The first inhabitants of Malawi are thought to have started settling around Lake Malawi about 10,000 BC. During the 16th Century AD there was a vast trading empire established by the Maravi people from whom the country derives its modern name. The first European to make contact with the area now known as Malawi may have been the Portuguese explorer Gaspar Bocarro, whose diary published in 1492 made reference to the great inland lake in central Africa. The slave trade which ravaged most of Africa from the 16th Century to the 19th Century also left its imprints on Malawi's historical development. The Arab slave traders arrived on the shores of Lake Malawi from Zanzibar Island in the Indian Ocean in search of slaves sometime after 1840 and were to continue until late 19th Century.

The history of modern Malawi is linked with the life of the Scottish missionary explorer, David Livingstone (1813-1873) who reached the lake he named 'Lake Nyasa" in 1859. Following his appeal to other missionaries to come and fight the slave trade in Central and East Africa, the first missionary expedition of the Universities Mission to Central Africa (UMCA) arrived in Malawi in 1861. However, it was not until 1875 that the first permanent mission station was established at Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi by the Free Church of Scotland.

In 1876, Blantyre Mission was established. This is one of the main seats of what is now known as the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP). In 1884, the first European trading station was established in Karonga, Malawi's northeast point.

In 1891, the British Government declared a Protectorate over what was then known as Nyasaland Districts. This was later changed, in 1893, to the British Central Africa Protectorate and later Nyasaland Protectorate in 1907. The political struggle against British rule in Nyasaland, where the Africans were subjected to many unfair practices, came to a head with the uprising in 1915 led by John Chilembwe -- considered the father of Malawi's nationalism -- in Chiradzulu district. Although the uprising was not successful, the Africans' dislike of the British rule continued and, in 1944, the Nyasaland African Congress -- later changed to Malawi Congress Party under the leadership of Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda in 1959 -- was formed to mobilise the people to fight for their rights and ultimately achieve independence from Britain. In 1953, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was formed despite African opposition. This meant that the British Government had virtually transferred its protectorate responsibility over Nyasaland to the white settlers of Southern Rhodesia. But African resistance to the federation, spearheaded by the then Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia forced the British to shelve the idea. Constitutional talks for Malawi's independence were held at Lancaster House in London in July 1960 after which Nyasaland was allowed a Legislative Council. Nyasaland became an independent state of Malawi on July 6, 1964. Two years later, the country became a Republic with Dr. Banda as the first president.

Malawi is a small landlocked country in Africa, south of the Equator between latitude 9 degrees 45' and 17 degrees 16' South and between longitudes 33 degrees 35' east. It is 900 kilometres long, varying in width from 80 kilometres to 160 kilometres and covering an area of 118, 484 square kilometres. The country is bordered to the North and North-East by the Republic of Tanzania and to the East, South and South-West by the Republic of Mozambique. The Republic of Zambia forms the Western border.

The country is dominated by Lake Malawi which runs southwards parallel to the main strip of land. This magnificent body of water is 568 kilometres long and 16 kilometres wide, accounting for 20 percent of Malawi's total surface area. Malawi has a varied topography of mountains and rivers, which have a direct effect on the climate with temperatures ranging from 14 degrees Celsius to 24 degrees Celsius along the lakeshore and Shire River valley areas.

Malawi has two main seasons, the dry and the wet. The wet season extends from November to April. Rainfall can reach between 635mm and 3050mm, depending on altitude and position of the area. From May to August, it is cool and dry. July is mid-winter month. In September it is hot and dry with October and November as the hottest months with rains expected almost throughout the country.

The predominant vegetation of Malawi is the savannah woodland. Ever-green forests are found where ground water is plentiful as in river valleys and on mountains. Grasslands are found on high plateaus and river-basins.

Malawi has a population of close to 12 million with several ethnic groups. The Chewa are found in central Region. The Yaos are mostly found along the lakeshore districts of the Central and Southern regions. They are also found in Dedza, Machinga, Zomba, Blantyre and Chiradzulu. Lomwes are mainly found in the Shire Highlands areas of Thyolo and Mulanje while the Nkhonde, Lambya, Tonga and Tumbuka are found in the Northern Region. The Ngoni are found in both the Northern and Central Regions. All ethnic groups in the North along with the Sena of Chikwawa and Nsanje in the South are patrilineal. The rest of Malawians are matrilineal.

Malawi prides itself with a mosaic of unique cultural practices and norms. The main traditional dances and rituals as well as arts and crafts found among the people act as an identifying factor for the many but united ethnic groups of the country. The dances of Malawi, for instance, have deeper meanings than appears on the surface and, accordingly, efforts have been made to keep these intact as part of Malawi's cultural heritage and for posterity. As a way of achieving the goal of retaining the country's traditional values, the Museum of Malawi conducts a series of cultural activities in schools and public places so that those who have no contact with village life can benefit from facilities offered by the organisation.

The Malawi Government believes in cooperation between the State and religious organisations for the socio-economic development. It is in this spirit that the President Dr. Bakili Muluzi has always been present at major religious gatherings for all denominations in recognition of the central role that religious organisations play in all aspects of development. The president has also encouraged all religious bodies to set up universities, finances permitting, to help boost education in the country. Malawi has a variety of religious sects and denominations practicing their faith in total freedom and tolerance. It is estimated that about half of the country's population is Christian while Islam has more than 12 percent of Malawians as its adherents. Other faiths claim about 38 percent membership. Religious freedom has, in turn, made it possible for the faithful to cooperate and participate fully in nation building. The Jehovah's Witness Sect, proscribed in the late 60s by the First Republic regime, was unbanned at the dawn of multiparty politics. The annual National Day of Worship ceremony in July clearly demonstrates how close and cooperative the different denominations and the government are in that all the major religious groupings participate fully in the programme. As a result of the conducive atmosphere under which they operate, many religious organisations have indeed made numerous contributions towards Malawi's development in such fields as education and health.

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