The discovery of dinosuar and Human fossils in Karonga District situated in the Northern Region of Malawi has led to the establishment of an excavation site which will be under the newly established Karonga Cultural Museum Centre.
The centre’s Public Relations Officer Isaac Chawinga said the excavation site is a key factor for promoting appreciation of Malawi’s cultural and natural heritage by educational development and research.
He said the Cultural Museum Centre is a unique education facility in Northern Malawi which offers a rare opportunity to interact with the past and demonstrates respect to all what humankind’s forefathers left behind.
Karonga which is also a scene for a Land battle during the first world war between the Germans and the British.
Chawinga says the theme for the museum’s exhbition ′Malawi from Dinosaurs to Democracy’ advocates learning with all senses as it features the prehistory from 240 million years ago to the current political status of the young democratic Malawi.
Karonga District is very rich in geological and palaentological traces from the periods of Karoo Age (260-230 million years ago), dinosaur beds (140-100 million years ago) and the Pilo-Pleistocene era (5-1 million years ago).
The giant artefact standing in the museum is the Malawisaurus fossil skeleton, which is a dinosaur – the land dwelling reptile that walked with erect stance and laid eggs – that lived between 140 and 65 million years ago.
Malawi hosts remains of human evolution where for the first time in palaeontological history in Malawi, researchers have discovered the remains of Homo Rudolfensis, a 2.5 million year old man and this represents the earliest evidence of the Genus Homo close to a place called Uraha near Chilumba in Karonga district.
In 1991 a German Paleontologist Friedemen Schrenk, together with his Malawian counterparts discovered the oldest remains of mankind, a 2.5 million year very old jaw of a robust pre-human called Paranthropus Bosei.
Schrenk predicated that in later years that one of the greatest challenges Cultural Museum Centre will face is to explain to people the word ‘museum’.
Most Malawians especially in the rural north of Karonga have never come across a museum and know nothing about their educational and cultural value, Schrenk said.
Admittedly, one would agree that the museum and its surrounding provide an opportunity for people to interact with the past and the environment.
The Museum recently embarked on a massive community awareness campaign to sensitize people on the importance of museums and the need to patronize them.
Chawinga said there is a misconception among the people that museums are social institutions that house and display old artefacts.
“We have also discovered that many times these things don’t interest people and to them they look old fashioned. But what we want to inform the people is that behind such displays there is a rich cultural and scientific knowledge that has aided man to improve technology,” he said.
Chawinga says most people in rural areas depend on trees and other shrubs for herbs and traditional medicine.
He cites diseases like Vimbuza (spiritual disease) which are not treated in modern hospitals. In this circumstance, patients are referred to herbalists for treatment and apart from this disease, there are other ailments that patients just feel a herbalist than a medical officer would of help.
Therefore the use of plants for medicinal value would be difficult if plant life is not protected and preserved.
He said there is certain type of tree which elders pray underneath asking the heavens to open up for the rains.
Chawinga said Cultural Museum Centre environmental programme involves putting labels on medicinal trees so that people are aware of their importance hence the need to protect them.
According to officials the programme has linkage with the Land Resources Conservation Department of Karonga ADD, the Department of forestry, University of Malawi’s Bunda College of Agriculture, National Herbarium and Botanical Gardens of Malawi and the Malawi Genetics Centre at Chitedze Research Centre.
He said the program will include reconnaissance (site seeing). Reconnaissance will mainly involve identification of trees (with nametags), species and their use. Animals around the site will too be of interest in the study.
He said dominant species of plant and animal population will also be documented together with the soil type and cover. This will bring us to the study and protection of ecosystems (of fauna and flora) in order to preserve biological diversity.
“Human life is supported much by the environment. Changes in environment have led to changes in plant and fauna populations up the point of extinction of some animals such as dinosaurs.
“Life is threatened if the environment is not protected. Culture and environment are therefore inseparable as such the need to preserve the environment,” the Cultural Museum Centre Publicist told The Southern Times recently.
He said the importance of the environment need not be exaggerated because it touches on man’s basic needs in life.
Shelter is one basic physiological need of man today. Every culture depends on the environment in the construction of any house. Soils and plants are used in the process, Chawinga said during a media tour of the Malema nature trail.
“We also trying to protect gullies. In some places we have planted vertivar grass to control soil erosion. So far we have replanted some indigenous trees in and around the 13 excavation sites that form part of the museum,” Chawinga said.
He said the establishment of a nature trail between the excavation site and the newly built cultural village at Malema is step in the right direction.
“The trail shall help explain the habitat of dinosaurs, its vegetation, plant species that dinosaurs ate and the sequential climatic change.
“How man uses natural resources and what has influenced environmental change at the present will help picture out future life,” the publicist explained.
The nature trail will also enable people to learn and understand the biological diversity in the of context interdependency of human life and the environment today.
School going children will be the most needed group to learn of this biodiversity and ecosystems and how human activities can influence soil degradation, deforestation and climate change which can threaten human life.
Appreciation of the ecosystem will promote practical touch of learning than class work alone.
The program will also, accord students and the community an opportunity to see fossil remains and their beds.
If the young generation is well exposed to this information, they can surely make their habitats more habitable and achieve democracy. There can never be democracy if life is threatened with continued degradation of the environment and later on extinction.
The more information on environment is exposed to the community, the more likely they are actions to be taken. Since illiteracy is high among rural people, information passed through cultural practices is more susceptible to understanding.