Malawi Tribes: The Yao

Figure 1.-- These Yao boys in their straw costumes are participating in a circumcision initiation ritual (March 2005). The boys are about 9-10 years old.

The Yao or Wayao people are an EastcAfrican tribe found around the southern coast of Lake Malawi. They are an ethnic and linguistic group. As they are centered on the southern shores of Lke Malawi, much of thec population live in Malawi, but the tribe is also found in Mozambique and Tanzania. The population totals about 2 million people, abiout 1.5 million of which live in Malawi. Most of the rest live in Mozambique. The Yao enjoy a cohesive identity that crosses over the natuiinal borders. The fact that the Yao are found in Tanzania and not Zambia suggests that the life of the tribe is closely connrcted to Lake Malawi. The Lake played an important role in the history of East Africa during the 19th century. The Yao are mostly Muslim. When the Arabs entered the interior of East Africa insearch of slaves and ivory, they developed an associatuin with the Yao. At first they traded with the Yao, evebtually the Yao assusted in the extensive slave trading which the Arabs conducted throughout the region. The Arabs provided thec Yao a range of trade goods, including clothes abnd guns. This enabled the Yao to become one of the most powerful and richest in southeastern Africa. The Yao trace their origins to an area east of Lake Malawi to the Yao mountain. This is situated in grass covered hills between the Mwembe and Luchilingo Range. Yao legend has it that a rerrible famine affected the area in the 9th century. Thus part of the Yao migrated west to Lke Malawi. The Amasaninga band of the Yao came to an area near Lisaninga close to the Lutwisi River.


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Created: 8:07 AM 7/31/2012
Last updated: 8:07 AM 7/31/2012