As is the case with many writers who grew up in difficult political times, Jack Mapanje sees writing as a compulsion, one which was initially prompted by his feeling of desperation at the state of his homeland of Malawi, under the corrupt post independence presidency of Hastings Banda.
‘Where is the spirit that touched the hearts / Lightly – chameleon colours of home?’– Visiting Zomba Plateau, Jack Mapanje
Mapanje started to write because of his firm belief in poetry’s power to influence political perceptions; a belief which prompted him to continue writing despite the dangerous position it placed him in during the autocratic and repressive years of Hastings Banda’s rule. In 1981, he published Of Chameleons and Gods (1981), which was withdrawn from circulation in Malawi because of its critique of Banda’s regime; he was later arrested and incarcerated as a result of the poetry collection. Whilst his poetry had landed him in prison, it was also to come to his aid; whilst banned in his native country, Mapanje had a strong international readership, and it was the weight of outrage from international writers guilds and other campaigners that resulted in his release from Mikuyu prison, a gruelling three years after his arrest.
Subsequently residing in Britain, these years of imprisonment are a recurring theme and motif haunting all of his poetry; he cites the hellishly uncertain time as unavoidably central to his work and world view. Joining ranks with a great battalion of prison writers as far reaching as Marquis de Sade, Henri Charrière and Manuel Puig, his writing chronicles the bleak conditions of incarceration but also provides a testament to an individual’s ability to endure. Mapanje focuses on the details that allowed prisoners to survive and maintain their humanity and dignity in such adverse conditions.
‘She hated anything caged, fish particularly, Fish caged in glass boxes, ponds, whatever;
‘Reminds me of prisons and slavery,’ she said;’– The Seashells of North Bridlington Beach, Jack Mapanje
Mapanje has been cited as more ‘authentically African’ than many of the giants of the continent’s literature, such as Achebe or Ngugi. This is because of his deep understanding and utilization of oral storytelling traditions, that involve learning and reciting of tales in spiral formation. Similar to the fashion in which Maori history is envisaged, African folklore often loops back on itself self-referentially. Mapanje became an aficionado of this technique whilst constructing and memorizing poems in his cell without ever putting them to paper. His style is unique in the bold richness of his imagery which often calls upon the abundant African flora and fauna, and the wealth of bird species native to Malawi. These natural themes form motifs for thoroughly satirical and subversive social commentary, which despite Mapanje’s self imposed exile in Britain still harks back to the problems of his homeland.
By Kate Kelsall
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.