Malawian Cultures: The Long Forgotten Ndali Tribe

by Godfrey Malongo

The Ndali Tribe is one of the many small tribes found in the northern part of Malawi. It is found in Karonga and Chitipa districts to be specific. It is often mistaken and generalized together with the Ngonde tribe. There is very little literature which makes it close to nonexistent. Being half-Ndali (from my mother’s side), I wanted to share with you about this small Malawian tribe.

Origin and Language

It is very important to know that this tribe originated from Tanzania and after some years, it settled in Chitipa, Misuku Hills. Due to some reasons like inadequate space for farming, poor transport system in the hills, some settled in the northern part of Karonga. Their language, Chindali, has similarities with Kyangonde, which is spoken by the Ngonde tribe, Nyakyusa and Lambya (which are one of the many languages spoken in the districts of Chitipa and Karonga). The first question I encounter whenever someone realizes that I’m half-Ndali is “How do you pass a greeting in your language”. I will grant you the luxury to learn the greeting. For a “good morning”, we say Mwalamusha, and we respond with Twalamusha, Ni Mbombo? Which signifies passing the greeting back and basically asking “how is everything”.

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Family System

The family and/or marriage system is patrilineal. Marriage is upon the payment of lobola and polygamy is common. My grandfather has two wives living within the same compound. He usually jokes to say

“when you’re grown and have your own cattle and goats, you’ll need to share them with two wives”

expressing reason and justification for polygamy, in his words at least. It is also important to note that the Ndali families cannot be chosen as chiefs in Karonga. This is because they are branded as “settlers”.However, if one identifies as Ngonde, they could be eligible for chieftancy.

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Food and Farming

Another interesting aspect of this tribe is food and farming. In Misuku, coffee farming is common that you would find coffee being sold at the community market in small packs from as low as K200 ($0.3). Maize, Millet and Bananas also make up a huge part of the farming system. Their dishes include Mbalagha (Stewed Bananas and Meat, usually beef), Ngata/Ndyela (Fresh beans prepared together with fresh corn/maize) and beans mixed with bean leavesjust to mention a few. They also rely on cultured milk /soured cream known as Chambiko, which can be served on its own, or as relish for Nsima, Rice and Bananas. This is because most families own cattle and milk is usually available.

Cultural Dances

Ndali tribe dances

On cultural dances, the common ones are Indingala/Mwinoghe. Where a man/boy and woman/girl dance together, going in the opposite direction, and then coming together in an agreed sequence. This dance is very similar to m’bwiza. Mapenenga (similar to Malipenga, which is my favourite because I just love how smart the dancers look in their white fits). And, Ndolo (a dance by women, mostly during celebrations and political rallies with a deep history during the Kamuzu Era).

These are some of the interesting things about the Ndali tribe. For those who didn’t even know it exists, I hope you now have a grasp of this beautiful forgotten tribe. Don’t forget to leave your thoughts on the article and if there’s more that you would like to know in the comments.

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7 thoughts on “Malawian Cultures: The Long Forgotten Ndali Tribe

  1. Am Ndali/ Sukwa.Was always reminded about this combination when i was growing up. Was told Chindali is my language and because i came from Misuku it was also interchangeably called Chisukwa.
    I didnt know that we also have Ndalis in Karonga.

  2. Am from Karonga, my dad is Ngonde, Ngerenge in particular, mum from Kaporo ,I never heard of this tribe, will have to ask them when I call home.I love mapenenga and ngata, and over here I have found a close alternative to chambiko, ( kefir yoghurt from Poland) Thanks for the piece of writing.

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