The Wawa Philosophy. About the culture of the Ngonis of Malawi

Essay, 2018

7 Pages

Free online reading

Table of Contents


Chapter One
The brief Origin of the Ngonis
Ngonis and their modesty and courtesy
The Ngoni greeting

Chapter Two

Zikomo /Wawa



Each culture or tribe has its own peculiar characteristics which a person can distinguished it from another. It is highly true that most cultures resemble in their tradition but there is that particular essence that builds up that particular culture. However, these elements are not just part of it that came from nowhere. There was and must be something that brought it to be, and this we call the philosophy of the people.

To give an explicit demonstrational sentiment of some practices and their origin, I would start with the etymologies of words from different cultures. First and foremost, in Chewa there is a word ‘ mbingwani ’. This refers to a big log. How did it come to be? Well, generally it comes from the English word ‘big-one’. It is believed that when an English man was instruction some fellas to carry the logs, he also mentioned that, ‘Take the big one too’. The other fellow telling his friend, he reported that the white man called the big log ‘mbingwani’.

Another vivid example is about the place called ‘Tsangano’ in Malawi. the original name was to be ‘Nhlangano’. The Chewa speaking people who the Maseko Ngoni found in Ntcheu clearly could not be expected to pronounce the uniquely Nguni pronunciation of ‘Nhla’. ‘Nhlangano’ means a meeting place, and is an actual place and town in present day Swaziland.[1]

Chapter One

The brief Origin of the Ngonis

The Ngonis of different countries like Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania, trace their origins from the middle 1800. Maseko Ngoni originated from Swaziland while the Jele Ngoni originated from Zululand. We have no traits of their culture originally for the time they reached Malawi, they already found the Chewas who were already. It is only clear that after sometime, the Ngoni dialect died off and currently there are few individuals who can speak it and all the rest speech Chichewa.

Ngonis and their modesty and courtesy

However, the Ngonis were and are still known with respect and courtesy, despite their quarrelsome attitude. A lot of people for a long time have admired Ngoni women and have been recommended to marry such. Their women are hard-working people and very respectful to their husbands.

The Ngoni greeting

The Ngonis have a very familiar greeting of everyday life. Their origin greeting vanished as they spoke Chewa. The children always are trained to greet the elder and revere them. Although the greeting was adopted from the Chewas, there is some a slight difference which makes it unique. The Ngonis like the Bembas of Zambia, they also possess the greeting ‘Ali bwanji? ’, literally means ‘how are they?’. This greeting is common especially among the in-laws and elders. It is a tradition in most of the tribes of Malawi for the children to greet the elders ‘Muli bwanji? ’ which means ‘how are you’ but in plural form to show respect.

Chapter Two Zikomo /Wawa

To begin with ‘zikomo, the word literally expresses gratefulness. But on the other hand the word, although is used in such way, it has no direct meaning. Therefore, the Ngonis have used this word in place for ‘wawa’. ‘Wawa’ is another word which has no meaning at all but play a very big role in the Ngoni tradition. These words are used simultaneously when a person is passing another person. Its either plural or singular. This word is a very powerful word for it is used to recognize the presence of the other despite you knowing the person or not.

The Ngonis use this word also when they are responding to their elders, in a specific case, when the fathers call their sons only, for the ladies, their response is ‘webambo’. This word is so profound that it shows respect, recognition, attention, reverence and other forms of traditional values. When men and women are having their local brewed beer call ‘ mowa wa masese’ [2], when they are passing the chipanda[3] to one another, they use the word to express their respect in passing that ‘precious cup’ to the other person sitting next to him and also as a sign of hounouring that special gathering and communion shared among themselves.

The word is also used when one has already been answered and is invited to enter a house or is drawing near to the host. It does not say anything in particular but just shows respect and recognition of the other. Simultaneously, ‘wawa’ is also accompanied several gestures. The first gesture is when showing reverence. At this moment, the hands are held together or one puts his hand, either left or right, on his chest and he bends slightly while moving towards the appointed seat if offered. The second gesture is when one is taking off the hat on approaching someone. This displays an honest face to the host. With this act you prove that you are not hiding your identity and whatever your intensions are to the host, are good. Thirdly, similar to the first one, the also clap a distinct clap. Despite having no proper name, we can use the Bemba word for it called “Makuku” clap.[4]

The very interesting part of this word is that it is highly used and some Chichewa Bible versions, used this word especially on the calling of Samuel. The lord calls Samuel and he answers ‘wawa’ in Chichewa.


The wawa philosophy has now become so important among the Malawian people in general as it has contributed to their intersubjectivity and in so doing it has bounded the people together as they show respect for each other. This somehow has led to a higher self-awareness as it does give them identity as Malawians who are peace loving and united.[5] Development has improved among the people as united people contribute a lot to the developmental projects.


[2] The synonym of mbege or chibuku

[3] The traditional cup made from one type of pumpkin. (insupa)

[4] A clap by curving the palms to produce a distinctive sound.

[5] Malawian Court of Arms

7 of 7 pages


The Wawa Philosophy. About the culture of the Ngonis of Malawi
African Philosophy
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wawa, philosophy, about, ngonis, malawi
Quote paper
Gift Ed Blair (Author), 2018, The Wawa Philosophy. About the culture of the Ngonis of Malawi, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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