The Chewa people are the matrilineal society where married men are used to playing a marginal role. Marriages follow a matriarchal system where the man moves from his parents and lives with his wife at her parents’ home.
When a man has found a woman to marry, he tells his uncles who will pass on the message to the uncles of the woman who will in turn tell the parents about the intention of the two to marry.
After the parents have been informed the man’s uncles prepare the ‘chewing’ (a dowry) that is given to the woman’s parents. This is just an appreciation to the family of a woman.
The payment is in the form of cattle or five goats. When the dowry is paid to the parents of the woman, the man is asked to visit the bride’s parents so that they know him and vice versa. The groom then moves to the bride’s parents where he spends one week but the two do not stay together. The groom subsequently lives with his fellow young men in one house and after a week the man is then free to marry his bride.
The one week the man spends at the woman’s parents is spent doing some work such as farming, building some houses and other jobs that require a man to do. This is so because the woman’s parents want to see the behavior of the man. On the other hand, if the man fails the one-week test at the woman’s home he can be dismissed without marrying the lady.
There is also another type of marriage allowed within the Chewa culture. When a man and a woman have agreed to get married without the parents knowing it. The man agrees to move into the woman’s compound and the messages are sent later on when the two are already into the marriage.
According to this marriage the man is asked to pay a fine which is in the form of cattle or goats. After the payment is made the whole process of marriage then goes according to the rules. There are two marriage counselors: one from the man and another from the woman. Whenever problems arise between the two, the marriage counselors discuss the issues with the couple.
Installation of Chiefs
The Chewa tribe follows the matrilineal system and the succession of the chieftainship follows that pattern also. If a chief dies, the son of his sister or the daughter of his sister occupies the vacant seat.
The chief’s son or daughter is not an apparent heir to the throne.
The senior women meet to discuss the installation once the chief dies. Men are not even involved in the selection of the heir apparent to the throne. The decision of these ‘respected’ women in society is final and they can choose anyone who is able to handle the position with dignity. They can choose anyone they feel is able to govern. (R.M.)