Culture The Beauty of Africa

5 Interesting Facts About Malawi Culture That Will Fascinate You

Interesting facts about Malawi culture
Written by Abraham Odhiambo

What makes Malawi a unique destination on the African continent? Today, we explore interesting facts about Malawi culture to try and paint a picture of this amazing country. For starters, Malawi is a landlocked country in southeastern Africa bordered by Tanzania to the north, Zambia to the west and Mozambique to the east and south.

This diverse country is endowed with eye-catching highlands and extensive lakes which will make you channel your inner David Attenborough during your trip. Also known as “The Warm Heart of Africa”, there’s so much to learn about Malawi which is known for its welcoming and friendly people. Whether you’re just seeking knowledge or actually planning a trip, here are five interesting facts about Malawi culture you would love to know.

1. Dance Forms an Important Element of Malawi Culture 

Malawi is one of the African countries famous for their traditional dances. There are more than 80 traditional dances in Malawi performed on various occasions such as initiation ceremonies, harvest time and funerals. Masks are very common in traditional Malawian dances regardless of the event.

Malawi culture

Interesting facts about Malawi culture. Photo/ World Atlas.

One of the most popular dances in Malawi is Gule Wamakulu (translated as the “Great Dance”) which is performed by the Chewa tribe. The dance is ritualistic as it is mostly performed during death. The Nyau, which is a secret society of initiated Chewa, believe in communicating with the dead and will wear masks in the shapes of beasts during Gule Wamakulu to capture the spirits of the deceased.

The people who perform this dance are men who have been initiated into Nyau tradition. In 2005, Gule Wamakulu was proclaimed Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

2. Greetings Is a Crucial Part of the Local Culture

Next on interesting facts about Malawi culture is their greeting. To start with, greetings are an important part of Malawi’s culture. Just like in many other places, the most common way to greet someone in Malawi is with a handshake or with a bow. To show respect, people usually hold their wrist with their left hand during a handshake.

When a man and a woman meet, it is advisable that the woman extends her hand first to greet the man. Since Malawians are hospitable and friendly, you’ll notice them smiling when greeting each other.

3. Most of the Tribes in Malawi Are Bantu

There are many ethnic groups in Malawi but most tribes speak Bantu. Malawi’s largest tribe is Chewa and their language, Chichewa, is the national language of Malawi. The Chewa people originated in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo hundreds of years ago.

Malawi tribes

Most people in Malawi are Bantu. Photo/ World Vision Singapore.

The population of the Chewa people is about 9 million in present day Malawi, and tribal chiefs still hold an important role in their society. Other tribes calling Malawi home include Yao, Lomwe, Nkhonde, Tumbuka, Sena, Lambya, Sukwa Ngoni and Mang’anja. The Yao language is spoken by about 2 million people who mostly live around the southern end of Lake Malawi.

4. The Most Prevalent Religion Is Christianity

According to a report on International Religious Freedom, 77.3 percent of the population in Malawi is Christian. The most popular Christian denominations in the country include Roman Catholics, Central Africa Presbyterians, Seventh-day Adventist/Seventh-day Baptists, Anglicans and Pentecostals. However, it is good to note that most people follow a mix of Christianity and traditional tribal belief systems.

5. Most People in Malawi Live in the Rural Areas

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in Africa with most people living in the rural areas. According to a source, nearly 85% of the country’s total population is found in the villages. Around 70% of the population make less than $1.90 a day and the country also has one of the highest rates of Aids orphans in Africa.

Malawi homes

Majority of the people in Malawi live in the rural areas. Photo/ TravelingEast.

What Is Unique About Cultures in Malawi?

Over the years Malawi’s mix of cultures – languages, masks, drums and dances – continue to fascinate tourists from all parts of the world. Tourists who visit Malawi rarely leave without experiencing some of Malawi’s traditional elements.

What Is Special About Malawi?

Apart from the various interesting facts about Malawi culture listed above, the country is famous for its smiling, friendly people, extraordinary freshwater lake and its exceptional natural scenery. It is one of the top countries to explore in southeastern Africa.

What Is Malawi Known For?

Malawi is well known for its extraordinary freshwater lake, Lake Malawi, which dominates this country and attracts a large number of tourists yearly. Malawi has eleven national parks and wildlife reserves offering activities such as birdwatching, hiking and mountain biking.

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About the author

Abraham Odhiambo

Abraham Odhiambo is a writer with interests in nature, travel, African safari and sports. I'm pursuing a bachelor's degree in Media and Communication at Egerton University.

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