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What To Know About Malawi Culture

By Lila Barry

Malawi is located in the southeast part of Africa. Once known as Nyasaland, the landlocked country is located near Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique. The Malawi culture is defined by art, music, dance, and native and colonial traditions.

The name derives from the Maravi, Bantu people who immigrated from Congo hundreds of years ago. The group divided when it reached the northern Lake Malawi. One group moved south down the western bank of the lake and became known as Chewa. The other group, ancestors of Nyanja people, moved to the east side of the lake and the southern area of this country. A true, united Malawian society did not develop until the twentieth century.

There are numerous tribes that inhabit this area. Some well-known groups include Chewa, Tumbuka, Nyanja, Yao, Sena, Lomwe, Ngonde, Tonga and Ngoni. The most prolific of these tribes is Chewa, which had officially become the language in Malawi. Children learn at a young age how to speak in Chewa, their regional tribal language and English. There are many languages used in this area. Chewa and English are the most widely spoken. However, those who travel to the northern regions will hear more people speak in Tumbuka.

No national dress is specific to the men. They typically wear western clothes, such as t-shirts and jeans. There are many, however, who may wear religious clothing or robes. The women do have a national dress. Traditionally they wear Chitenje, a piece of clothing that is similar to a sarong. This large cloth often includes an elaborate design or pattern. Women are also seen wearing matching headcloth and blouse, if they are able to afford it. The Chitenje can be used in many different ways, such as: oven mitts, head scarf and baby carrier. There are an assortment of designs for certain occasions and usually women wear their best clothes to church on Sundays.

Nsima is a popular porridge made from maize flour and water. It is usually served with beans or vegetables and may include meat. Rice, stodge, minimal sauce, carbohydrates and cassava are typical of this cuisine.

From 1964 up until 2010 and more modern times, the Malawi flag has featured three stripes. There is a black stripe with a red rising sun in the middle, a red stripe and a green stripe. The black is said to represent African people, red is for the blood of those who fought for freedom of Africans and green is to represent the environment. The rising sun on the black stripe is to symbolize the freedom and hope for the continent.

Dances are a major part of this culture. In November 1987, the government official formed the National Dance Troupe. Traditional music, as well as dances, can be witnessed during initiation rites, celebrations, marriage ceremonies and rituals. The sport of soccer is very popular in the area. There is also a rich tradition of basketry, wood carving, oil painting and mask carving.

The Malawi culture involves a lot of sports, dance and art. There are several different tribes that live in this landlocked country in Africa. Chewa and English are the main languages spoken, Nsima is a popular food and Chitenje is the national dress of the women.

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