Malawi Culture and Literature

By | September 13, 2021

(Mfuko la Malawi). State of central-southern Africa (118,484 km²). Capital: Lilongwe. Administrative division: regions (3). Population: 13,066,320 (2008). Language: Chichewa and English (official), chinyanja, chitumbuka, chiyao. Religion: Protestants 20.5%, Catholics 18%, other Christians 9.9%, Muslims 20%, animists / traditional beliefs 10%, others 21.6%. Currency unit: Malawi kwacha (100 tambala). Human Development Index: 0.457 (162nd place). Borders: Tanzania (N and NE), Mozambique (S), Zambia (W). Member of: Commonwealth, UN, SADC, AU and WTO, EU associate.


According to getzipcodes, the chewa (or maravis) are closely linked to animist beliefs: according to their religion, God created the world during a storm. The contact between the living and the dead occurs through a dance called gule wamkulu, in which the dancers wear tattered costumes and animal skins, wearing a mask and moving on stilts. Their beliefs mingle with the Catholic religion, and it is common practice to consult a sorcerer when you believe you are suffering from bad luck. The most popular music is reggae in a soft style typical of the country, which has the two best known exponents in Lucius Banda and Evison Matafale. The power supply is mainly based on nsima, a mixture of corn flour and water, which accompanies meat, fish or vegetables. The traditional beer of the region is that of corn. Here too, as in many other African countries, football is the most popular sport. Sailing is also very popular; in July the 500 km Sailing Marathon takes place, the longest freshwater race in the world, during which the entire length of Lake Malawi is covered with catamarans. The only site designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site is the rock area of ​​Chongoni (2006), where numerous rock graffiti are preserved.


Contact with Western civilization has not uprooted the population from traditional culture and, despite urbanization, there has not been a clear break with tribal society. Colonization did not encourage the use of the English language, preferring traditional languages. On the other hand, poor schooling, restricting the public to a small elite, has prompted the majority of writers to transcribe traditional oral narrative production or to draw inspiration from it for original works, even dramatic ones, using the Chichewa language. After independence, literature in African languages ​​is inspired by folklore and has a didactic character. One of the first writers in the English language was the novelist Samuel Yosia Ntara who, while accepting European models, he showed a certain critical spirit towards the white man. The national awareness, which was the basis of the struggle for independence, has given rise to a poem with a patriotic background, the best exponents of which are Katoki Mwalino and J. David Rubadiri (b. 1930). The latter, which rejects the myths of Négritude also proved to be a good novelist, with the costume studio No Bride Price (1967; No dowry). Among the narrators, Legson Kayira (b.1940) and, to a lesser extent, Aubrey Kachingwe (b.1926) are cited. In the seventies the censorship imposed by the dictatorial regime put the literary environment in crisis; various writers have chosen exile, others have adopted a cautious and evasive tone. F. Chipazula, F. Mnthali (b. 1933), J. Mapanje (b. 1944), S. Chimombo (b. 1945) establish themselves as authentic poets seeking to blend Western influences with African tradition. The theater features composite works that mold African myths and rituals into European structures. In the 1980s, writers highlight the frustrations and bitterness aroused by the socio-political situation and abandon caution to engage in a struggle that earned some of them imprisonment, such as J. Mapanje, Of Chameleons and Gods (1981; Of chameleons and gods) and as F. Mnthali, who turns out to be an excellent poet with When Sunset Comes to Sapitwa (1982; When Sunset Comes to Sapitwa). Another significant literary figure is the poet D. Rubadi, who compiled the significant anthology Poetry from East Africa; as far as fiction is concerned, L. Kayira (b.1942), who achieved success in 1970 with his autobiographical novel I will try, and S. Mpasu: for his novel Nobody’s Friend, he was accused of divulging secret information on the political life of the country.

Malawi Culture