Nyanja people

Nyanja - Maravi

Maravi / Nyanja / Manganja / Marave

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 Maravi (Marave) people live today in Mozambique, near Lake Nyasa, and in the east, along the Luanga River in Tete Province. They can also be found in Malawi, eastern Zambia and Zimbabwe.

There are a number of major subgroups of the Maravi, including the Nyanjas of Lake Nyasa. the Chewas of Capoche and Angonia, the Tsengas of Tete District, and the Chires, Mutararas, Chipetas, Zimbas, and Makangas.

Nyanja People

The Maravi (Marave) people gradually began leaving the Congo in the sixteenth century, under the leadership of one Karongo; they migrated in a southeasterly direction to their presents locations.

Today, the Maravi population is approximately 10,816,600 in 6 countries (Peoplegroups.org, 2024)



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 Maravi People

The Maravi Kingdom

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 kingdom, which took up parts of what are now Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and eastern Zimbabwe, was a vibrant society of skilled administrators, ivory traders, healers, sages and metallurgists. It began with the tribes of the Banda, Mwali, Nkhoma and Phiri, and would eventually include other tribes. 

The kingdom dates to the 13th century, with large-scale migrations of related clans settling in the Lake Malawi region, attracted by its natural abundance. The migrations continued for hundreds of years, peaking probably by the 16th century.

Historians say the actual kingdom was established about 1480 and mostly was dissolved by 1891. But most of what is known about the kingdom comes from oral histories, memorized and passed down from generation to generation.

The Maravi kings, called Karongas, had elaborate rituals to mark the passage of time.

The Karongas, also known as the Kalongas, ruled from Manthimba, in what is now central Malawi. The religious capital of the kingdom was Mankhamba.

The trading of ivory and iron was a major part of the Maravi economy, with traders shipping it to Swahili brokers on the southern coast of the continent, and later, to Portuguese merchants. Eventually Arab merchants also became involved.

In the 1590s, the Portuguese tried to take control of the ivory and gold trade for the region with disastrous results: The Maravi dispatched their Zimba (marauders), who raided several Portuguese trade towns.

The kingdom’s decline began when some clan leaders started trading directly with Portuguese, Arab and Swahili merchants. The clan leaders became increasingly independent of the central authority of the Karonga. By 1720 the confederacy had broken into several autonomous factions.

Another major blow to the empire came indirectly from Shaka Zulu, the leader of the Zulu people in the 19th century, whose empire grew to 210,000 square kilometers. Two powerful groups, the Angoni and Ngoni, arrived in the Maravi kingdom from what is modern-day South Africa in a great migration known as the Mfecane. They were fleeing Shaka Zulu, and they became a powerful force in the kingdom, marrying Maravi women and recruiting men into their armies.  

The influence of the region went into a steep decline. Slave trade became a problem. Arab and Christian influences grew in the region, with Protestant missionaries arriving in the 1860s, along with Islam, introduced by Swahili slave traders. A British consul arrived in 1883.

Today, Maravi people, also known as Nyanja people, can be found in Malawi and Mozambique. They speak a Bantu language and are considered to be part of the Chewa ethnic group.




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.