To understand the historical information on William Chafulumira, one has to understand the methods used by the Catholic missionaries to plant the Catholic Church in Malawi between 1901 and 1950. The Catholic missionaries, belonging to a group known as the Montfort missionaries, arrived in Malawi in 1901. When they arrived, they set up schools which were used as a venue for proselytizing. The curriculum of these schools contained lessons in secular education [reading, writing, English and mathematics] and in religious education. The Malawians were trained at a college called the Normal School at Nguludi so as to work as teachers in such schools. These teachers disseminated secular and religious information to their students. Called teacher-catechists, they served as agents of evangelization for the implantation of the Catholic Church in Malawi.
One such teacher-catechist was William Chafulumira. He was born in 1908 at Chief Chapananga in Chikwawa district in the southern region of Malawi. When he converted to the Catholic Church in 1929, he decided to serve as a teacher-catechist. He therefore went to Nguludi Normal School where he proved to be a very gifted student and was in the first group to pass the vernacular grade. Upon graduation, he started teaching at Chikwawa Mission School.
In 1937, he decided to stop serving as a teacher-catechist and to go to work in the gold mines in South Africa. There he began to realize the social strain that migrant labor was putting on the family life of the men working in the gold mines. Being separated from their wives in Malawi often strained the relations and led to a breakdown in their marriages. William Chafulumira decided to write a book on how to handle the marital problems that arose from the strain of migrant labor. The book was published in 1940 under the title Banja lathu (Our Family).
The Montfort missionaries in Malawi appealed to him to return and to assist them with their mission work. He therefore returned to Malawi in 1941 and immediately began serving as a teacher-catechist. He was assigned to serve the leader of the teacher-catechists at Kadikira Catholic Mission in Chileka. In 1946, the Montfort missionaries decided to send him back to Nguludi Normal School to do further studies. He graduated in 1947 with the English Teaching Grade and then returned to serve as the head of the teacher-catechists at Kadikira Catholic Mission.
His book Banja lathu and his other artides in the Catholic newsletter called “Katolika” caught the attention of a media company in Zambia known as Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia Publications Bureau. In 1949, he was invited to go to Lusaka, Zambia, to work with this bureau as an editor and an announcer. While working there, he began further studies at St. Peter’s Church in Lusaka.
He returned to Malawi in 1956 to serve in the Catholic Church. He served as a teacher in a number of Catholic institutions: St. Patrick’s Secondary School in Mzedi, St. Kizito School in Limbe, St. Pius, Soche, and finally Montfort Teachers Training College in Nguludi. The Catholic missionaries rewarded his commitment with a trip to Rome, Italy and to Lourdes, France in 1958. While in Rome, the Montfort missionaries arranged for him to have an audience with the pope.
In 1964, the Catholic missionaries employed him as an editor of a Catholic magazine called the Moni Magazine. He worked in this position until his retirement in 1968. He died on 13 July 1981. His legacy is that of a talented author: upon his death, he had authored a total of more than twelve books and booklets. Some of these are: Kazitape, Unyamata, Mtendere, Mfumu Yatsopano, Mkazi wabwino, Wopambana ndani, Mbiri ya Amang’anja, Gwaza 1, 2, 3, Chinyanja Grammar.
Stanslaus Muyebe O.P.
S. Muyebe, Catholic Missionaries Within and Beyond the Politics of Exclusivity in Colonial Malawi, 1901-1945, (Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1999).
“William Chafulumira” in Moni Magazine, (August 1981), vol. 11, p. 3.
This article, submitted in 2001, was written and researched by Fr. Stanslaus Muyebe, O.P., author and teacher at Saint Joseph’s Theological Institute in South Africa. Used with permission.