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The Chewa

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Autor:   •  December 22, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  3,595 Words (15 Pages)  •  1,854 Views

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The Chewa originated in the country of Zaire, but they emigrated to northern Zambia and central Malawi where they now live. The Chewa people are the largest ethnic group in Malawi and live primarily in the Central Region. The Chewa established their first kingdom around the year 1480. There are presently over 1.5 million Chewa people throughout Malawi and Zambia, however they are not considered people of Malawi, nor people of Zambia, but people of the Nyanja group of Bantu. The major languages spoken by these people are Chewa and English, but they also speak Nyanja (they call their language Chichewa).This research will be on the Chewa people historical facts, traditions, and daily life of these people.

The Chewa people first originated in Malambo, a place in the Luba area of Zaire, where they emigrated to northern Zambia, and then south and east into the highlands of Malawi. They migrated to Malawi during the 14th or 15th century. Their settlement was somewhere before the end of the first millennium. The first Chewa kingdom was established sometime either before 1480 or after that time. By the 16th century there were two different systems of authority, one controlled by the Banda clan at Mankhamba, and the other by the Phiri clan at Manthimba. By the 17th century, around the time the Ð''Malawi' state became unified, the Portuguese made contact with the Chewa. Portuguese never reach the heartland of the chiefdom, but they had well documented records that occurred between 1608 and 1667. By 1700, several Ð''Malawi' dynasties had consolidated their positions to various parts of central Malawi. The Chewa people had distinguished themselves from their neighbors through language, by having special tattoo marks called "nembo", and coordinated a religious system based on the nyau secret societies.


By the 1500s, the Phiri were the paramount family. They ruled over several semi-independent chiefdoms in the eastern part of Central Africa. The Phiri people were known as the Maravi, or the "fire flames". The controlled trade in fine cloths, foodstuff, iron goods, ivory, craft items, salt, slaves, and precious metals. All the trade with the outsiders had to pass the royal capital. The Maravi received tribute from their people. The carcass of every killed elephant, the tusk that lay upon the ground and "touched the king's land" was taken to the regional chief, who passed it on to the paramount chief. He could trade it for cloth or slaves with a trader. Hunters also gave items to the chief such as red feathers of certain birds and the skins of lions and leopards. The poison parts of animals were given to the chief because he was considered immune to their lethal power.

Much of the wealth of the Maravi, just as for the Chewa people today, came from farming. The earth in their country was very fertile, and local farmers often produced surpluses for trade. Land was considered very precious. Paramounts distributed land among local chiefs who allocated it to village headmen. Food and other goods were stored to help the poor, to give as gifts to loyal local leaders, to entertain visitors, or during festivals.

The Maravi federation was at its peak during the 1600s and as it grew, it became difficult to control the more distant territories. Paramount chiefs began to run out of land to give out to new chiefs. Competition for trade and the invasion of new groups into the new region combined to break down Maravi power. By the 1700s, the Maravi federation had broken into rival chiefdoms. The Chewa are a core group that separated from the Maravi. Indivisual chiefs preferred to deal directly with Portuguese and Muslim traders in their area, rather than share wealth with the paramount chief. The Maravi continued as it weakened in the 1800s.

The Maravi rules "sold-off" disobedient subjects to slavers. They bought slaves as wives for loyal chiefs. As the Maravi Empire declined, slave hunters from the east coast of Africa began to capture slaves in Maravi territory. At the same time there was an increased demand for slaves in Egypt, Arabia, and the Persian Gulf. The slave trade had a devastating effect on African societies and their relationships with their neighbors. The Yao people lived to the east and south of Lake Malawi and had mostly become Muslim.

By the 1800s, the Yao people had become specialist in slaving and were armed with guns. From the 1830s on, the region were invaded by herds of warlike Ngoni people who were fleeing the rule of Shaka, the Zulu king in South Africa. The were organized into the military system developed by Shaka Zulu. They moved until they reached Malawi and Tanzania. They drafted young men of the people they conquered, including the Chewa people, to join their army. In the beginning they welcomed the Yao as protectors against the invading Ngoni. But the Yao slave traders began to capture slaves from the Chewa territory.

The Chewa befriended the Ngoni, because their military efficiency was useful in fighting off Yao slave traders. In 1850, a Ngoni splinter group, Maseko Ngoni, settled among the Chewa people. They forced the people to adopt their dress, dances, fighting techniques, ad marriage rules for the Ngoni. Later on, the Ngoni adopted the Chewa language and some other Chewa customs.

After the abolishment of slavery, it signaled a new era for Africans: the era of English domination. In the 1800's, they were described to the Portuguese explorers by locals as Ceva, meaning "strangers". David Livingstone traveled to the Lake Malawi region between 1858 and 1863. He sent reports about the ravages of the slave trade back to England. He encouraged the British to take control of the region and stop the trade. The Scottish and other missionaries followed him and laid groundwork to colonial domination by converting Africans to Christianity and introduced them to Western ways. By the 1890's, the Chewa land was under the control of the British Central Africa Protectorate. Britain remained in control until 1964 because of their usage of abolishing slavery. It was a great relief to many African societies, which had been severely disrupted by the curse of slavery.

During the Maravi federation, the Nyau Society united men across the divisions of families, clans, villages, and chiefdoms. It was also a political pressure group that kept the power of matrilineal groups and chiefs in check. The Nyau were scorned by missionaries and banned by the British, who seized Nyau masks and drums. As a result, they operated underground for many years. Nyau became a popular form of protest against the colonizers.

Unlike other English colonies, the area around Lake Malawi attracted few settlers. It had little mineral wealth,


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