A vast empire once stretched from the coat of Mozambique to central and south Malawi and even southern Zambia. The Maravi empire, meaning ‘people of fire’, lasted between 1500 and 1700. With the arrival of British missionaries, this land was declared British protectorate and renamed Nyasaland, referring to the Nyasa people hailing from the banks of Lake Nyasa in present-day Malawi. Gaining independence in 1964, the country changed its name to Malawi in honour of their Maravi ancestors and adapting it to the Western pronunciation.
It is fair to say that many people would have heard of Malawi through the story of Madonna’s adopted child. Here a young Tumbuka woman named Venus is happy to introduce us to Malawi and tell us a different story about her native country.
Between land and lake, this landlocked country is also nicknamed ‘the warm heart of Africa’. Just like many African nations, Malawi is made up of a rich cultural diversity with more than 10 ethnic groups co-living. Venus proudly states that she is from the northern region of Rumphi. This is where the mountainous landscape would take someone’s breath away and where lots of happy memories come back the mind for Venus who misses the Malawian lifestyle and her summers spent bathing in the lake. Venus says “in the North, the Tumbuka are originally a group of cattle raisers and now they depend heavily on education. Also compared to other Malawians, they mostly focus on getting rid of evil spirits making them fond of witchcraft.”
Venus also carries the Chewa name of Tamikani meaning ‘Give praise’. The Chewa people are another main group based in the central region of the country where the capital, Lilongwe, is located. At the age of 7, Venus arrived in the capital city where she learned the Chewa language until she moved to Harare, capital of Zimbabwe. She describes this region where “traditional dances are important and people depend on farming. It is there where they grow tabacco exported around the world contrasting with the southern regions of Malawi that cultivate and export high quantities of tea.” Although they present cultural differences, Venus reminds us that in the warm heart of Africa “people are welcoming, they treat you as if you are part of them and they try to find someone who can speak your language to interact with you. People share food with you.” Malawian cuisine is known to be tasty and not only does the food taste good but almost all Malawian families possess a plot of land to grow their own food. “Lake Malawi has apparently the largest variety of fish and just a dish of fish with rice tastes so good!”
Mostly Catholic with a visible Muslim minority, Malawians’ beliefs extend to the vision that their first president, Dr. Banda Hastings, had for the country. At their independence in 1964, Dr. Banda Hastings gave the current name of the country and united Malawians under his government. Venus adds “I haven’t experienced those years when he was in power but I heard that people today still believe in his policies and some say that if he was still alive Malawi would have been a stronger nation.” The transition to independence never plunged Malawi into a civil war and in 1971 Dr. Banda Hastings was declared ‘president-for-life’. Although authoritarian, he protected his people from armed conflict and all Dr. Banda’s money was ploughed back into developing Malawi and used to build of a reputable boarding school called Kamuzu Academy.
After completing a Bachelor at the South Africa Monash Campus, Venus arrived in Australia in February 2014 to start a Master of Logistics. Her dream is to bring her expertise to Malawi but first she sees Australia as an opportunity to build on her experience and draw on Australia’s expertise in logistics. “In Malawi we have coal mines and the research shows that there are poor internal operations to bring production to consumers.” She plans to go back to Malawi to improve the logistics of the coal mining sector which would be an economic plus for the country.