Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

You’re Breaking My Heart

March 30th, 2010 · 4 Comments

Primarily known to Westerners through its association with Madonna, Malawi is one of the most socially conservative nations in Africa, if not the entire world. The country’s aggressive censorship board has long forbidden any hint of sex or violence, even when public health has been at stake. And the banning hasn’t just excluded allegedly raunchy entertainments—under long-serving President for Life Hastings Banda, the censorship board put its seal of disapproval on all manner of books, music, and movies. A snippet of the madness here, from a 1990 Human Rights Watch report:

The Lion and the Jewel by Wole Soyinka was banned because of a reference to “open breasts”—an affront to public decency—and its supposed ridiculing of African traditions. The first chairman of the Censorship Board described Soyinka as “a bad man who [had] been chased out of his own country and…none of his plays can be performed.” The same chairman, Tobias Banda, apparently banned Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot because he was upset by “the man with the rope around his neck.”

The board’s most infamous decision took place in the late 1980s, when President for Life Banda ordered it to ban the seemingly innocuous Simon & Garfunkel tune “Cecilia.” The tragi-comic logic here:

The reason for the ban is that Cecilia is also the name of President Banda’s “Official Hostess” or mistress, Tamanda Kadzamira. The banning apparently coincided with a somewhat rocky phase in their relationship—“Cecilia/I’m down on my knees/ I’m begging you please to come home.” Malawians apparently took to singing bowdlerized versions and even humming the tune was guaranteed to raise a smile.

We’re happy to report, however, that Malawians used technological workarounds to get their pop-culture fixes during the darkest of the Banda years. Never underestimate the power of the humble VCR.

(Image via Grow a Brain)


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