The Republic of Malawi is in Southern Africa. Countries bordering Malawi are Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia.
Lilongwe is the capital of Malawi and Blantyre, the largest city, is an important commercial and industrial centre.
Malawi's terrain consists of plateau and mountains. Lake Malawi is drained by the Shire River, a tributary of the Zambezi.
Malawi has a sub-tropical climate. The rainy season runs from November to May.
Lake Malawi is one of Africa's largest lakes. Other lakes in Malawi include Lake Chilwa and Lake Malombe. Together Malawi's lakes cover around one-fifth of the country.
The lakes are home to hundreds of species of fish. Perhaps the most famous is the cichlid family of fish. The lakes are also the habitat of a variety of birds such as the stork and the giant kingfisher.
Wildlife (antelopes, cheetahs, crocodiles, giraffes, hippos, leopards, lions, rhinos and zebras) can be found in Malawi's National Parks and Wildlife Reserves. Malawi's Department of National Parks and Wildlife manages the country's National Parks (Kasungu, Lengwe, Liwonde, Lake Malawi, Nyika) and Wildlife Reserves (Majete, Mwabvi, Nkhota-kota, Vwaza Marsh).
Traditional buildings in Malawi are constructed from materials such as wood, mud and thatch.
Colonialists introduced European styles of architecture. Examples of Colonial architecture can be seen in the former capital of Zomba and the Old Town of Lilongwe.
Construction of government buildings in the New Town of Lilongwe began in the late 1960s. Lilongwe, officially the capital city of Malawi since 1975, is a commercial centre with modern buildings such as the Reserve Bank of Malawi.
The population of Malawi was estimated at 12,158,924 in 2005.
English and Chichewa are both official languages.
Around three quarters of the people are Christian, one fifth are Muslim and some Malawians have indigenous beliefs.
Maize is the staple food in Malawi. It is not a native plant of the country but was originally introduced to Malawi by the Portuguese at the end of the eighteenth century. Millet and sorghum are more drought resistant crops. Other crops grown include cassava (a root vegetable which can be made into a "porridge"), sweet potatoes, potatoes, pumpkins and peanuts.
Fish, such as chambo, is caught in the lakes. Animals including chickens, goats, sheep and cattle are kept for meat and dairy produce.
Tropical fruits are grown. Bananas are sometimes fried and may be used to make banana bread.
During times of drought, villagers forage for food that grows wild: millet, okra, berries and fruit. Fruit from baobab trees can be used to make porridge. Leaves are also collected and deaths occur as a result of eating poisonous plants.
Beer is brewed locally.
Early inhabitants of Malawi settled around the shores of Lake Malawi about twelve thousand years ago.
From the sixteenth century the population grew as people migrated to the area. The Portuguese, who arrived at the end of the fifteenth century, were the first Europeans to trade with Malawians.
When David Livingstone, the Scottish explorer and missionary, discovered Malawi (1859) there was an established trade in slaves. Livingstone worked towards ending the slave trade.
In the early 1890s the British made Malawi (Nyasaland) a protectorate. However there was African opposition to British government.
Between 1953 and 1963 Malawi, known as Nyasaland, Southern Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe) and Northern Rhodesia (later Zambia) were members of the Federation of Central Africa. Soon after the Federation ended Nyasaland (Malawi) and Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) gained independence.
In 1964 Malawi declared its independence and became a republic in 1966.
Malawi's economy relies on assistance from outside agencies such as the World Bank and is heavily dependent on agriculture. However the government aims to improve the growth and development of business and promote industrialisation.
Major export crops are tobacco, coffee, tea, sugar and cotton. Other agricultural produce includes maize, wheat, sorghum, millet, rice, pulses, cassava, potatoes and groundnuts. Farm animals are reared.
Much of Malawi's industry is based on its agricultural sector. Other industries include fishing, mining, timber, light engineering, construction, chemicals, fertilisers, food processing and textiles.
Tourism in Malawi is a relatively small industry that is being developed to increase its contribution to the economy. (2003)
Malawi has a number of rock art sites that were the work of hunter-gatherers and Bantu-speakers.
Traditional Malawian crafts include pottery, woodcarving and basketry.
Music, song and dance are an integral part of traditional Malawian life. In the past, song was used to pass on values, duties and beliefs.
In the literary world, well-known Malawian writers are Frank Chipasula, a Malawian poet and novelist (O Earth, Wait for Me), Jack Mapange, a poet (The Chattering Wagtails of Mikuyu Prison), Stella Chipasula, a poet, and Tiyambe Zeleza, an academic writer and novelist (A Modern Economic History of Africa and Smouldering Charcoal).
Football is very popular in Malawi. Other sports played include cricket and rugby.
An annual Yachting Marathon takes place on Lake Malawi and the lake is also well-known as a site for freshwater scuba diving.
Christmas Day, Easter and New Year's Day are celebrated. Other holidays are John Chilembwe Day (15 January), Martyr's Day (3 March), Labour Day (May), Freedom Day (14 June) and Republic Day (6 July).