Nyau dancers at the 2012 Kulamba Traditional Ceremony, Katete.

The Chewa’s Festival for the dead.

Africans are known for their strong cultural believe and practice, some of which can be inhuman and outright weird. The Chewa’s festival for the dead definitely marks as one of those practices that shock many.

The Chewa community is a Bantu tribe mostly found in Malawi. During the burial ceremony of a tribe member, it is customary for the body of the deceased to be washed. The corpse is taken to a sacred place where the cleansing is done by slitting the throat of the  dead and pouring water through the insides of the dead and extracted through the anterior region of the dead body . The water is then collected and used to prepare a meal for the whole community as they believe that the dead has been cleaned up of his or her iniquities. 

It was also reported that such practice of cleansing the dead, serves or helps in the spreading of some infections and deadly diseases in the Chewa community.

When someone dies, the whole village shows up. This is because most of time, in the Chewa belief, death is not natural, it is usually caused by witchcraft. Since the Chewa believe that witchcraft only works on family members, those who might have killed a person would be scared to go to the funeral. It’s decreed that all family members must attend the funeral which means the whole village attends since they are generally all related.

Funerals are not just to mourn, they are also huge social parties, a reason to eat, drink beer, and meet people.

Chewa people of Malawi

The Chewa people are matriarchal Bantu-speaking ethnic group living Central, East and Southern Africa. They are found in Malawi (where they are predominant), Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The Chewa are closely related to people in surrounding regions such as the Tumbuka and Nsenga.

They are historically also related to the Bemba, with whom they share a similar origin in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As with the Nsenga and Tumbuka, a considerable part of Chewa territory came under the influence of the Ngoni, who were of Zulu or Natal/Transvaal origin. An alternative name, often used interchangeably with Chewa, is Nyanja. Their language is called Chichewa. Internationally, the Chewa are mainly known for their masks and their secret societies, called Nyau, as well as their agricultural techniques.

The Chewa people have a cultural, spiritual, and social background that distinguishes them from other ethnic groups in Malawi. When the name ‘Chewa’ is mentioned, what often comes in the minds of many people is a masquerade dance known as ‘Gule wa mkulu‘. Also known as ‘Bantu’, Chewa people have a population of about 1.5 million in Malawi and in neighbouring Zambia.

The Chewa (like the Nyanja, Tumbuka, Senga, Nsenga, Mang’anja) are a remnant of the Maravi (Malawi) people or empire.


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