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Center for International Studies
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Malawi

Malawian Society and Culture

The Malawian society and culture is a blend of various cultures due to the presence of many ethnic groups. The Malawians are mostly black Africans. The Malawi customs are also varied due to the presence of different religious sects. A number of Malawians are Christians and the other main religious sect is Muslims. Since, the country has different ethnic groups the languages spoken are also varied.

Malawi is known as the “warm heart of Africa”. This name has been given to the country for the friendliness of the Malawian people. Guests are like gods to them. Showing of hospitality to the guests is an essential Malawi custom. Another most important Malawi custom is the practice of polygamy among the Malawian Christians. The tradition of keeping multiple mistresses and wives is a common Malawi culture. Wearing “Chitenji” in occasions is an important Malawi tradition among the women. This fabric is used extensively by the Malawi women for making elaborate dresses.

Different types of food play an important role in their culture. The Malawi food is a very significant aspect of the culture. Nsima (maize porridge) is the most common cuisine. Malawians also prefer eating rice, potatoes and cassavas, though rice is regarded a luxury.

Etiquette and Customs

  • Verbal greetings are accompanied by a handshake. This is done with the right hand, with the left hand gripping the right forearm to show that one is not armed.
  • When you shake hands with someone important e.g. ministers, chiefs, school committees, older members of the community/village, bend your knees slightly to show deference.
  • Stopping to talk on the street is customary.
  • A person approaching someone’s house will often cry Odi, Odi to announce his or her presence.
  • Any visitor almost always is offered a drink and perhaps something to eat.
  • Do not expect anyone to be on time. It’s not unheard of to arrange to meet someone at 8 a.m. and they turn up the next day!.
  • Expect to pray before everything: meals, journeys, meetings etc.
  • Before a meal, the host or hostess will give you a bowl and a jug to wash your hands in. As most people east with their hands it is important that you ensure your hands are clean before eating.
  • Eating is usually done without utensils, but only with the right hand, because the left hand is considered “dirty.”
  • Do not walk through a village or school openly eating as you will be mobbed by children asking for your food. It is also seen as rude if you openly eat while others aren’t and you will be often asked to join people eating, to share with them.

quick Facts

Climate: It is hot in the low-lying areas in the south of the country and temperate in the northern highlands. The rain season runs between November and April.

Population: 14,901,000 (2010 estimates)

Ethnic Make-up: Chewa 32.6%, Lomwe 17.6%, Yao 13.5%, Ngoni 11.5%, Tumbuka 8.8%, Nyanja 5.8%, Sena 3.6%, Tonga 2.1%, Nogonde 1%, and other 3.5%

Religion: Christian 80%, Muslim 13%, and other 7%

Government: Unitary presidential republic

Language: Chewa, English, Kokola, Lomwe,Nyakyusa-Ngonde, Sena, Tonga, Tumbuka, Yao