According to Countryaah, Malawi is one of Africa’s most densely populated countries; In 2019, the population density was estimated at 153 residents per km2. However, the population is unevenly distributed; more than half are in the southern region, while just over 10 percent are in the north.
The proportion of urban population was 17 percent in 2019, which is also clearly below the average for the region. The largest cities are the capital Lilongwe (1.2 million residents, 2018) and Blantyre (994,500).
For information on life expectancy and other demographic statistics, see Country facts.
Malawi’s population is dominated by matrilineal bantu people, including chewa (7.2 million), yao (1.2 million), nsenga (147,000), bguru or lomwe (250,000), nyanja(1.7 million) and tonga (214,000). They live on chopping mills (millet, sorghum, corn, vegetables) and small livestock. In some areas, big livestock management has also been introduced, especially where patrilineal people have invaded and where the tsetse fly allows. The matrilinear peoples are among the most prominent matrix centers in the so-called matrilinear belt across Central Africa. They count not only kinship, inheritance and succession to guardianship and political power along the maternal line. Usually, the newlywed couple also choose to settle in the wife’s village, under the supervision of her uncle (uxorilocal residence). Each village consists of 5-20 households belonging to a few different matrices of different land lines. Within each line of matrices, it is basically the oldest uncle who holds power in the family, but some room is given for rival leadership.
Against these heads of families, the village heads have a limited influence, even though their position is in principle guaranteed by a hierarchical political system, with a sacred chieftain at the top. In addition, since many married men try to establish their own family village as soon as they can (neolocation), at a proper distance from the wife’s uncles and brothers, the social organization of these peoples can be characterized as a constant process of change with strong elements of rivalry, negotiation and new establishment. In religious terms, contact with female ancestors is emphasized along the maternal line, and a female-oriented fertility symbol is central to the cult. The young girls are inaugurated into adulthood through initiation rites where the symbolization of woman’s fertility is prominent.
The native languages, which amount to just over ten, belong to the bantu languages (zones M, N, P and S). The largest is (chi) chewa, also called (chi) nyanja (about 35% of the population), which is also an inter-language and official language together with English.
About four-fifths of Malawi’s population is Christian. The largest confession among these is the Catholic Church, established in the country as early as 1561, with today about one-third of the population as members. Protestantism came to the area with the Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone. Around 1860 he explored the area, and his appeals for the fight against slave traders and for Africa’s Christian civilization became, after his death, a source of inspiration for Scottish missionary societies, which established Christian communities in northern and southern Malawi.
The Protestants are almost as many as the Catholics. The largest Protestant community is Central Africa’s Presbyterian Church, which began its operations in the country in 1875. The success of Christianity in the country is largely due to the patronage received by the British colonial powers that had conquered Malawi in the 1880s and 1990s. About 5% of the population practices traditional African religion. The country also has smaller groups of Anglicans, Baptists, Evangelicals, Seventh-day Adventists, Hindus, Baha’is, Rastafari and Jews. The Muslims, who make up about a tenth of the population, are mainly Sunnis, who came to the country in the 1860s.
The 1994 Constitution and other laws guarantee religious freedom, which also works in practice. Religious groups must be registered with the Ministry of Justice. By law, ether media is not allowed to broadcast programs that may offend believers. Public schools offer teaching Bible knowledge and a course in ethics and religion which includes material on Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Bahai. Participation in these courses is voluntary. In Malawi, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Id al-fitr and Christmas are national holidays.
- Follow abbreviationfinder to see what is the meaning of MW in geography. It can stand for Malawi. Click this site to see other possible meanings of this acronym.
The religious organizations play a major role in the country’s political, economic and social life. Organizations such as the Public Affairs Committee, the Muslim Association of Malawi and the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace work to strengthen human rights and to ensure that schooling is not confessional. Another organization, the Christian Health Association of Malawi, manages large parts of the country’s health care and the Malawi Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Affected by HIV and AIDS (MANERELA +) is working to increase access to health care and counteract the stigma of HIV/AIDS sufferers.