Africa Guide

Chewa People


The actual dictionary meaning of the word Chewa is 'a member of the Bantu-speaking people of Malawi.' The Chewa, also known as the Cewa or Chichewa is an African culture that has existed since the beginning of the first millennium, A.D. They are primarily located in Zambia, Zimbabwe, with the bulk of the population in Malawi. Their climate can be classified as sub-tropical that varies with elevation. In the lowlands, the average temperature ranges from 21C (69F) to 29C (84F). The rainy season exists from November to April with an annual rainfall of 90 inches in the highlands to about 30 inches in the lowlands.

The Chewa originated in the country of Zaire, but they emigrated to northern Zambia and central Malawi where they now live. The Chewa established their first kingdom around the year 1480. In the 17th century, the Portuguese recorded having had contact with the Chewa clans, the Banda and Phiri. Although the Portuguese didn't get to the heart of the Chewa culture, they did record having contact with them. They have well documented records of their contact with the Chewa between 1608 and 1667. This was the first recorded encounter with the culture. During the mid 18th century, the country of Malawi began to fill with several different cultures and dynasties. The Chewa distinguish themselves from the other cultures by their distinct language, specials tattoos, and the possession of secret societies.

They speak a language called Chichewa, Chinyanja or Banti, which is one of the widely used languages of Malawi.

Daily Life
The bulk of their economy comes from swidden or slash-and-burn agriculture. The main crops that are produced are corn and sorghum. They usually live in compact villages. The village hierarchy is lead by a hereditary headman and supplemented with an advisory council of elders. The Chewa people believed that all living things were created by God (they called Chiuta, or Chaunta) on a mountain named Kapirintiwa, during a thunderstorm. Presently, the mountain sits on the border between Malawi and Mozambique. Although they believe in the one creator God, they also believe that the spirits of men and animals come in contact with the living. They believe that the living and the spirits are in constant contact with each other through dance.

Although many people have had contact with the people of the Chewa culture, they still maintain their ancestral beliefs and customs. Everything from their location to their language to their religious beliefs, the Chewa have managed to remain very distinct from other African cultures.

Information kindly provided by Emuseum - Written by: Andrew Gislason

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