Funeral Customs of the Chewa in Malawi

by J-Touchette

Just over 13 million people live in Malawi which is about the size of Pennsylvania. This village is located on the edge of Lake Milawi in Malawi, Africa.

Close to 80% of the people in Malawi are Christians, with the next most popular religion being Muslim while approximately 3% of people believe in traditional beliefs.

Malawi is comprised of many different people, one of which is called Chewa. Within the Chewa in traditional villages, there is a secret society named the Gule Wamkulu, which is also the name of the dance they perform at various ceremonies. Commonly referred to as the Gule, this secret group performs at weddings, funerals, and other important ceremonies.

The Gule are both feared and respected for their believed animal state that they attain by wearing animal skins. While in this state, they are not to be approached for fear that they might drag a person to the cemetery for rituals.

When someone dies, the whole village shows up. This is because most of time, in the Chewa belief, death is not natural, it is usually caused by witchcraft. Since the Chewa believe that witchcraft only works on family members, those who might have killed a person would be scared to go to the funeral. It’s decreed that all family members must attend the funeral which means the whole village attends since they are generally all related.

Funerals are not just to mourn, they are also huge social parties, a reason to eat, drink beer, and meet people.

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