The first peoples to live in the country now called ‘Malawi’ were the Kafula; Batwa and Mwandionerakuti. They were hunter/gatherers. Evidence of their existence can still be found near Dedza. With the coming of the Bantu, the peaceful existence of the Kafula ended.
After the 11th Century the Maravi came from what today is the D.R.C. The Maravi settled, firstly, in the North of Malawi. As they moved south they clashed with the Kafula, with victory for the Maravi. In the 19th Century, the Ngoni fled from wars with Shaka Zulu in South Africa. They passed through the Shire Valley. The Ngoni were feared by other tribes in Malawi for their fighting ability.
By this time the Yao had already migrated into Malawi. The Yao were cultivators and traders. By the middle of the 19th Century they were trading slaves, later becoming slave-raiders.
The first Europeans to enter Malawi were the Portuguese although they had no intention of settling in the country. David Livingstone travelled through Southern Africa in the mid-19th Century. In 1858 he unsuccessfully tried to charter the Zambezi River. In travelling up and down the Shire River he came upon Lakes Chirwa and Malawi in 1859. In 1861 the first missionaries, sent by Livingstone and under Bishop Mackenzie, arrived in the country. Livingstone last visited Malawi in 1866. He did not live long enough to see the end of slavery in the country.
By the late 19th / early 20th Centuries the Yao had become converted to Islam in large numbers. The chiefs’ ‘Islamisation’ owed much to their belief that it would increase unity among their people. Slave trading, Raids by the Ngoni and tribal wars were very much a feature of Malawi in the late nineteenth century. The Europeans working in Malawi continually asked the British government to establish a protectorate. In 1891 this was finally realized under the leadership of Harry Johnston. In 1893 the country’s name was changed to the ‘British Central Africa Protectorate’. By 1895 Johnston had defeated those Yao, Ngoni and Mlozi chiefs who were the main slave traders. As a result slave trading came to an end in Malawi.
With growing European influence came the increased use of money for trade and taxation. Migrant labour became yet a further feature of life for Africans in Malawi at the time.
The First World War saw the death of many Africans and the government’s refusal to look after war widows. It was this that caused the rising of 1915, led by John Chilembwe. The rising took place in January. Chilembwe was killed yet, despite its initial failure, the rising has subsequently been seen as the forerunner of the campaign for independence.
The following years saw the establishment of ‘Native Associations’ whose aims were to improve the lives of Africans. Their motto was ‘Unity is Strength’. The white settlers also saw strength in unity so, despite African opposition, the Central African Federation was established in 1953.
One of the most prominent opponents of federation was Hastings Kamuzu Banda. In July 1958 he returned to Malawi. He became President -General of the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC), the foremost anti-federation organisation. He and other congress leaders were arrested in 1959 which led to rioting in Malawi. Banda returned to Malawi in 1960. The NAC had been replaced by the Malawian Congress Party (MCP), led by Banda. The MCP won elections in 1961 and 1964. By now independence seemed an inevitability and this was achieved on 6th July 1964.
Banda ruled Malawi for thirty years. His rule became increasingly autocratic and repressive. In 1992 a pastoral letter issued by Catholic bishops criticised Banda. It was a turning point. Opposition parties came in to the open and mounting pressure from abroad helped force Banda to hold a referendum on the future of multi-party democracy. The referendum, held in June 1993, witnessed a majority of Malawians calling for multi-party democracy. Parliamentary and presidential elections were held in May 1994 with victory going to Bakili Muluzi and the United Democratic Front (UDF). The UDF won further presidential elections in 1999 and 2004.