Philately as Inspiration


The more I dig through aspects of my life the more I realize I have been preparing to do something like this forever. I look at my stack of notebooks, newspaper clippings, stamps, and so on and think about how odd that a Malawian person living in Malawi (at the time) would have kept all I did. In retrospect , I had to, to try to understand where I fit in the world, to understand my culture, to understand the things that regular Malawians already knew but that were new to me. Now I’m going back over old things and feeling inspired. Archive fever has truly gotten ahold of me!

I found my old stamp collection recently. I started collecting stamps at age 13. Whenever someone received a letter, they would tear around the stamp, then I would soak the torn piece of envelope in some cold water until the paper loosened and came off. Finally I would dry the stamp and put it into my stamp album. It was always fun trying to figure out which country was which (Ajman State, anyone?), figuring out the currencies, being in awe at the half penny stamps, the stamps with crazy shapes, and stamps from former kingdoms, such as Katanga. It always amazed me to see how often Queen Elizabeth II appeared on stamps. Some of my Malawi stamps bear Malaysian post marks due to being misdirected, a very common issue.

The draw of stamps to me, apart from their aesthetic value, is that as well as being little pieces of artwork, they are also pieces of history; country names have changed, colonialism is over, currencies have devalued (some very drastically), and stamps keep track of this.

Looking at my stamps of Malawi, I see the popularity of nature there. I see the commemorative stamps, presidents, achievements that were considered important too.


On the above picture, you can see a stamp of David Livingstone, who is quite beloved in Malawi. Malawi also seems to have had a history of ships dating back to over a century ago. Kamuzu International Airport has been renamed Lilongwe International Airport (and now I’m curious about how people referred to KIA back in the day seeing as mentioning the former dictator’s name was a no-no). Kamuzu Academy is still in existence and I often regret not having studied there and therefore missing a golden opportunity to learn Latin and Ancient Greek!



The bird on the K2 stamp (Silvery Cheeked Hornbill) was always perched on the Kachere tree in my garden. It always gave me the heebie jeebies. I was told the bird features in myths.

Malawi has been called a botanist’s paradise and I can well believe that!



Lake Malawi is famous for its famous cichlids, many of which are endemic to the lake. Very cool things happened during Malawi’s evolutionary history! The Vancouver Aquarium and the Toronto Zoo both have Great Lake Malawi cichlid exhibits.


I was excited to find these old stamps of Dr. Kamuzu Banda in my collection. They dated back from 1966. As my sister said, Dr. Banda looks slightly creepy in those stamps. I was also excited to find a stamp commemorating John Chilembwe’s 1915 uprising. To me, Chilembwe is a bit like the Malawian Robert the Bruce, he is definitely a national hero.