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The Maravi (Nyanja) of Malawi

Religion:  Christianity  
Population:  2,486,070 (1996)
ROP code:   113951
Status:  80% Professed Christian,  15% Evangelical Christian


Location:  The Maravi (Nyanja) people are most often called the Mang'anja in Malawi.  The Mang'anja are located primarily in Chikwawa in the Shire River valley in southern Malawi.  Large numbers of them also live in the neighboring districts of Thyolo, Mwanza, Zomba, and Blantyre.  The Maravi are also reported in Zambia. The Ethnologue has informatoni on their langauge and related dialects of Nyanja (Chewa).

History:  The Mang'anja were part of the large Nyanja migration from central Zaire to Malawi in the fourteenth or fifteenth century.  They traditionally have been open to accepting outsiders to live in their area.

When Dr. David Livingstone first came up the Shire River, some of his Kololo helpers settled among the Mang'anja.  The Kololo had guns which enabled them to defeat Chief Chibisa.  Thus the Kololo leaders became the chiefs of the Mang'anja people and intermarried with their women.

The Mang'anja have received many immigrants from other tribes fleeing famine or war.

Identity:  The Mang'anja are Bantu people of the Negroid race. Traditionally they make two tattoo marks on each side of their faces between the ear and eye.  However, this practice is dying out.  

As Malawi is 88 % rural, most of the Mang'anja work as farmers in the rural area of southern Malawi.  The area receives inadequate rainfall two out of three years making farming very difficult.

Language:  The  Mang'anja dialect of the Nyanja language is written with the Roman alphabet.  It differs from the Chichewa of the Chewa people in that it incorporates many words from the Kololo, Lomwe, Yawo and others who live among them.  No one really knows the percentage of the Nyanja speakers in Malawi that are Chewa and Mang'anja.

Political Situation:  Malawi became a multi-party democracy in 1994.  The three major political parties are somewhat aligned along regional lines.  The Mang'anja basically identify with the ruling party whose strength is the Southern Region.

Customs:  The Mang'anja are characterized by great hospitality as evidenced by their receiving so many different peoples to live among them.  Traditionally the Mang'anja do not marry young, as the young people must demonstrate their ability to live as adults.

The young men do this by building their own houses, preparing their fields, and making their own hoe and axe handles.  The young women have to demonstrate to the elders of the community that they can garden, cook, and care for a home.

Religion:  The Mang'anja have traditionally worshipped the spirits of their ancestors.  While Christianity is replacing ancestral worship, the traditions of the ancestors still strongly influence the Mang'anja people in their everyday lives.

Christianity:  In the Mang'anja tradition of exceptional hospitality, they have received missionaries and the Gospel message with open arms (or "with two hands," as they would say).  Scottish Presbyterian missionaries started work among them in 1876.

At least three-fourths of them claim Christianity with Evangelical Christians comprising at least 15% of their total population, similar to the Chewa Nyanja people.

Missionaries report that the responsiveness of the Mang'anja people is a major reason why Malawi usually ranks in the top ten countries in the world in most church growth indicators.

Registry of Peoples code:  113951


Population:  11,000,000 (1996)
Doubling time:  25 years
Major languages:  Chewa, Nyanja, Tumbuka, Yao, Lomwe, Sena, Kokola, Tonga, Ngoni, Nkonde, and English  
Official languages:  Chewa and English
Capital city:  Lilongwe 690,000
Other cities:  Blantyre 870,000; Mzuzu 195,000; Zomba 117,000
Urban dwellers:  15%
Birth rate:  4.7%
Death rate:  2%
Life expectancy at birth:  Male 44 years, female 45 years
Labor force:  Approximately 6% or 660,000 are employed.
Refugees:  Somalis, Rwandan, Burundian

People names:  Maravi, Mang'anja, Nyanja

Countries where present:  Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania

Froise, Marjorie.  World Christianity: South Central Africa. Monrovia, California:  MARC, World Vision International, 1991.

Lindgren, N. E. and Schoffeleers, J. M.  Rock Art and Nayu Symbolism in Malawi.  Limbe, Malawi:  Malawi Government, Department of Antiquities, 1985.

Ntara, Samuel Josia.  Tr. W. S. Kamphandira Jere.  The History of the Chewa.  Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag GMBH, 1973.  

Pachai, Bridglal, ed.  The Early History of Malawi.  London, U.K.: The Longman Group Ltd., 1972.

-----.  Malawi: History of the Nation.  London: The Longman Group Ltd., 1973.

Rafael, B. R.  A Short History of Malawi.  Limbe:  Montfort Press, 1985.

Additional sources for statistics were the Malawi Census, Encyclopedia Britannica, World Bank Report, Survey of Handicapped Persons in Malawi, the National Statistical Office.

Sam Upton, Baptist Mission of Kenya
Orville Boyd Jenkins
August 1996
Last Update 19 August 2005

Copyright © 1996, 2005 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.
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