Dedza District … Chief Francis Makalani Banda, a Chewa Chief, from the Mphezi area of central Malawi was showing visitors the site of a major battle between the Chewa and Ngoni in the days after the assassination of the famous Zulu chief Shaka on September 22, 1828. He noted he would be taking the visitors down through the valley, crossing over the river, and returning along the other side until reaching his home village. He said at that time he would introduce the visitors to the two women who helped him run the village. 

“Without the women,” he said, “there would be no chiefs.”

What did he mean by his statement and what part do the Chewa women play in the leadership of tribal affairs?

Unlike other tribes in Malawi, it is the old women who gather after the death of a chief to choose the next chief. He was saying this is so important and part of their culture that without the women the entire process of choosing a new chief would break down.

When the women convene to choose the next chief, they follow a strict protocol. The one chosen must be in the blood line of the previous chief. They seek a son of the firstborn sister of the previous chief. This person is guaranteed to be in the bloodline. If there is no son, they will turn to the firstborn daughter. This person must have leadership qualities, and the interest of their village at heart. If this is not the case the women will pass over them and go on to the next candidate. Once a chief is selected, he is seldom removed from office. Most chiefs live in the villages in which they government and outsiders can seldom recognize the chief from other members of his community. 

Picture: A group of older women are gathered for a village event. It is groups like this that come together to determine who will be the next chief in their area.

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