Life in Malawi

Village Life in Malawi

The people of Malawi were originally called the Maravi and they first came to present day Malawi around six hundred years ago, dividing into two groups, one, the forefathers of the present day Chewas, settling on the west bank of Lake Malwai and the other, the forefathers of the Nyanjas, settling on the east bank. These Bantu people formed an empire, but an empire in name only with conflict and division precluding a cohesive society. The official language inside Malawi is English (although many people, particularly in rural areas, speak Chichewa), its currency is the Kwacha, and its people are made up from various cultures. These include the Chewa people who live in the central area, the Nyanja people in the south, the Tumbuko people in the north along with the Tonga, the Ngoni and Ngonde people who live in the lower northern and lower central regions of Malawi and the mainly Muslim Yao who live on the border with Mozambique. Other Malawi people include the Lomwe and Sena as well as people of European and Asian descent, however this latter group is mainly confined to city areas.

Inside Malawi the population is predominantly Christian with 55% being Protestant, 20% being Roman Catholic and a similar figure 20% being Muslim. Unlike many other African countries indigenous beliefs account for only 3% of the population whilst just 2% are classified as 'other.' People inside Malawi, outside of urban areas, typically live in huts with their extended families, and its traditional to share out work and resources between family members. Malawi is in 174th place out of 189 countries and territories in 2019 and levels of poverty and living standards for lose living in Malawi fall far short of even sub-Saharan standards. Malawi is one of the poorest countries on the planet with 85% of its population living in rural areas and 61.7% of its population are multidimensionally poor with causes attributed to an inefficient agricultural sector and poor health.

Life in Malawi

The country is often afflicted by severe famines and these have a devastating imapct on food production pushing rural communities in particular into deeper poverty and leaving them without proper food supplies. Four million people in Malawi lack access to safe drinking water and, based on international standards, just 6% of the population has access to a sanitation facility making childhood disease common. HIV is still rampant despite efforts by the democratic government to address the issue, and tere are an estimated 500,000 orphans in Malawi (ages 0-17) as a result of AIDS. Part of the reason for the chronic underdevelopment inside Malawi was the mismanagement of the economy by President Hastings Kamuzu Banda for thirty years after the country's independence. However, after he left power in the 1990s, political stability has provided a footing for a reformation of the country with the privatisation of many loss making state run institutions. Uranium exports are also helping to boost export earnings in a move away from reliance on foreign humanitarian aid.

Malawi Subsistence Farming

One important aspect of life in Malawi is dance which is epitomised by the Gule Wamkul. It's the traditional Malawi dance of the Chewa people and reflects the traditional belief of Malawi society in the existence of spirits. Dressed in cloth and animals skins, the dancing is usually performed wearing masks. The dancers even kick up dust in a further attempt to disguise their identities and are traditionally only known to the chief who appointed them to safeguard the village from evil. Whilst the Gule Wamkul is the most popular dancing associated with Malawi, in the north of the country the Vimbuza is danced by the Timbuka people. This is a dance alleged to heal sick patients and is performed by healers and witch doctors. Reports indicate that the Vimbuza is gaining in popularity in recent years and is even being adopted by other tribes such as the Ngoni. Ingoma dancing is one of the most popular dances amongst the Ngoni people of Malawi themselves and was originally performed to celebrate victory in battle with male performers wearing headgear and carrying a spear or club dancing in straight lines whilst the women danced alongside singing and clapping in support of the men's performance.

Malawi Dancing

Other popular dances in Malawi include the more recent Kalele or Bewni dancing developed during the world wars based on military parades and the Indingala dance imported into Malawi by the Nyakyusa and Ngonde people as they migrated there from Tanzania. Music in Malawi is different from traditional African music in that it is heavily influenced by its British colonial past as well as its African roots in addition to influences from migrants travelling to and from the country particularly during the second world war. However as the 1960s saw an explosion of new musical styles across the globe, Malawi was gripped by a puritanical dictatorship and all music was restricted to praise of then Malawi president, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda. Since his fall in 1994, music has again flourished. Some of the best known musical artists from Malawi include Wambali Mkandawire, Lucius Banda, Tay Grin and Esau Mwamwaya. The video (below) givce a good insight into village life in Malawi with images of its people and landscapes set against a backdrop of traditional Malawi music.

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Life in Malawi: Malawi Country Profile

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