The Legendary Malawi Gold

The story of the legendary Malawi Gold cannabis strain is an iconic tale that can be told in 101 different ways and still takes  one`s imagination from the lush green Nkhta Bay Mountains that overlook Lake Nyasa in Malawi all the way to dusty streets of Likuni township at Bush Doctor`s corner getting swallowed up by the ambiance of the real Malawi Gold experience and rich ancient culture and history.

Malawi Gold has earned a name as the mother of all sativa strains, a title truly deserving this cradle of modern-day sativa genetics. Malawi Gold is a broad yet pure expression of what a sativa truly is, with its two principal phenotypes, Malawi Gold expresses an array of characteristics both physical and chemical. A bud of Malawi Gold will smell loud woody when it’s solid, the moment you grind it on your palm you start to pick up subtle fruity and floral aromas which will fuse with the woodiness and by the time you are done grinding, an elusive fuel-like menthol will have you dipping your nose in your palm several times trying to decode the real aroma and at this point your palms are sweaty and you are almost sneezing.

Furthermore, this God status strain once you  have smoked a full joint, whether by yourself, which is  not recommended, or with a couple of buddies, will give you a journey of a high, from a mellow transcending high normally synonymous with further down Swazi strains, then progress to a paranoia and anxiety coupled with a bit of amnesia as if one just enjoyed amnesia haze or Durban Poison, high clarity, focus and soaring creative levels would follow and end you off with a blissful uplifting head high that will move from a state of not desiring food to extreme “munchies” all of a sudden devouring anything you can lay your hands on while singing and drumming the night away as is the norm with local Rastafarian society . This rollercoaster high has become a signature of Malawi Gold globally.

Malawi Gold is  an embodiment of a true sativa and a true ancestor of modern-day sativas as it has been observed how it mimics almost every sativa strain out there while remaining a pure strain which, after centuries of self-cultivation, has developed the hardiness and genetic stability required in today’s harsh climates and has absolutely no hermie traits.

Over the years the history of how the strain found a home in wild Malawi has been a fuse of oral traditions and observing nature at work. Oral tradition has it that the early Arab settlers through ancient trade routes brought the first traces of cannabis to the present-day Malawi while another form of history suggests they found cannabis in Malawi and took it with them along the trade routes further spreading it all the way from Ethiopia down to the Mwenemutapa trading centres leaving traces along the way.

The other version suggests  that cannabis was introduced by the ethnic Bantu tribes as they were relocating from west and central Africa going down south over 500 years ago. They were carrying cannabis as both medicine and seeds as feed for the chickens, a tradition which to this day is still in practice in rural Malawi. Along the way warriors would smoke the cannabis for energy and trekking and those who were injured would be fed cooked cannabis to help ease the pain.

On the other hand nature observers believe that cannabis was brought by seasonally migrating birds such as the African fish eagle, the bush-shrike, the hamerkop, the palm swift and over 5000 of species that breed within Malawi that migrate in search of a warmer climate and feed in other parts of Africa and distances as far as Eastern Europe and Asia. The bird movement is noticed around late autumn months  just before cannabis is harvested locally and most of these birds feed on the cannabis seeds at the fields and return to seasonal habitat high up the mountains where lots of wild cannabis palnts grow after each rainfall when the Peregrine Falcon, Lanners, Black Eagle amongst others who reside in the rocky lake shore mountains have flown off to favourable climates, the same pattern has been observed in Swaziland mountains. This has strongly led observers and  researchers alike to stick to the story that cannabis was first received by the mountains and it spread from the mountains.

This debate is further summarized by the theory that three different cannabis strains from three unrelated sources grew together in one area over overlapping time frames and there has been for centuries cross-breeding and interbreeding to produce a perfect and stable strain we see Malawi Gold as today.

The two mostly known phenos of Malawi are the Kaning’ina and the Nchila wa Nkhosa meaning lamb`s tail. The latter being mostly cultivated in central Malawi. It is a palnt of medium height that grows  wide and will compete for horizontal space with any plant next to it and produce a main cola shaped like a RPG mortar; thick, round and egg shaped with lower branches producing same shaped colas with even stronger branching.

While the Kaning’ina grows tall and lanky with a long spear-like main cola packed with lots of bud clusters, the height is due to centuries of etiolation since the plants are grown between mountains and only get strong sunlight in the morning. Originally this plant was grown for 9  months giving it time to fully express its unique potential. The name Kaning’ina was given  during a Rastafari grounding ceremony on the Kaning’ina mountain. In local Chewa language Kaning`ina refers to a mix between pain and pleasure which describes the whirlpool high.

The two phenos are more or less like two brothers, one tall and lanky, the other short and stout but with uncanny resemblences and character. The high is almost similar with almost the same terpene profile with the only difference being how loud one terpene is on an individual plant as compared to the other pheno. What we have  grown to call Malawi Gold is actually either one of the phenos or a backcross of both and would display a very wide and tall structure when given space.

Malawi Gold was the first to bear the original ‘666’ nickname among African growers being a strain that can reach 6 metres in height, grown for 6 months and producing 6 kilos of herb. The dark green leaves with burgundy petioles set Malawi gold apart. Ever since the strain has been commercially cultivated the growing time and the final size have reduced. The change in photoperiod in Malawi starts in February and by mid-March the whole region is 12/12 meaning old generation of farmers would veg for 4 months concurrent with the rainy season while commercial new school growers just give it 6 weeks of vegetative phase around December and concentrate on perfecting the flowers as it grows with technique such as LST, HST, caging, defoliating and pinching.

