Country: Malawi

Gary Fallesen

Country: Malawi

Location: East and Southern Africa, between Tanzania, Zambia, and Mozambique. Area: 118,480 square kilometers (slightly smaller than the state of Pennsylvania). Terrain: Narrow elongated plateau with rolling plains, rounded hills, and some mountains (specifically Mulanje Mountains). Highest point: Sapitwa on Mount Mlanje (9,845 feet/3001 meters).

Population: 14,268,711. There are 31 people groups in Malawi, four of which are unreached. Life expectancy: 43.82 years.

Largest people groups: Nyanja, Chewa; Nyanja, Southern; Yao, Ajao; Tumbuka, Phoka; Ngoni; Sena, Malawi; Lomwe, Nguru.

Religion: Christian 79.9 percent; Muslim 12.8 percent; others 3 percent; none 4.3 percent. There is freedom of religion, but some suspect a favoring of the Muslim minority. Islam is growing. More than 90 percent of the Yao people are Muslims. The Qur'an has been translated into Chichewa, the national language. The country's president is a Muslim.

Languages: Chichewa (official national language) 57.2 percent; Chinyanja 12.8 percent; Chiyao 10.1 percent; Chitumbuka 9.5 percent; Chisena 2.7 percent; Chilomwe 2.4 percent; Chitonga 1.7 percent; other 3.6 percent.

Economy: Landlocked Malawi ranks among the world's most densely populated and least developed countries. The economy is predominately agricultural with about 85 percent of the population living in rural areas. Average annual income: $800.

Politics: Established in 1891, the British protectorate of Nyasaland became the independent nation of Malawi in 1964. After three decades of one-party rule under President Hastings Kamuzu Banda, the country held multiparty elections in 1994, under a provisional constitution that came into full effect the following year. Current President Bingu wa Mutharika, elected in May 2004 after a failed attempt by the previous president to amend the constitution to permit another term, struggled to assert his authority against his predecessor and subsequently started his own party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in 2005. Population growth, increasing pressure on agricultural lands, corruption, and the spread of HIV/AIDS pose major problems for Malawi.

Mulanje Mountains. (Photo by Duncan Nyozani)

Climbing: The Mulanje Mountains can be climbed at any time of year. The dry, cool months from April to September are generally regarded as the best for hiking, although there is a danger of what is described as “treacherous mists (called chaperone) enveloping the massif” between May and July. During the rainy seasons (November to early April), many paths become slippery and some may be temporarily impassable due to flooding. The Skyline Path is safe at all times of the year because it crosses only one river, and there is a bridge. Mulanje is not high enough for serious altitude-related illnesses to be of much concern. There is a Mountain Club of Malawi, which visits Mulanje and other peaks almost every weekend.

People: Lomwe

People: Lomwe, Nguru. Location: They are located primarily in the southeast section of Malawi with the largest concentration being in Phalombe District, as well as the Mulanje, Thyolo and Zomba districts. Population: 311,000.

Ethnic tree: Sub-Saharan African. People cluster: Bantu, Makua-Yao.

Language: Lomwe, Malawi (311,000 speakers).

Religion: Primarily Christian (63.9 percent). But, in general, the Lomwe are animists who still worship ancestral spirits. Though most Lomwe would consider themselves Christians, the traditions of the ancestors greatly influence their daily lives. In the Shire valley in the south there are relatively few Christians among the Lomwe.

Customs: Lomwe customs are centered around work and play. The men build the houses, the barriers to protect the gardens, and the grain bins to store the maize. They also like to make grass or reed mats. In the past, the men were skilled hunters. The major tasks of the women are cooking and caring for the children. They also enjoy making clay pots.

Economy: The Lomwe are a rural people with only 5-to-10 percent living in urban areas. They are primarily subsistence farmers. Many of them love to hunt, although wild game is scarce.

Overview: The Lomwe were originally from modern-day Mozambique, to the east of Malawi. A large migration occurred in the 1930s because of tribal wars.

People: Yao

(Photo from Joshua Project)

People: Yao, Ajao (also known as Yao, Ajao, Ajawa, Ayao, Chiyao and Wajao). Location: They are located at the southeastern end of Lake Malawi in the Balaka, Machinga, Mangochi and Zomba provinces. Population: 1.243 million.

Ethnic tree: Sub-Saharan African. People cluster: Bantu, Makua-Yao.

Language: Yao (1.243 million speakers).

Religion: Primarily Islam (Sunni) with 16.3 professing Christians. Despite the claim to be Muslim, indigenous religious beliefs remain and have been integrated into the Islam practiced. There continue to be specialists for curses, blessings, and communications with ancestors.

Economy: The Yao are mainly subsistence farmers who work the plateau country adjacent to Lake Malawi. Growing beans, corn, cassava, bananas, and peanuts, the people work plots that are often a good distance outside of their local villages. These plots are called machambas. There are also many Yao laborers in the capital Lichinga.

Overview: The Yao originated in northwestern Mozambique and have spread into Tanzania and Malawi. The Yao were known as slave traders (middlemen) who captured Africans and sold them to Arabs. In the middle of the 19th century, they converted — as a people — to Islam, in the attempt to solidify their relationship with Arab traders.

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