Maravi people


Maravi / Nyanja / Mang'anja

Maravi was a kingdom which straddled the current borders of Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia, in the 16th century. The present-day name "Maláŵi" is said to derive from the Chewa word "malaŵí", which means "flames".

The Maravi (Nyanja) people are most often called the Mang'anja in Malawi.  The Mang'anja are located primarily in Chikwawa in the Shire River valley in southern Malawi.  Large numbers of them also live in the neighboring districts of Thyolo, Mwanza, Zomba, and Blantyre.


The Mang'anja are Bantu people of the Negroid race. Traditionally they make two tattoo marks on each side of their faces between the ear and eye.  However, this practice is dying out.  As Malawi is 88 % rural, most of the Mang'anja work as farmers in the rural area of southern Malawi.  The area receives inadequate rainfall two out of three years making farming very difficult.

Maravi people map


The Mang'anja were part of the large Nyanja migration from central Zaire to Malawi in the fourteenth or fifteenth century.  They traditionally have been open to accepting outsiders to live in their area.  

When Dr. David Livingstone first came up the Shire River, some of his Kololo helpers settled among the Mang'anja.  The Kololo had guns which enabled them to defeat Chief Chibisa.  Thus the Kololo leaders became the chiefs of the Mang'anja people and intermarried with their women.  

The Mang'anja have received many immigrants from other tribes fleeing famine or war.



The  Mang'anja dialect of the Nyanja language is written with the Roman alphabet.  It differs from the Chichewa of the Chewa people in that it incorporates many words from the Kololo, Lomwe, Yawo and others who live among them.  No one really knows the percentage of the Nyanja speakers in Malawi that are Chewa and Mang'anja.


Political Situation

Malawi became a multi-party democracy in 1994.  The three major political parties are somewhat aligned along regional lines.  The Mang'anja basically identify with the ruling party whose strength is the Southern Region.



The Mang'anja are characterized by great hospitality as evidenced by their receiving so many different peoples to live among them.  Traditionally the Mang'anja do not marry young, as the young people must demonstrate their ability to live as adults.  

The young men do this by building their own houses, preparing their fields, and making their own hoe and axe handles.  The young women have to demonstrate to the elders of the community that they can garden, cook, and care for a home.



The Mang'anja have traditionally worshipped the spirits of their ancestors.  While Christianity is replacing ancestral worship, the traditions of the ancestors still strongly influence the Mang'anja people in their everyday lives.