One noticeably trait with Malawi gold is the vigour and speed at which she takes off from germination through vegetative phase.  The vigour it starts off with subsides  as the plant enters bloom phase  packing lots of translucent flower pistils slowly in a flowering period that would take at least 20 weeks to produce  frosty, sticky trichome oozing buds with full on bright amber hairs and beautiful dark green hues.

It Is a hardy strain growing at an average of 1548 metres above sea level  through a rainy season and high temperature onto the onset of a chilli winter, surviving pests and mold. The Malawi Gold flowers produce loose airy “foxtails”  and the buds only become dense in the very last weeks of flowering, just as the rainy season stops and chilly winter sets in making the nugs denser, solid and enhancing true colour, a trait that has seen it beat the climatic odds. The deep thrusting, robust root system of the Malawi makes it seem like a very light feeder but a fertilizer program will also have its rewards. Locals recommend goat manure and wood ash, occasionally using tobacco field waste which is both a pesticide and a nutrient-rich mulch. New school growers have, in the past 10 years,  introduced mainstream fertilizers and IPM (Integrated Pest Management)  to the grow projects to further give Malawi Gold a chance at competing with GMO Cannabis and Hybrids.

Old school farmers who are mostly women and grandparents who grow to sustain their grandchildren  lose patience and harvest their crop early losing out on the full mature buds and compromising quality while new school growers are milking every genetic benefit of the Malawi Gold to produce A grade export quality herb and this group is mostly unemployed and undergraduate youth.

You will know you are in Malawi if every makeshift drum and bamboo roadblock is also a “chamba” search point as the locals call cannabis.  For over five decades cannabis from Malawi  has been enjoyed across cities of the world by successfully evading stop and search operations in local roads all the way to smokers. During apartheid era Malawi became a leading exporter of cannabis with global export networks starting from Mombasa port in Kenya, Dar es Salaam port in Tanzania, Durban and Cape town ports in South Africa. This was supported by strong networks of trucks that handle imports and exports between Malawi and other countries within the region.

The apartheid era increased security in Swaziland which together with Malawi  are Southern Africa`s leading natural cannabis producers and this reduced production and smuggling out of the tiny Kingdom as it was believed that the herb from Swaziland was used to sponsor freedom fighter movements and Swaziland was an exit and entry point for guerrillas groups and their artilleries alike. This gave the Malawi Gold a lion share of the then clandestine cannabis markets across the globe and that would later lead to the introduction of Malawi Gold cob to the world.

The Malawi Gold cob as it is known today was how Malawi cannabis was presented to the world, packed in deconstructed maize cobs. After the cannabis was harvested and sundried, fresh maize cob covers would be used to pack the herb inside and as they dry with the cannabis inside, they start to look like there is actual maize inside.
This would be packed in a sack and all you would see is maize cobs. The primary purpose of packing Malawi gold in maize cob covers was to easily disguise the cannabis as maize whilst smuggling through the authorities of the worlds. Several benefits were observed, the herb stayed fresher for longer and the bud was more cured and the chlorophyll taint was gone giving way to cannabis aromas and the potency was preserved if not increased.

What started off as a smuggling technique in the 70’s became  not only a curing and preservation method  but a globally acclaimed flagship product and has since been reduced to form part of craft cannabis by certain purveyors of note. Some smugglers have tried banana peels and other than the Malawi cob there was also Malawi ‘banana’ with a distinct hint of fermented bananas. The buds would be squeezed and  packed in banana peels. Sisal and leaves would be used as a wrap to keep the bud inside the banana in place and over the course of the trip or storage the banana would rot till it dries curing the bud inside somehow. This method lost popularity as a banana could only pack a  little bud and it required experience otherwise the bud would go mouldy if done wrongly.


Sun drying the Malawi Gold gave it a Khaki brownish colour together with bright amber pistils. This would give the Malawi the surname “Gold” as with other cannabis strains in other parts of the world that resembled the Malawi once cured such the Acapulco Gold, Kerala Gold, Swazi Gold etc

The far-reaching fame of the Malawi Gold has also fuelled tourism to Malawi, with cannabis enthusiasts from around the world pilgrimaging Malawi yearly in numbers to get a taste of the Malawi Gold and enjoy the scenery while at it. Several Jamaicans once came to Malawi in the 90’s among them the Third World Reggae group founding member Ibo Cooper, but they later vanished after a Malawi Gold field was discovered in southern Malawi. There are Rastafari movements in the country and this has made Malawi with its welcoming immigration policies a second option for repatriates after Ethiopia`s  Shashamane. Not only are they using Malawi Gold ceremonially, they are also a voice for underprivileged farmers and users against tyrannical  laws.

Cannabis legalisation in Malawi has been foggy with authorities wanting to introduce hemp strains and rid the locals of the Malawi Gold, a move which has seen the war between authorities and disgruntled farmers escalate, with the farmers calling for inclusion and consultation in the cannabis polices. The high entry costs into tobacco production have forced a lot of grassroots Malawi farmers to venture into cannabis farming which only requires a cup full of seeds from the previous season biggest  trees and even without fertilizers, rain alone is enough to guarantee one a harvest that can sustain the household.

Over the years export grade Malawi Gold has been reduced to a niche strain serving loyal sativa lovers across the globe. While lesser quality herb gets exported to neighbouring Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Zambia. Malawians consume as much cannabis within Malawi as they export it,with every corner housing a bush doctor, a local weed selling spot where one can buy and smoke, usually made out of pallets and old car seats . Foreign hybrid strains are struggling to penetrate local markets and pollute the pure Malawi Gold since real Malawi growers are far from “civilisation” and they are content with the quality of the local champion and preservers are rushing to save the strain.