History of Malawi

Map of the Mavari Kingdom at its height, c. 1650

The Republic of Malawi is one of the countries of southeastern Africa, and it was known as Nyasaland in the past. It shares borders with Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zambia, and Lake Nyasa is one of the most prominent features as it covers one-third of the country’s area. The capital is Lilongwe, and the name of the country is derived from Maravi, which an ancient name of the Chewa people who live in the region, Maravi itself is said to be the Chewa word meaning ‘flames.’ It has an interesting nickname: the Warm Heart of Africa. 


Archaeologists in 1991 in Malawi stumbled upon a jawbone that belonged to a hominid believed to have lived around 2.5 million years ago. It is believed that early human beings lived around Lake Malawi about 60,000 years ago. 

Remains of human beings dating to about 8000 BC revealed similar features to the humans living in the region today. Scientists are surmising that these early humans might have done the rock paintings found in places like Mphunzi and Chencherere. 

It is believed that the Bantu peoples moved into the region around the initial part of the Common Era, and they came with their method of agriculture. In the 10th century, more Bantu people migrated from the northern parts of the region. 

The Maravi Empire

Just as hinted in the section above, the country’s name was derived from Maravi, as in the Maravi Empire. The people who started the empire were good with iron smelting, and it is believed that the name ‘Maravi’, which means flames was a result of the numerous iron kilns that lit up the skies at night. 

The Amaravi people of Bantu extraction formed the Maravi Empire towards the end of the 15th century. With time, they became known as the Chewa. The Maravi Empire covered what is now much of Zambia, Malawi itself, and Mozambique, starting from the lower shores of Lake Malawi. The empire fell into decline at the beginning of the 18th century with infighting among the local chiefs alongside the expanding trade in slavery. 

Commerce and Invasions

The Maravi Empire was initially built on agriculture, but by the 16th century, traders from Portugal were the first to contact the tribes of Malawi. When the Maravi Empire was in existence, the local tribes directly accessed the coast via Mozambique. Through this coastal channel, they were able to conduct their trade in slaves, iron, ivory, and other items with the Arabs and the Portuguese. 

The Maravi Empire’s decline meant that other groups like the Angoni from what is now modern-day South Africa and the Yao soon took over. Around this time, Christian missionaries, colonialists, and figures like David Livingstone were solidifying their imprints in the area. Then there were also the Arabs who worked with their Swahili allies in the region. 

Rule by Britai

The British swung into action in 1883 when a consul of the British Crown was linked to the Kings and Chiefs of Central Africa. The British went further with the creation of the British Central Africa Protectorate in 1891. The name would be changed in 1907 from Nyasaland to Nyasaland Protectorate. 


Independence came for Malawi’s African nation on the 6th July 1964 with Hastings Banda as the leader, but he would soon be faced with dissent within his cabinet. The constitution was later changed, turning the country into a one-party state, and Banda emerged the first president. 

Post Independence Era

There was a declaration of Hastings Banda as president for life in 1970, and he fully consolidated his power in 1971. Banda ruled as a dictator, and he led the country with an iron fist. He ruled with so much repression that till today, the country is yet to recover. Censorship and human rights abuse were prevalent under his regime. 

Pressure from different sides led the people of Malawi to vote for multiparty democracy in the middle of 1993, with free elections taking place the next year, and Bakili Muluzi emerged as president. Bingu wa Mutharika became president in 2004, followed by Joyce Banda, Peter Mutharika, and Lazarus Chakwera, the current president. 

Malawi Today

The government of Malawi today is rolling out several policies to boost economic growth and make life better for the citizens. The country has considerable developmental challenges, but the people have the will to work towards a better future. Agriculture still plays a significant role in the country’s economy, with tobacco being the main crop. 

Other sectors of the economy include mining, manufacturing, tourism, energy, and infrastructure. Talking of tourism, Malawi is home to some of the most spectacular sites on the planet. Some of these include Lake Malawi, the third-largest lake in Africa, several national parks, and people’s distinctive culture with centuries of history. 

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