A free cultural life was only able to develop in Malawi after the authoritarian Banda regime was replaced in 1994. The cultural scene is clear and is largely determined by artists who have to pursue a full-time job.
In the country, African culture predominates, which is essentially based on the orally transmitted traditions of the individual ethnic groups. There is no such thing as a “Malawian” culture. The Banda regime had tried – successfully – to co-opt music and art for its political purposes and to bring the cultural sector into line. This was also evident in the language regime: besides Chichewa, no other ethnic language was taught or promoted in schools. They were also banned from the radio.
In the meantime, Western influences have begun to superimpose African culture in the rural regions as well. However, since the influence of modern media is limited, this development is still slow.
The secret men’s union of the Nyau and their cult Gule Wamkulu play an important role among the Chewa. The ritual dances belong to the intangible cultural heritage of humanity.
An essential part of Malawian culture is traditional dance, which was abused as a political propaganda tool during the Banda dictatorship (1964-94). The Vimbuza Healing Dance of the Tumbuka and the Tchopa of the Lomwe has been recognized by UNESCO as a Heritage of Humanity. Traditional instrumental music also has some significance. But the modern music scene also has a lot to offer. One of the best-known performers is Lucius Banda, who has been a member of the UDF parliament since 2014. His popular songsand concerts were temporarily boycotted by the state radio under the government of Bingu wa Mutharika for political reasons. Music festivals are also held, such as the famous Lake of Stars Art Festival. In 2009 the first international Malawian film festival was organized.
According to hyperrestaurant, regular theater performances by Malawian and foreign ensembles take place in the former French Cultural Center in Blantyre. While art has been free of political influence since 1994, it was still suppressed under the Banda dictatorship, as Harri Englund shows. In the performing arts, the Nanzikambe Theater stands out. The traditional art is known and appreciated beyond the country’s borders.
A Malawian-German art symposium was held for the first time in 2015 under the direction of the German artist Kris Heide. The paintings created by four Malawian and four German artists in Blantyre were exhibited under the name Myths of Malawi in Blantyre and Lilongwe. In 2016 the exhibition toured Germany and was shown in Hamburg, Berlin, Hanover and Tübingen.
Malawi is known for its wooden handicrafts, which are also very popular with tourists. The ceramic craft in Dedza is also remarkable.
The most important, also internationally known, author and poet in the country is Jack Mapanje, born in 1944. His best known works include: Of Chameleons and Gods (1991); The Chattering Wagtails of Mikuyu Prison (1993) and Gathering Seaweed: African Prison Writing (2002). He was arrested several times by Banda without charge because of his literature, which was also reflected in his works – especially in his autobiography “The crocodiles are hungry at night”, published in 2012. A good insight into ethnic traditions is provided by the plays, which were published in 2018 by Smith Likongwe under the title “The Chief’s Blanket”were issued. The Malawian activist Pacem Kawonga describes the difficult topic of domestic violence and dealing with HIV / AIDS in her autobiography “A Future for My Children”, which has also been available in German since 2015 (Original: Italian). In 2017, the former Norwegian ambassador to Malawi, Asbjörn Eidhammer, presented the book “Malawi – A Place Apart”, which is well worth reading, and in which he sometimes criticizes the donors.
Central Africana offers literature on Malawi – including valuable antiquarian editions.
The books by the Malawian doctor and writer John Lwanda, who lives in Scotland, are also recommended. He has also studied various aspects of Malawian music.
Malawi is shaped by Christianity. According to the evaluation of the last census from 2018, there are 77.3% Christians, of whom 14.2% profess the Protestant Church of Central Africa Presbyterians (CCAP), 17.2% the Roman Catholic faith and 45.9% others Churches such as B. Anglicans, Pentecostals, Seventh Day Adventists and a number of small and small Christian denominations.
In addition, there are 13.8% Muslims. The rest do not profess any official church. Traditionally there is a high level of religious tolerance among the Malawian population. The freedom of religion is respected by the state.
Both the CCAP and the Roman Catholic Church have well-developed national organizational structures. The Muslim Association of Malawi has social and partly also political weight in Malawi. Every Muslim is by birth a member of the organization, which – like the Christian churches – maintains educational and health facilities. There are other Muslim organizations. An Islamic university is being planned. Despite all tolerance, religious excesses occasionally occur, such as the pork ban in the Mangochi district, which is demanded by Muslims. The problem was then solved relatively noiselessly. In September 2016, the refusal of school girls to take off their hijab led to the short-term closure of a public primary school in Mangochi. The school was initially reopened by court order pending final clarification of the issue.
The tolerance between the religions is very high. There are no significant violent conflicts. Religion as a whole plays an important role in Malawi. Church services are usually well attended. In addition to belonging to the Christian faith or Islam, traditional rituals and cults of the dead continue to play an important role. As in most African cultures, witchcraft and black magic are found in Malawi. National hysteria almost broke out in October 2017 when people were hunted as alleged vampires and some were killed by the mob.