The mang'anja people are part of the Maravi group of people which previously occupied central and southern region of Malawi, southeast Zambia and northwest Mozambique. The name mang'anja is related to a lake or any large body of water, meaning to say that the mang'anja people are lakeshore dwellers. The homeland of the mang'anja extended from the southern shore of Lake Malawi to lower shire. The Mang'anja were harmonious and peaceful, loving people with non-military chiefs, due to this weakness they experienced numerous invasions. In the late 18th century the mang'anja were invaded by the Yao and the Ngoni people. The invasion led them to migrate to the western and central highlands. In the early 19th century, they were also invaded by the Lomwe people; this then led them to migrate to the lower shire. Presently, lower shire is the only place where the Mang'anja are living in large numbers. There was also another invasion by the Sena immigrants from Zambezi in the 19th century. The invasions which the Mang'anja people experienced influenced their lives, most of their beliefs and traditional dances are from the people who invaded them.
The mang'anja covered a large territory and each territory had a leader, paramount; each territory had chiefdom headed by a chief and each chiefdom had villages which were headed by a senior village headmen. Each village had smaller villages headed by village headmen. The mand'anja lived in extended families, and each family had the leader, maternal uncle, he was called mwini mbumba "owner of the family".
Among the mang'anja people if someone was to be selected a leader it can only be a person who has stayed in the village for long period "Nkhala kale" and his family "mbumba" is large. When the chief dies the following people are the legible heirs: younger brother of the deceased chief and elder son of his elder sister. The son of the chief was not legible to become a chief because the heir would have to marry all wives of the deceased chief. When all two heirs mentioned above are not available, the son of the deceased chief would be prepared for installation as the new chief, however he would not be asked to marry the wives of the deceased chief.
Beliefs and traditional practices of the mang'anja were influenced by Christianity; Catholicism and Protestantism and are still the present major life events.
Origin of Nyau
Once upon a time, there was severe famine in Malawi, it was so bad to the extent that married men wanted to eat their wives. It was hard for men to go direct and eat their wives, so they suggested that the men should first go to the forest to dress in leaves and bark, disguising themselves, then go back to the village and dance. The women highly praised them and that marked the birth of Nyau.
Mbona myth (rain maker)
The myth has several versions however all the versions have the same cause of Mbona's death as well as the same ending. Mbona was not a legible heir of chief Lundu and therefore he was never supposed to perform rain ritual dance. The entire legible heir performed the dance but rain did not fall. The elders of the village suggested that Mbona should perform the ritual dance and the chief agreed. In the process of Mbona's dance heavy rain felled and one of chief Lundu's son was killed by the lightening. Chief Lundu was angry with the death of his son, therefore he sent his men to kill Mbona. Mbona was killed by Lundu's men at a mountain and his blood turned into a river. Before he died he ordered the men to construct a shrine on the mountain. Every chief sent his regular offerings to the shrine to ask for rains.
Rites of passage
When the girls are at the age range between ten and sixteen, they undergo puberty initiation rite, called Chinamwali. Most initiations take place at the church or at an organised house, where some Christian instructions are offered. The novices are taught domestic chores, tradition customs related to sexuality and reproduction. They are instructed with elder women of the village and ceremony usually takes goes on for two to three weeks.
The boys rites take place in the bush, the usual age range of the novices are between nine and above. The boy's initiation is affiliated to the secret society "Nyau society". Boys are interested to join the initiation as to conquer the fear they hold for the Nyau, as well as avoiding the intimidation from the friends who have previously been initiated. The boys also know that women are interested dancers, and vice versa the boys like to see women dancing. Most boys are also forced into the initiation by their uncles.
On the day of the release, the novices are taken to the nearby river to take a bath. From the river, the novices and their guardians go straight to the chief where their parents pay money or any form of a gift offered to the chief. Upon their return from the river, the novices are accompanied by jubilation; Nyau dancing and giving money to the guardians of the novices.
Before marriage it is the parent's duty to ensure their children understand their duties. They make sure that their daughter/s know; how to cook, to draw water, gathering food and fruits, and smearing the floor. To that sons have to know; how to fish, to hunt, to cultivate crop, constructing a house, constructing a granary, thatching a fence and thatching a roof. When the children are able to perform all the above mentioned duties and they are initiated, then the parents allow them to get married.
When there is funeral in the village, all the people from the village mourn four three days. They bring corn flour, maize and chicken to prepare their meals through their days of mourning and to help the deceased's house hold. People sleep at the house, females sleep in the house while males sleep outside. On the day of the burial, the grandsons "adzukulu" of the deceased are in charge of digging the grave in the morning, to which the burial then takes place the afternoon the burial. A day after the burial, the grandsons of the deceased demolish the house and the roof is burned down.
Gule Wamkulu is also performed by the Chewa people. Tracing the Mang'anja ethnic group, it is realised that they descended from the Chewa chiefs of Uluwa in Zaire presently called Democratic Republic of Congo. The performers always masked men. Women and children, who are not yet initiated, participate by clapping hands and singing songs. Gule Wamkulu is usually performed at weddings, installation of a chief, funerals and initiation ceremony.
Figure 1: ine of the Gule wankulu masks
Figure 2: Gule wankulu
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