidence, he was ill-informed of the changing colonial situation in 1938.

Kadalie and Banda’s contrasting histories were written at different times, in different historical contexts by two people from different parts of Nyasaland. Whilst Banda grew up in an area on the periphery of Scottish missionaries’ sphere of influence, Kadalie came from an area of Malawi, Tongaland, heavily affected by Scottish missionaries and his parents were heavily involved with missionary work.  The disparity between the histories that they invoke, however, is still remarkable – Banda invokes a precolonial rural Malawi devoid of white influence, Kadalie on the other hand writes of a pre-capitalist rural Malawi where Christians, white and black, laboured to create a kingdom of heaven on earth – and this, perhaps, reflects the ends they are writing for and against.

Kadalie in the 1920s looked to integrate the emerging African working class within the international labour movement, noting “capitalism recognises no frontiers, no nationality, and no race”, with the long-term view to creating a socialist commonwealth across the whole of Southern Africa. Britain-based Banda, writing with Cullen Young in the 1940s, by comparison, mapped out a pan-Chewa culture with the immediate aim of reforming colonial ‘protectorate’ government – the goal of an independent Malawian nation state still yet to fully form.

References

Banda, H.K & Young T.C, 1946, Our African Way of Life, London.

Banda, H.K to Matako, E.C, 08/10/1938 in S. Morrow & J. McCracken, ‘Two Previously Unknown

Herzog, G, 1969, African Songs of the Chewa Tribe in British East Africa in N. Cunard, Negro: An Anthology made by Nancy Cunard, 1931-1933, London.

Kadalie, C. 1928, The Old and the New Africa, Labour Monthly, September 1928

Letters from Hastings Kamuzu Banda written from Edinburgh, Archived at the University of Cape Town, History in Africa, 39 (2012).

Shepperson, G, 1998, Memories of Dr Banda, Society of Malawi Journal, 51:1, pp.74-84.

Short, P, 1974, Banda, Routledge, London.

Watkins, M.H, 1937, A Grammar of Chichewa: A Bantu Language of British Central Africa, Language, 13:2.

  1941  /  1940s  /  Last Updated January 17, 2019 by uncoveredproject  /