In April 2012 I spent three weeks working with staff from Chichiri Museum, Blantyre, in Malawi. It was my first time there and I was continuing our partnership work with Museums of Malawi. Scotland’s connection with Malawi goes back to Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone’s arrival there in 1859. It was this connection that I was particularly interested in following up as we are planning a special exhibition at National Museum of Scotland from 23 November 2012 to 7 April 2013 to commemorate two hundred years since his birth in Blantyre, Lanarkshire in 1813.
We had a busy schedule to make the most of my time there and, together with a film crew from Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, we travelled throughout the country filming interviews with historians, clergy and officials to record what people in Malawi think about Livingstone today. We also filmed historic sites associated with Livingstone’s travels through the country, which are recognised as national monuments. This footage will be seen in the exhibition and will also be used for an MBC TV documentary.
I also took the opportunity to visit different museums to find out more about the role of the museum in Malawi to share with my colleagues at National Museums Scotland. This will help us identify areas for development of the partnership, including skills sharing and knowledge exchange. Fieldwork is also a wonderful opportunity for curators to add to the collections. I brought back a range of objects including specialist wooden carving from the Mua Mission in Central Malawi and chitenje cloths decorated with political slogans worn by women across Malawi.
The visit was a great experience and really productive. For me, the development of existing relationships and forging new links with the museum staff is one of the lasting outcomes and I look forward to continuing to build on this, sharing ideas, skills and plans for the future.