Bantu-speaking peoples migrated into what is now Malawi between the 1st and 4th centuries A.D. A large slave trade took place in the 18th and 19th centuries and brought Islam to the region. At the same time, missionaries introduced Christianity. Several major kingdoms were established in the precolonial period: the Maravi in 1480, the Ngonde in 1600, and the Chikulamayembe in the 18th century.
The first European to make extensive explorations in the area was David Livingstone in the 1850s and 1860s. In 1884, Cecil Rhodes’s British South African Company received a charter to develop the country. The company came into conflict with the Arab slavers in 1887–1889. Britain annexed what was then called the Nyasaland territory in 1891 and made it the British Central Africa Protectorate in 1892. Sir Harry Johnstone, the first high commissioner, used Royal Navy gunboats to wipe out the slavers.
In 1907 the
British Central Africa Protectorate changed its name in Nyasaland or the
Between 1951 and 1953, Britain combined Nyasaland with the colonies of Northern and Southern Rhodesia to form a federation, a move protested by black Africans who were wary of alignment with the ultra conservative white-minority rule in South Rhodesia.
On July 6, 1964, Nyasaland became the independent nation of Malawi. Two years later, it became a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations.
As Malawi was in the sphere of influence of the British Empire we are well provided with heraldic symbols, beginning in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.
The first heraldic symbol we meet in connection with today’s Malawi is the achievement of Cecil Rhode’s British South African Company.
The next is the achievement of the British Central Africa Protectorate adopted
about 1894 This symbolizes for a large part the British intentions and missionary
ideologies of the colonists. In the arms the golden pile of western
civilisation penetrates the ‘cultural darkness’ of black Africa, by bringing
the white cross of Christianty under the aegis of the United Kingdom
(the inescutcheon). The main goal of this offensive of civilisation is
economic development symbolized by the two black workers and the cultivation
of coffee as the main cash crop. The shield itself points at the place where
all this has to happen.
The purport of
the achievement is, for greater security, explained by the motto: LIGHT IN DARKNESS.
The coffee tree
is also in the badge consisting of three bends sinister yellow, white
and black, charged with a coffee tree proper. In this badge the colors of the
bends symbolize the races living together in harmony in the Protectorate.
Arms: Sable, a pile Or, over all a cross Argent,
fimbriated Gules, bearing an inescutcheon or augmentation showing the Royal
Arms (on a shield Azure).
Crest: A coffee tree proper.
Supporters: Two negroes with pick and shovel, standing
on the map of Africa, the point of the shield pointing at British Central
Motto: LIGHT IN DARKNESS. 
Badge, ca. 1894-1914
A new coat of arms for Nyassaland Protectorate was granted in 1914. In this coat of arms the panther on the mountain symbolizes the territory, the wave is for Lake Nyasa (Nyasa meaning: Big Water) on the borders of which the protectorate was situated. The rising sun, again, symbolizes the light of civilisation rising over dark Africa. Such a sun can also be found in the symbol of the British East Africa Company, accompanied by the motto LIGHT AND LIBERTY.
For the purpose, the motto LIGHT IN DARKNESS was translated into the latin LUX IN TENEBRIS
Arms: Argent, on a rock issuant a leopard (Felix
pardus, Felidæ) statant proper and on a chief wavy Sable a rising sun Or.
Motto: LUX IN TENEBRIS (Light in Darkness)
By Royal Warrant, 11.
In the achievement of Rhodesia and Nyasaland the pales wavy and the fish-eagle catching a fish are borrowed from the arms of Northern Rhodesia (today´s Zambia). The rising sun is borrowed from the arms of Nyasaland and the lion is for Southern Rhodesia. These three parts are dovetailed to symbolize the inseparable bond between the three countries.
The supporters are for the abundant wildlife in the Federation.
Arms: Per fess Azure and Sable in chief a rising
sun Or and in base six palets wavy Argent, over all a fesse dovetailed
counter-dovetailed of the last, thereon a lion passant Gules.
Crest: A fish-eagle (Haliaëtus vocifer -
Accipitridæ) reguardant Or, perched upon and grasping in the talons a
Supporters: On the dexter a sableantelope (Hippotragus
niger - Bovidæ) and on the sinister a leopard (Panthera pardus -
Felidæ) both proper.
Motto: MAGNI ESSE MEREAMUR (Let us deserve to be great).
1 JULY 1964/`66 - present
An achievement for Malawi, so called after the fifteenth-century kingdom of Maravi and meaning “Flaming Water”, referring to the sun reflecting on Lake Nyasa, was granted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1964. As this was not the royal achievement for Malawi but the achievement of state, its use could be continued when Malawi became a republic.
In the arms the chief symbolizes Lake Nyasa, the lion is for the British past and the sun is for the rising hope for freedom for all of Africa.
Of the crest the waves symbolize Lake Nyasa, the sun Liberty and the fish eagle the tenacity of the people of Malawi.
The supporting lion symbolizes the Commonwealth and the panther the colonial past. They are standing on a compartment in the form of Mount Mlanje (3000 m.), the highest mountain of Malawi.
Arms: Tierce per fess: 1. Barry wavy of four Azure and Argen; 2. Gules, a lion passant Or; 3. Sable, a rising sun radiant Or.
Crest: On a steel helmet to the dexter, lambrequined Or and Gules, a rising sun radiant Or, charged with a fish eagle (Haliaëtus vocifer - Accipitridæ) hovering above two waves Azure, proper.
Supporters: A lion (Panthera leo / Felidæ) on the dexter and a panther (Panthera pardus - Felidæ) on the sinister proper.
Compartment: Mount Mlanje proper.
Motto: UNITY and FREEDOM, in black lettering on a ribbon Or.
By Royal Warrant 30. VI. 1964
See illustration in the head of this essay.
© Hubert de Vries 2009.01.19