August 19, 2014

1194 MALAWI - A witch doctor and his utensils

The area of Africa now known as Malawi had a very small population of hunter-gatherers before waves of Bantu-speaking peoples began emigrating from the north around the 10th century. Although most of the Bantu peoples continued south, some remained permanently and founded ethnic groups based on common ancestry. By 1500 AD, the tribes had established the Kingdom of Maravi, which had broken up by 1700 into areas controlled by many individual ethnic groups.

The area was then British protectorate, from 1889 until 1964, when it gained the independence. Now Malawi's population is made up of many native ethnic groups, as the Chewa, Nyanja, Tumbuka, Yao, Lomwe, Sena, Tonga, Ngoni, and Ngonde, as well as populations of Asians and Europeans. Although most Malawians are Christians (68%) or Muslim (25%), many of the practices related to ancient religious beliefs have survived until today.

In many cases Christianity considers traditional beliefs to be incompatible or inferior, and as a result, these cultural values have dwindled, but this doesn't mean, however, that they don't have a place in contemporary Malawian spiritual life. For many Malawians, Western Christian beliefs are intertwined with traditional practices and beliefs. For example, many Malawian Christians consult traditional healers or even participate in the traditional beliefs of Gule Wamkulu.

Even if the indigenous beliefs make up only approximately 5% of the population, their influence is profound: nearly every market has a section or two for the local doctor's medicines, and Gule Wamkulu dancers are present at many funerals. Gule is an animistic religion common among the Chewa tribe in the central region. In Gule Wamkulu, leading dancers are elaborately costumed in ragged cloths, animal skins and usually a mask, all of which are designed to project the spirit they embody while dancing. The dancers form a secret society that follows stringent initiation practices and meets in cemeteries - a practice which sets them apart from ordinary Chewa.

It seems that strong majorities of Malawians of all faiths believe in witchcraft (with more than 75% saying they know witches in their community), and rely on traditional healers (witch doctors, medicine men) as a first choice when symptoms of disease appear. The true is that traditional healers are more empathetic and approachable than medical doctors, and community members have greater confidence in them. It should be made the difference between healers and witches, especially since there are even associations of healers, condemning witchcraft.

A witch (or wizard) is typified by certain common traits: witches and wizards are primarily seen as possessing the supernatural ability to make people sick or cause death. Persons accused of witchcraft are often subjected to physical abuse, their property and belongings vandalised or burnt, forced to undergo dangerous religious ceremonies or even killed. Many others languishing in prisons, although there is no article of law to justify this.

About the stamp
The stamp is part of the series Lake Malawi, issued on April 25, 2014, and containing ten stamps.

Malawi - Wikipedia
Religion - Friends of Malawi
Hunting the vulnerable: Witchcraft and the law in Malawi - Cosultancy Africa Intelligence
Malawi: Southern Region Traditional Healers Say Witchcraft Exists - All Africa

Sender: Emmanuel Chitanda
sent from Zomba (Malawi), on 25.07.2014


  1. Hi Danut,
    Some things I know about Malawi: it means “flames of fire” in their local dialect. It usually relates to their beautiful sunsets. Malawi is where you can spot the “big 5”. Lake Malawi is the 3rd biggest lake in Africa, and 9th biggest in the world. Also, Lake Malawi is a UNESCO world Heritage Site.
    Witch doctors, medicine men are a norm in Malawi. Their culture is not so much different in other places – some people still believe in faith healing, voodoo, and other supernatural phenomena.
    It seems that the online stamp catalogue I usually visit does not have this 2014 Malawi Stamp yet. I shall inform them of this stamp so they can include it in their online catalogue. Thanks for sharing!