Chewa people and religion



The central area for the Chewa people is Lilongwe, Dowa, and Ntchisi, with many more living in Mchinji, Kasungu, Ntcheu, Salima, Nkhota Kota, and Dedza. As the Chewa are the largest ethnic group in Malawi, some are scattered throughout the country, but they live primarily in the Central Region.


The ancestors of the Chewa lived in what is now Zaire. They migrated to Malawi in the fourteenth or fifteenth century. The Chewa chiefs have been the traditional rulers of Central Malawi for many years. The first President of Malawi after independence from Great Britain in 1964, Dr. H. Kamuzu Banda, was a Chewa.


The Chewa are Negroid people of average size. In the past, the women scarified themselves, but this is now seldom done. As Malawi is 85 % rural, most of the Chewa people live in the many villages of Malawi.


The Chewa language uses the Roman alphabet and is closely related to other Bantu languages. The language is not only spoken in Malawi, but its use spills over into the bordering countries of Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique. Chichewa and English were made the official languages of Malawi in 1968.


The major life events of weddings, births, and funerals are very important in Chewa customs. These are often accompanied by traditional dancing and beer drinking. Nyau dancers form a secretive cult for men who dance at initiation rites and funerals.

Young Chewa boys grow up enjoying hunting for small animals and playing bawo, a game like chess. Young Chewa girls play house and are soon helping their mothers with domestic chores.


The Chewa have traditionally worshipped the spirits of their ancestors, but ancestral worship is being replaced by Christianity as the dominant religion among the Chewa. However, in times of sickness or worry, most Chewa people will still visit the local herbalist or traditional doctor for herbs or magical potions to cure their ills or solve their problems.


Dutch Reformed missionaries from South Africa began a Christian witness in the Chewa area of Malawi in 1888. The Chewa have come to be among the most responsive people in the world to the Gospel. They have received missionaries gladly and are very bold in sharing their faith with others. At least three-fourths of them would claim to be Christian. Evangelicals would make up at least fifteen percent of the Chewa population. The responsiveness of the Chewa is a major reason why Malawi usually ranks in the top ten countries in the world in most church growth indicators for countries where Southern Baptists have missionaries serving.