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Cultural Festival Ceremonies

Initiation ceremonies (Transitional rites) - These are done only in the Central and Southern parts of the country and are known by different names depending on where they occur. Most of these ceremonies occur soon after harvest since a lot of feasting takes place which requires a lot of food. Chiefs, politicians and other leaders in the society are usually invited. Activities include erecting shacks/shelters for the boys, circumcision, and counseling. Anamkungwi or senior women act as counselors or instructors for the young girls who receive instructions on womanhood and as a result they turn into succulent young women ready for adulthood. Boys are also prepared for adulthood by angaliba (Mangochi), male counselors. Like the Gule Wamkulu (Chisamba) is for girls who have reached puberty. Invitation – is restricted to elderly women only not everyone is allowed to watch when the dance is in performance.The importance of the initiation ceremonies is to pass on values to young members of the society (the initiates) so that they grow up into young responsible adults when they start families of their own. Young women are given advice on simple rules of the society i.e. respect for elders and good manners in general.

Chief Installation ceremonies

landofsmilesThere is no specific day – depends on society’s need i.e. usually when a chief dies and there’s need for a new chief. So many different activities take place and government officials, politicians, the clergy, chiefs from surrounding areas are usually invited. Activities include performance of traditional dancers from that area e.g Msindo (Dowa), Chilimika, Chioda (Nkhatabay), Ngoma, or Ingoma (Dowa, Mchinji), Gulewamkulu (Lilongwe, Dowa, etc). Drama, Poetry are both part of the ceremony, sacrifices are also offered and feasting where advice is given to the new chief. A good example of a chief installation ceremony is the recent coronation (June 2008) of Paramount Chief Gomani IV of the Ngoni of Central Region of Malawi as depicted below.


Takes place once a year around September or October in Rumphi northern Malawi at Chief Katumbi’s Headquarters in Hewe area. Attended by chiefs from other areas and traditional dances are performed. It is the commemoration of Themba Katumbi as chief of Tumbuka people of Hewe area. This activity is important for cultural identity since it reminds the people of their historical background, the essence of being one people in celebrating their cultural identity.


Takes place once a year around August or September in Rumphi among the Tumbuka ethnic group of northern Malawi at Senior Chief Chikulamayembe’s Headquarters in Bolero. Gonapamuhanya is an annual event during which the Tumbuka people of Nkhamanga area in Rumphi commemorate the first Chikulamayembe. Gonapamhanya was the first Chikulamayembe to settle in the area where the Chikulamayembe chieftaincy is today at Bolero in Rumphi District in Northern Malawi. It is commemorated through recounting of the history, economic activities and lineage of Chikulamayembe as well as traditional dances e.g. malipenga, chioda, mchoma, vimbuza, mbotosya, chikweta. Dancers who are outstanding go home richer in the pocket and so much traditional beer and food consumed.

A cross section of guests are invited e.g. politicians, government officials, foreign dignitaries, chiefs from other area including those from Zambia since Rumphi shares borders with Zambia.
Themba la ma Themba Chikulamayembe who is the Paramount chief of the Tumbuka is carried on a special throne in an ox cart (but now seats on a chair at the back of a pick-up car) pulled by men to the place of activity. Gonapamuhanya ceremony is the hub of all cultural activities among Tumbukas and it unites all clans whilst celebrating their cultural identity which in a way preserves their cultural heritage.

Kulamba ceremony

landofsmilesThe Kulamba ceremony takes place on the last Saturday of August at Mkaika Headquarters of the Chewa Kingdom located in Katete District in Zambia. The ceremony involves participation of Chewa from Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique, who gather at Mkaika to pay tribute to their King Kalonga Gawa Undi. During the ceremony, lesser chiefs take turns to give reports on the state of affairs in the Chewa chiefdoms as well as presenting gifts to their King. The Chiefs also display traditional dances performed by the Chewa people. Traditional dances performed include: Gule wa Mkulu (declared by UNESCO as a masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage of humanity), likhuba, mganda, chisamba, likwata among other popular Chewa dances.

Kulamba is a Chewa word which means to pay respect or homage. The Kulamba ceremony was at some point banned in 1934 by colonial authorities but was resuscitated in 1984, and since then it has been celebrated every year.

N’cwala ceremony

Takes place once a year among the Ngoni of Mchinji in Malawi at Chief Mpezeni Headquarters, however, the Ngoni of Chipata in Zambia also celebrate a similar event.

Traditional dances

Music and dancing is an important part of our culture. Like in other parts in Africa, the people of Malawi have several musical instruments for different dances. These dances are perfumed at different occasions such as weddings, funerals, initiations, entertainments etc. In Malawi there are over eighty (80) traditional dances but described below are a third of the dances.


landofsmilesChilimika (meaning year) is performed mostly by the young Tonga women of Nkhata-Bay District in the Northern Region. At each New Year’s Day, young men and women congregate at the village arena to entertain the village with Chilimika. It is actually a very humorous dance. This dance hails the New Year and is performed at the beginning of each New Year. The dance is an imitation of Malipenga, which is mostly performed by men.

Gule wa Mkulu

landofsmilesAlso known as ‘the Great Dance’, Gule Wamkulu is performed at the request of the village headman on the occasion of funerals of village members, puberty initiations, and the installation of chief, and is part of the legacy of royal ritual inherited from the Chewa past. As such, Gule Wamkulu legitimates chieftainship by linking it to the old Chewa polities and by reproducing the symbolic elements of an older cultural order. Gule Wamkulu is today an essential feature of the Chewa people countryside. More than a dance forum, it is a men’s organization and ritual system that is woven into the fabric of the community. As a men’s organization, Gule Wamkulu manifests itself in two senses: - It is an ancestral dance performed by spirits and animals collectively called Zilombo (masked dancers) to perform at the chief’s invitation in his village in a less restricted sense. Gule Wamkulu is the widest community of male initiates. Ideally every Chewa boy is required to undergo initiation and thereafter considers himself a member of the Gule Wamkulu society. As a functional tradition, Gule Wamkulu provides the basic ritual needs of both men and women, both officiating at funerals, at puberty initiations and at the installation of chiefs. As a ritual system it consolidates a community around local chiefs and impresses on the community the conceptual categories that make its internal composition coherent.


landofsmilesLikhuba is a dance performed to cure psychological illness by women. It is largely an acrobatic demonstration of male prowess by the Sena of Lower Shire in the Southern Region. These days, the dance is performed for entertainment.


landofsmilesTchopa is a dance originally performed by the Lomwe during tribal wars as well as during sacrificial ceremonies when a calamity has struck. During tribal wars men used to dance informing the folks that they were back with news of victory. Tchopa is popular in Thyolo, Mulanje and Chiradzulu districts. It is now mostly performed for entertainment.

Uyeni is a Ngoni dance usually for girls who dance bare foot with their breasts exposed. It is mostly performed during the installation of chiefs. During the installation ceremony of Inkosi ya Makosi Kanjedza Gomani IV, Uyeni played a significant role and was part of the procession that accompanied the King to the Bwalo, the coronation ground.

Sacred sites ceremonies (Rain making ceremonies) The Mbona cult: The official Cult of the Lundu Paramouncy of the Southern Region of Malawi based at Khulubvi – Rain making, fertility rites were administered by Mbona. The Shrine was a symbol of authority such that who ever was in control of the Shrine was also in control of all the people bound to this shrine so – it provided both religious and political authority to this rulers. The people of the Sena defined this identity in terms of the Mbona cult. (Courtesy of UNESCO and the Department of Arts and Crafts)

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