Sunday, April 3, 2016


Several years ago, I read about Madonna’s nonprofit charity Raising Malawi. The program aims to help the state of extreme poverty in the country by focusing on education and health care. The nonprofit has erected several schools and healthcare facilities, and as far as I could tell from the website, it has made some impacts. Of course, there have been plenty of criticisms as well. Even though there are some obvious problems with poverty and lack of adequate healthcare in Malawi, I have a feeling there’s more to this country than this. So, I can’t wait to find out more. 

The name Malawi may be derived from a word meaning “tongues of fire” possibly in references to the way the sun reflects off of Lake Malawi. However, the first president of Malawi, Hastings Banda, said during the time the country was known as Nyasaland (“Nyasa” means “lake”), that he once saw a “Lac Maravi” on an old French map, and it got him thinking. He decided “Malawi” would make a better name. 

Malawi is a landlocked country in southeastern Africa. It’s surrounded by Tanzania to the northeast, Mozambique covering most of the southern parts, and Zambia on the northwest side. Lake Malawi runs along its eastern border with Tanzania and Mozambique. It also includes the island of Likoma that is located in Lake Malawi and actually closer to Mozambique than Malawi. The southern part tends to be hotter than the more temperate northern regions. 
Hastings Banda

The original inhabitants were Bantu-speaking people who migrated here from northwest Africa. There were several tribes here who united and created the Kingdom of Maravi. During the 1600s, they worked with the Portuguese traders, but by the 1700s and 1800s, large numbers of people were caught up in the Swahili-Arab slave trade. In 1859, David Livingstone reached the shores of Lake Nyasa and decided that was a great place for Europeans to settle. In the following years, missionaries and trading companies began to settle in the area and set up their own towns. In the late 1800s, the land known as the Shire Highlands was placed as a British Protectorate which was later expanded to include the entire country, renaming it as Nyasaland. The African nationals created a group to present their own interests to the British government. During the early 1950s, the British combined Nyasaland with Northern and Southern Rhodesia (mostly modern day Zimbabwe) and renamed the entire area the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. As they gained independence, Hastings Banda was declared the first prime minister of the country and renamed the country Malawi. Since its independence, the country had its struggles economically and politically and is trying to overcome poverty and strengthen their economic ties. 

The capital city, Lilongwe, is named after the Lilongwe River. It’s located near the central region of the country, not far from the border with Mozambique and Zambia. The city itself is divided between the Old City and the New City. There’s a definite distinction between the modern shops and the old walled sections of the city. Several smaller local markets are spread throughout the city. And because of the number of tourists in Lilongwe, you can find a number of diverse cuisines. As far as transportation goes, there is an international airport, regular bus service, and there’s also a limited rail service. The city does have a sports stadium as well. Although the city is the fgovernmental center of the country, the financial and commercial capital is located in Blantyre. 

Malawi has its struggles. It’s among the least developed countries in the world. The vast majority of its people live in the rural areas, and its economy is largely based on agriculture and especially tobacco, tea, and sugar. It also depends on foreign aid and aid from the World Bank and the IMF. Although the country battles high unemployment and poverty rates, there are some small strides being made, but they tend to be few and far between at times. 

Because of Malawi’s history with Britain, it is a majority Christian country. Of the Christian population, the largest denomination is Roman Catholicism with a number of other smaller denominations present as well. About a quarter of the population is Muslim, mostly Sunni. Of course, there are also a significant number of Baha’is, Hindus, Rastafarians, Jews, atheists, and people who practice traditional African religions. 

While the official language is English, there are many local languages spoken throughout Malawi. The majority of Malawians speak Chichewa although Chinyanja, Chiyao, and Chitumbuka also have large numbers of speakers. 

I’m a fan of the Danish beer Carlsberg and have been for some time. In 1966, the Danish Foreign Minister took a trip to Malawi, and when he returned he had this idea that Carlsberg should open a brewery there. It didn’t take terribly long for the negotiations to manifest itself, and two years later, Carlsberg built their first brewery outside of Denmark in the city of Blantyre, Malawi. (And now I’m craving a Carlsberg.) All I know is that there are a lot of interesting things I’ve already come across in reading about this country. So let’s find out what Malawi is really all about.

Up next: art and literature

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