The Malawian people are, without doubt, its greatest asset: friendly and welcoming to a fault. Every visitor is met with a smile and the warmth of the welcome is genuine and long-lasting. With a population of a little more than 14 million, Malawi is one of the more densely peopled countries of this part of Africa. Most of the population is rural, living largely in fascinating traditional villages. Many of today’s Malawians are descendants of the Bantu people who moved across Africa and into Malawi for hundreds of years up to the fifteenth century.
This great video explores some of Malawi's beautiful scenery as well as it's especially warm-hearted people. The video is provided courtesy of Credit Suisse, who make an annual donation of US$1 million to the Roger Federer Foundation (RFF) with whom they are in partnership in developing a dynamic early childhood education initiative in Malawi. See here for more details.
There is a rich cultural mix in Malawi with the Chewa being the most numerous tribe. Others include the Yao, the Nyanja and the Maravi. In the north the Tumbuka are prominent. Each tribe has contributed to the modern Malawi scene, whether it be in dress or dance or language. Masks are commonly used in various dances and ceremonies and these are usually tribe-specific, the best known being the Gule Wamkulu, performed by the Nyau of the Chewa. Traditional (African) doctors still attract many people and the two main ‘modern’ religions, Christianity and Islam, frequently exhibit a continuing adherence to traditional beliefs.
All travel in Malawi will include some element of cultural experience as interaction with local people is very much part of any stay. A visit to a local village can easily be arranged at most lodges or hotels, whether they are in a town, forest reserve, National Park or on the lakeshore. These are always real villages, whose residents have an established relationship with the lodge in question, and who welcome the interest from visitors in their daily life. One of the best Cultural Experiences to be found in Malawi is in the Ntchisi Forest Reserve.
In terms of specific places of cultural and historical interest, Malawi has a few, including original mission stations and centres of excellence for handicrafts. Of its modern-day larger towns, Blantyre, Zomba and Mangochi have a number of historical buildings, monuments and museums. Lilongwe and Mzuzu are of interest for their markets and in the case of the latter, to see the division between the Old Town and modern Capital City. If visiting Blantyre, take the time to visit The Society of Malawi. Situated in the historic Mandala House, the society protects a true treasure trove of the country's history. With thousands of books and resources safely stored away, it provides an opportunity to find out a bit more about Malawi that perhaps many tourists don't ever discover. For more information about the society, please click here.
Along the Lakeshore, Monkey Bay and Nkhata Bay are bustling ports, whilst Nkhotakota is of historical significance and now has a renowned pottery. The link between missionaries and the Lake is strong, with sites of the Livingstonia Mission marked by graves at Cape Maclear and Bandawe, near Chintheche, before it reached its final and current location near Chitimba in the north. Across the Lake, Likoma Island is a wonderful place to interact with local people, and also see its magnificent missionary-built Cathedral – the same size as Winchester’s.
Artistic skills, old and new are on show in and around Dedza. North of the town is the Chongoni Rock Art area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the densest cluster of stone age rock art found in central Africa. And at the edge of the town is the Dedza Pottery, where today’s artists and craftsmen can be viewed producing a variety of items then found all round Malawi or sold for export. Artistic skill is also on display at Mua Mission, almost directly down the escarpment from Dedza. Mua is a mission station whose students create the finest wood carvings in the country, if not the whole of Africa, and is also home to a fascinating cultural museum.
The large agricultural estates, sugar at Dwangwa and the Lower Shire Valley and tea at Thyolo are interesting places to visit also. As well as being able to see the daily workings, the tea estates in particular have fascinating colonial histories.