chapter  4
62 Pages

Boys’ Initiation and the Nyau Fraternities

WithBrian Morris

In November 1990, a letter appeared in the Malawi nmes, suggesting that due to Christian influence, the initiation of girls in Malawi is ‘now history in most places’. The initiation of boys has a cultural salience and is an important aspect of the social life of all main communities in Malawi, Lomwe, Yao, Mang’anja and Chewa. Many people speak of the initiation lodge as a ‘school’, and the boys are always initiated collectively. Usually there are between ten and thirty boys in the lodge. A boy can sometimes be initiated into the nyau when quite young, perhaps around nine or ten years of age. The nyau is an ancient fraternity of men that is specifically associated with the so-called Maravi peoples. As with the girl’s initiation, the right to organize the nyau is held by the local chief, who is known as mwini mzinda, or mwini dambwe, owner/guardian of the village or the initiation site.