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Malawi Profile (A brief history)

Malawi, known officially as the Republic of Malawi, is a landlocked country located in Southeastern Africa. The country is surrounded by Mozambique on the east, south and southwest and, bordered by Zambia to the west and Tanzania to the north. Lilongwe is the capital of Malawi and its largest city. The name Malawi is derived from Maravi which means flames, and the country bears the nickname "The Warm Heart of Africa" because of the friendly disposition of its people. There are several ethnic groups in the country, and these include Chewa, Lomwe, Yao, Ngoni, Tumbuka, Sena, Mang'anja, Nyanja, Tonga, Ngonde, Lambya, Sukwa and others. Recognised regional languages are Yao, Tumbuka, Tonga, Sena, Lomwe, Ngonde and Lambya. English and Chewa are the official lingua franca of Malawi.

Early history of Malawi

Archaeological evidences suggest that ancient humans dwelled in the areas surrounding the Lake Malawi more than 50,000 years ago. According to some local myth, the first inhabitants of Malawi where dwarf archers who were called Akafula.

In the 4th century Bantu-speaking people entered the region, introducing agriculture. Between the 13th and the 15th centuries more Bantu groups moved into the territories of Malawi displacing the previous inhabitants of the land. The Bantu groups settled in and founded ethnic groups.

By 1500 AD the tribes had united to establish the kingdom of Maravi, extending from the North to the Zambezi River and from Lake Malawi to Luangwa River. The Empire covers a greater portion of present-day Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia. The Maravi people were called Chewa, and there main occupation was farming, especially millet and sorghum.

European Infiltration

In 1616, the Portuguese seatrader Gaspar Bocarro journeyed through Malawi, making him the first European to engage the Malawians in trade exchange.

During the 16th century, the Chewa traded iron, ivory and slaves with the Portuguese and Arab merchants. The Portuguese introduced corn to the natives, and it displaced sorghum to become the staple food in Malawi.

There was intense slave trading between the Maravi tribes and the Portuguese. The slaves were shipped off to either Mozambique or Brazil to work in Portuguese plantations. With the entrance of the Ngoni people into Malawi in the 19th century the Maravi Empire began to decline. The Ngoni came in from South Africa fleeing from the king of the Zulu empire, Shaka Zulu. The Ngoni group subdued the Maravi and other lesser tribes. They employed the military tactics of Shaka Zulu to subjugate the Malawi tribes.

In the 1800s, another powerful group, the Yao people arrived Malawi from Mozambique. They settled around the Lake Malawi and where great slave traders, capturing slaves from the hinterlands and selling to the Portuguese and Arab traders.

Colonization of Malawi

In 1859, David Livingstone, a Scottish explorer and missionary, arrived the Lake Malawi. The Yao people were already settled around the Nyasa Lake (as the Lake Malawi was called in the local dialect).

Livingston identified the Shire Highlands located south of the lake as a suitable area for Europeans to settle in. He brought in the Universities Missions to Central Africa (UMCA) in 1861. The missionaries encountered strong resistance from the Yao people who dwell around the area. The Yao had already embraced the Islamic religion in the 1860s following close trade associations with Arab traders, and so were opposed to the Christian religion.

By 1961 wars had ensued between the Christian missionaries and the Yao, with many killed and houses burnt. Livingstone and the UMCA were criticized for using violence against the Yao, and engaging in politics instead of preaching the Gospel of Christ.

In 1875, Scotland sent other groups of missionaries to Malawi; the Free Church of Scotland first, and the Established Church of Scotland later in 1876. The Free Church of Scotland missionaries entered Ngoni and Tonga territories establishing churches and schools and teaching Western education.

The Tonga people embraced Christianity, acquired Western education and civilization, and became more literate than the other groups in Malawi. Above all, they found protection from the marauding Ngoni under the Scottish missionary. The missionaries extended their activities to Tumbuka, another tribe enslaved by the powerful Ngoni. The Tumbuka found refuge with the missionaries, and also embraced Christianity and western civilization. The Yao couldn't acquire Western education, as the church and school were closely integrated and the Yao chose to protect their Islamic beliefs.

Meanwhile, Arab traders had set up trading posts along the shore of Lake Malawi, around the Yao. Through the Yao's slave trading activities, almost about 20,000 slaves were transported annually from the area in the 1840s. The Arabs of Zanzibar became the chief slave merchants in Malawi, displacing the Portuguese in Mozambique.

In 1883 a Consul of a British government took up residence in a small mission and trading settlement at Blantyre, and in 1889 Shire Highlands was proclaimed a British Protectorate and by 1891 the whole region of present-day Malawi had become the British Central Africa Protectorate.

In 1907 the name of a Protectorate was changed to Nyasaland, and it was joinedvl with Northern and Southern Rhodesia in 1953 to form the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

Independence of Malawi

In January 1915, John Chilembwe led an uprising against British rule, and his followers attacked and destroyed local plantations. The British forces quenched the revolt, killing Chilembwe and executing many of his followers.

In 1944, the Nyasaland Africa Congress (NAC) was formed by some nationalists. Also, another party Malawi Congress Party (MCP) headed by Hastings Banda, a European-trained doctor also sprung up.

In 1961 Africans were granted the majority in the legislative council of the Central African Federation (as the Protectorate was called) and the MCP gained a majority in the legislation Council elections. Banda became a prime minister in 1963, the same year the federation was dissolved.

On 6 July 1964 Nyasaland was granted independence from British rule, and was renamed Malawi. Banda was made its first president under a new constitution that also declared Malawi a one-party state. Banda, who was made a president-for-Life in 1917, ran a rigid totalitarian regime and so prevented all manner of armed conflict in the country. Under Banda's government the economy of Malawi improved tremendously, relying solely on agriculture and the country was a flourishing business empire. In 1993 Banda permitted a referendum to be held, the life presidency was abolished and a new constitution permitting multi-party democracy was enacted.


Economy of Malawi

The economy of Malawi is based solely on agriculture. The country is landlocked and has no mineral resources, in addition to being heavily populated.

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