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Situated within a cluster of forested granite hills and covering an area of 126.4 km2, high up the plateau of central Malawi, the 127 sites of this property feature the richest concentration of rock art in Central Africa. They reflect the comparatively scarce tradition of farmer rock art, as well as paintings by BaTwa hunter-gatherers who inhabited the area from the Late Stone Age. The Chewa agriculturalists, whose ancestors lived there from the Early Iron Age, practiced rock painting until well into the 20th century. The symbols in the rock art, which are strongly associated with women, still have cultural relevance amongst the Chewa, and the sites are actively associated with ceremonies and rituals.
The rock art of the Chongoni sites records the cultural history and traditions of the peoples of the Malawi plateau: the transition from a foraging lifestyle to food production, the subsequent Ngoni invasion of the Chewa people, and the coming of the white man. The paintings also depict symbols significant during initiation ceremonies and ritual practices. As a centre of traditional and religious ceremonies, the rock art area encapsulates living cultural traditions. The area’s topography of rock overhangs amongst wooded slopes and grassy clearings provides a protective setting that is integral to the outstanding universal value of the rock art sites.
The dense and extensive collection of rock art shelters reflects a remarkable persistence of cultural traditions over many centuries, connected to the role of rock art in women's initiations, in rain making and in funeral rites, particularly in the Chewa agricultural society.
The strong association between the rock art images and contemporary traditions of initiation and of the Nyau secret society, and the extensive evidence for those traditions within the painted images over many centuries, together make the Chongoni landscape a powerful force in Chewa society and a significant place for the whole of southern Africa.
LAKE MALAWI NATIONAL PARK
Located at the southern end of the great expanse of Lake Malawi, the property is of global importance for biodiversity conservation due particularly to its fish diversity. Lying within the Western Rift Valley, Lake Malawi is one of the deepest lakes in the world. The property is an area of exceptional natural beauty with the rugged landscapes around it contrasting with the remarkably clear waters of the lake. The property is home to many hundreds of cichlid fish, nearly all of which are endemic to Lake Malawi, and are known locally as "mbuna". The mbuna fishes display a significant example of biological evolution. Due to the isolation of Lake Malawi from other water bodies, its fish have developed impressive adaptive radiation and speciation, and are an outstanding example of the ecological processes.
The property is an area of exceptional natural beauty with its islands and clear waters set against the background of the Great African Rift Valley escarpment. Habitat types vary from rocky shorelines to sandy beaches and from wooded hillsides to swamps and lagoons. Granitic hills rise steeply from lakeshore and there are a number of sandy bays.
The property is an outstanding example of biological evolution. Adaptive radiation and speciation are particularly noteworthy in the small brightly coloured rocky-shore tilapiine cichlids (rockfish), known locally as mbuna. All but five of over 350 species of mbuna are endemic to Lake Malawi and represented in the park. Lake Malawi's cichlids are considered of equal value to science as the finches of the Galapagos Islands remarked on by Charles Darwin or the honeycreepers of Hawaii.
Lake Malawi is globally important for biodiversity conservation due to its outstanding diversity of its fresh water fishes. The property is considered to be a separate bio-geographical province with estimates of up to c.1000 species of fish half occurring within the property: estimated as the largest number of fish species of any lake in the world. Endemism is very high: of particular significance are the cichlid fish, of which all but 5 of over 350 species are endemic. The lake contains 30% of all known cichlids species in the world. The property is also rich in other fauna including mammals, birds and reptiles.