The Chewa or Chichewa are of Bantu origin and are a south-central African people group who reside mainly in Malawi with a scattering of people throughout Zambia and Zimbabwe. Originally from Zaire and the Congo this people group moved southwards to escape disease and wars going on throughout the country.
From the 1400’s to the 1700’s the Chewa had established and ruled over most of the predominate kingdoms of Malawi and it was during the early 1700’s that the Portuguese came into contact with the Chewa. As other people groups have migrated to Malawi the Chewa have stood out and distinguished themselves from the others by their language, tattoos, and society. The Chewa stand out in sharp contrast to other African cultures and even in modern times has managed to retain and carry on the traditional aspects of their culture.
The Chewa believe that god lives on a mountain on the border between Malawi and Mozambique. This god created everything and in oblivious recognition of his creation. The Chewa also hold to a form of ancestor/spirit worship in which through dance the spirits of men and animals intermingle and contact each other. A persons ability to dance reflects their spiritual ability and motivations.
Another important connection with the spirit world in the life of the Chewa is participation in secret societies. A participant in these societies is known as a Gule. Especially during the month of July there is the peak season for the Gule. During this time young men who are Gules dress in animal or ancestral like costumes. When dressed like this they are considered to be in an animal state and no one should try to approach them. If by accident someone was to approach a Gule they would quickly drop money on the ground for them as protection against being taken by the Gule to the cemetery to undergo ritual rites.
The Chewa are an agricultural based society, and farming is the primary income generator. The village headman or chief determines how much and where the land is dispersed among the people of the village, so the land’s ownership is constantly changing. Maize and tobacco are the primary crops produced and used for sale.
Most Malawians live up to their reputation as some of the friendliest people in Africa. They tend to be very generous and will go out of their way to help others. Unlike other countries, there is no sense that theyre doing something for you because they just want something in return. Great respect is given to the older generations who are always treated in a courteous manner. Economic conditions are not good in Malawi and the country is one of the worlds poorest countries. Population is exploding and many of the social institutions like schools and hospitals are overflowing.