William describes many elements of Malawian culture as seen in his rural village and the glimpses he has of Malawian cities, commenting on both the similarities and differences to American life and culture. Throughout the novel, William notes how life in Malawi and America is different, but shows that people are much the same in Malawi and America. In America, William describes his shock at many things that Americans take for granted, such as elevators, high-rise buildings, and schools that are not falling apart, yet at the same time William himself certainly embodies the “American” values of success, hard-work, and individual motivation, and details how those traits are also indicative of most of his friends and family in Wimbe. He describes the basic desires of people in Malawi as similar to the average person in the United States, even if the outer trappings of life in the two countries are very different.
William also places Malawi within the context of Africa as whole, describing the struggle that many African countries share in finding tactics of self-governance that help heal the history of colonial exploitation and build stable, healthy futures for their citizens. William comments on the presidents of Malawi during his lifetime, and the way that they help or harm the country. For example, President Banda helped free Malawi from British rule and boosted the Malawian economy, yet harshly controlled the everyday details of Malawian lives. President Muluzi, Banda’s successor, is instrumental in peace talks that help end the genocide in Rwanda, yet ignores the fatal famine crisis in his own country. Living with these politicians helps explain some of the Malawian cultural values that bring villages together to circumvent the policies of the government and ensure survival and success for individual citizens. William and his young friends Gilbert and Geoffrey, for example, are more loyal to the traditional government of a chief in their village. William specifically questions the authority of the Malawian government in his narration and his innovative actions in the book. Despite the hardships or benefits brought on by the various administrations of the Malawian government, the residents of Malawian villages come together as families and communities that support each other. William sees this helpfulness and community spirit as a hallmark of Malawian culture, and one of the things that Malawi does better than any other country.
William also feels some sense of kinship with people from other countries of Africa, calling them “brother” at various parts of the novel. William is proud to belong to the community of African inventors and innovators that are brought together by the TEDGlobal conference. He enjoys working with these brilliant men and women to see how they are improving their lives in their own home countries and which efforts can also be useful in Malawi. Especially when William is in America, he feels close to other Africans, such as the Senegalese people that stop him in the street to get his autograph. After living in America and seeing other parts of Africa through his studies, William sketches out a path for Malawi’s future that builds on the success that William has seen abroad. He imagines using the Malawian values of hard-work, imagination, and community support to help Malawi become a proud leader of a Pan-African effort to improve the quality of lives in all parts of Africa.
Malawian Culture and African Community ThemeTracker
Malawian Culture and African Community Quotes in The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
Although Geoffrey, Gilbert, and I grew up in this small place in Africa, we did many of the same things children do all over the world, only with slightly different materials. And talking with friends I’ve met from America and Europe, I now know this is true. Children everywhere have similar ways of entertaining themselves. If you look at it this way, the world isn’t so big.
“We know this man has left behind some riches, and these treasures include his kids. We'd like to advise his brothers to take full control of these children. Make sure they finish their secondary education as they would have if their father had been alive. And in regards to the material wealth, we don't want to hear of troubles in the family as a result. If anyone here wants to help this family, help the children with clothing and school fees.”
Nsima isn't just an important part of our diet—our bodies depend on it the same way fish need water. If a foreigner invites a Malawian to supper and serves him plates of steak and pasta and chocolate cake for dessert, but no nsima, he'll go home and tell his brothers and sisters, “there was no food there…”
We call this period “the hungry season.” In the countryside, people are working the hardest they work all year to prepare their fields, but doing so with the least amount of food. Understandably, they grow thin, slow and weak.
“I’m ashamed to see this school broken in such fashion. We should tear the whole place down and start from scratch, build it again strong and proud! Teachers’ houses also need to be shipshape, and students need new desks and books!”
Of course, the crowds cheered and applauded at this. But instead of buying us new desks, he sent men into our blue gum grove to chop down our trees to build them. Even then, there weren't enough.
Several large pieces of skin remained in the pot, and I thought about my sisters and parents who were at home, probably hungry and dreaming of meat on this Christmas Day. But I didn't dare ask Charity to allow me to share. It was a well-known rule that whatever happened in mphala stayed in mphala.
My parents never scolded Rose for taking more than her share. But Doris soon reached her breaking point. Over the past weeks she'd become paranoid, fearing she wouldn't get any food at supper and my parents wouldn't help her.
My own problems didn't seem so important; the hunger belonged to the entire country. I decided to put faith in my father's word, that once we made it through the hunger, everything would be okay.
At least with daughters, like my sister Annie, a father can hope they'll marry a husband who can provide a home and food, even help them continue their schooling. But with a boy it's different. My education meant everything to my father.
But Geoffrey was scared we would be arrested by the authorities for messing with their frequencies. People were also saying this nonsense about my windmill: “You better be careful or ESCOM power will come arrest you.”
If the first people to experiment with great inventions such as radios, generators, or airplanes had been afraid of being arrested, we'd never be enjoying those things today.
“Let them come arrest me,” I'd say. “It would be an honor.”
But the most amazing thing about TED wasn’t the Internet, the gadgets, or even the breakfast buffets with three kinds of meat, plus eggs and pastries and fruits that I dreamed about each night. It was the other Africans who stood onstage each day and shared their stories and vision of how to make our continent a better place for our people.
Erik wasn’t a biological African (he was raised in Kenya and Sudan), but what he said summed up our crowd perfectly:
“Africans bend what little they have to their will every day. Using creativity, they overcome Africa's challenges. Where the world sees trash, Africa recycles. Where the world sees junk, Africa sees rebirth.”
I took a deep breath and gave it my best. “After I drop out from school, I went to library… and I get information about windmill…” Keep going keep going. . . “And I try and I made it.”
My fellow students and I talk about creating a new kind of Africa, a place of leaders instead of victims, a home of innovation rather than charity. I hope this story finds its way to our brothers and sisters out there who are trying to elevate themselves and their communities, but who may feel discouraged by their poor situation.