During the formative years of the colonial administration in Malawi, district notebooks functioned as intermediaries between orality and literacy. British administrators used these notebooks to document tribal customs and histories as narrated by non-literate communities. District notebooks were abandoned soon after the independence, and they need preservation.
In Malawi, like in all other British African colonies and Protectorates, District Commissioner (DCs) maintained District Notebooks or Political Notebooks among other records in their Bomas (district headquarters). The idea of district notebooks started through the realisation that the knowledge of European officials in Africa constituted a reservoir of information regarding local institutions and their changes. Since this knowledge had not been recorded before, all British officers who served as District Commissioners were required to maintain district notebooks, and hand them over to succeeding officers until 1964, when the country became independent.
Most of the colonial notebooks have not been cared for by district administration officials, who appeared not to appreciate the value of the notebooks. As a result, the district books are stored in unsuitable conditions, which contribute to their quick degradation.
Stemming from a previous pilot survey project, the project digitised 182 district notebooks in 20 district commissioners’ store rooms. All the notebooks were relocated to the National Archives of Malawi, where they will be stored more appropriately. The team were trained in digitisation, and the digitisation efforts in the Archives has continued after the end of the project.