Chewa Religion

Doctrines It is believed by the Chewa that men, women, animals and all living things were created by God (Chiuta, Chauta) at Kapirintiwa, a mountain on the boundary between central Malawi and western Mozambique, during a thunderstorm. As a result of the storm, the rains softened the hard surface, but as it hardened again, their footprints remained engraved in the actual rock.
And while Chauta remains the creator god, the spirits of men and the wild animals converge in everyday life through the great dance (gule wamkulu), where masked forms represent wild animals, human beings, and spirits of the dead. In that sense, the living and the dead are in constant communication through dances, that take place at initiation, funerals, and funeral remembrances.

History The Chewa originated in Malambo, a place in the Luba area of Zaire, from where they emigrated into northern Zambia, and then south and east into the highlands of Malawi. This settlement occurred sometime before the end of the first millennium. After conquering land from other Bantu peoples, they regrouped at Choma, a place associated with a mountain in northern Malawi, and the plateau of northeastern Zambia. This is one of a number of different interpretations of the early history of the Chewa.
The first Chewa kingdom was established some time before or after 1480, and by the 16th century there were two systems of authority, one maintained by the Banda clan at Mankhamba (near Nthakataka), and the other by the Phiri clan at Manthimba. By the 17th century, when the 'Malawi' state had been unified, the Portuguese had made some contact with the Chewa. Although the Portuguese did not reach the heartland of the chiefdom, there are well documented records of contacts that occurred between 1608 and 1667.
By 1750, several 'Malawi' dynasties had consolidated their positions in different parts of central Malawi, however the Chewa had managed to distinguish themselves from their neighbours through language, by having special tattoo marks (nembo), and by the possession of a religious system based on the nyau secret societies.
Those societies came under immense pressure with the arrival of the Protestant and Catholic missionaries by the latter part of the 19th century, after the first expeditions of Dr. David Livingstone. Converts to Christianity were asked to cut kinship links with other Chewa, and were even buried in different graveyards. That situation continued throughout the British rule of the protectorate of Nyasaland, that had begun between 1889 and 1904.

Symbols Masked forms certainly represent the main symbolic representation of Chewa religion. The whole cosmological order of human beings, spirits and animals is represented through carved masks, or structures in the form of animals, that take part in their ritual dance. Representations of animal forms are also made of clay for the female initiation ceremony, and carried on the heads of the new female initiates.

Adherents There are over one and a half million Chewa in Malawi and Zambia, who by the fact of being born Chewa, take part in the ritual life of Chewa villages. However, the number of Chewa initiated into the nyau secret societies (male and female) is smaller.

Main Centre
 Central region of Malawi, Dedza, Kasungu.