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Malawi: The Land of the Lake
Anyone who has lived in Malawi (British Protectorate of Nyasaland) knows that there is something very special about a place that grows on you and eventually loves you with love and friendship. You can’t put your finger on it; it’s there, ethereal. But no matter what, it has held my little family for 16 years. Undoubtedly, these years are some of the happiest years of our lives.
It is a beautiful country, one-third of its land is covered with water. From the low-lying sea they rise to the beautiful grassy hills of the Nyika mountains and reach the steep mountains of Zomba and Mulanje. Swimming in the freshwater ocean is like falling into a warm, steamy fish tank with countless, shimmering, multi-colored cichlids. But in some areas, an eye should be kept open for crocodiles (called ‘flat dogs’) and mvuu (‘mvu’ in Chichewa, the local language). Lake Malawi is called Lake Calendar, 365 kilometers long and 52 kilometers wide, and is the deepest in the Rift Valley.
What drew me to the country, among many other things, was its history. I was impressed by all the old Victorian Christian missionaries who came to spread the Word, more than 150 years ago. David Livingstone was the first of this brave group of people. His ‘missionary journeys’ opened up many parts of Africa, including the country that is now called Malawi, and his spirit is still alive today. Five crosses mark the graves of later missionaries at the old Livingstonia Mission on the southern shores of the lake, at Cape Maclear. They testify to the evangelical zeal of the owners of the old bones that are now being laid to rest. These missionaries faced untold hardships. Anopheles mosquitoes took them; mass murderers, mass murderers. Dr Livingstone’s wife Mary succumbed to them and was buried under a baobab tree in an untended cemetery on the banks of the Zambesi River. Bishop Mackenzie, a tall, handsome, swift man of God, died on an island near the rivers Shire and Ruo, ravaged by the pestilence.
Other missionaries, who survived the fever, were Chauncy Maples and Will Johnson. They were two remarkable evangelists who were at Oxford University together and their joint efforts led to the building of the famous Anglican church on the island of Likoma in the lake. Johnson was the ‘apostle’ of the beach, which was his parish for more than 40 years, walking around, thin in his long white robes. But if Johnson had beaches, Maples certainly had water. He drowned in it when his boat capsized in a sudden, terrible storm that occurs in the sea. Her dress pulled her down. The ‘Lake of Stars’, as Livingstone described it, is a very dangerous place, often dangerous in the inland waters…especially when the south-easterly winds blow. The spirit of one missionary, Dr Laws, still ‘walks’ in the cool shadows of the old stone house where the new Livingstonia Mission was moved on a high hill overlooking the sea. This was on top of the steam of coastal plagues that Dr Laws believed to be responsible for the deadly fever. Malaria has entered Malawi’s history and, like the slave trade, decimated the population.
In Nkhotakota, where there are former Arab slaves on the shores of the sea, negative attitudes have spread to this day. From here thousands and thousands of slaves were sent by boat across the sea and then yoked and led to the shores of the Indian Ocean, driven by the cruelty of ‘ruga ruga’ (wild animals, painted, human-like, carriers. whips). After that, a grueling cruise across the ocean to Zanzibar, the main slave market of the Arab and Eastern countries. Only about a quarter of the captives survived the journey to hell. Terrible battles were fought to stop this predatory practice in the Karonga region of Malawi, led by British colonists: Sir Harry Johnston, the Moir brothers, Frederick Lugard and Monteith Fotherington. These wars continued for many years, mostly unknown to the outside world busy with other wars at the end of the 19th century. Finally the famous Arab merchant Mlosi surrendered and was hanged in Karonga, which ended slavery in the area. But Livingstone was the first to reveal the dangers of all this. This, and his research journeys form his lasting legacy. He died alone in what is now Zambia, on his knees by his poor bed, suffering from dysentery and bleeding. Loyal African followers carried his embalmed body hundreds of miles to the coast from where it was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey. His heart, however, remained in the African soil he loved.
In Malawi comes some interesting news; such as the famous story of Commander Rhoades who launched the first naval battle in World War I. She hit Hermon von Wissmann’s gunboat while it was in dry dock at Sphinxhaven on the eastern shore of the lake with a salvo from a Hotchkiss 6 pounder on her gun Gwendolyn. Rhoades was eating and drinking for a short time with his former German army friend who was unaware of the outbreak of war, so Herr Brent’s anger was like smoke and fire in the water, “said Rhoades. , are you drunk?”
It was my pleasure to visit many of the places I have mentioned and also see the lives of famous people. As a pilot of the company, I got to know the surrounding areas well between 1991 and 2008. My interest in Livingstone spread to Tanzania where I visited the old house in Unyanyembe, (in Tabora) where Livingstone and Stanley were separated. company in 1872. Stanley went home to England to enjoy the fame of his famous newspaper report, while Livingstone wandered in search of the treacherous source of the Nile. A white man never saw him alive and less than a year later he died. I saw precious pieces of Livingstone memorabilia at a museum in the Zambian town that bears his name. And I went to the museum in Blantyre, in the country of Malawi, the name of his hometown. And I looked with great interest at the tools of the slave trade, leg irons and wooden neck collars, on display at the Bagamoyo museum on the Indian Ocean. This was the last stop for slaves from the countryside to Zanzibar.
History came alive for me in my travels. Old German coins, emblazoned with an eagle, would be bought from young people living on the shores of Bagomoyo, the former capital of German East Africa. And KAR (Kings African Rifles) medals and ancient bronze amulets from ancient Arabia were found in the crowded markets of Zanzibar. The Selous Game Reserve, named after a famous hunter who was killed there by a German soldier in WW1, was amazing in its size and variety of wildlife. I researched the journeys of General Paul Von Lettow-Vorbeck and his troops around this region and down the Rovuma and Lugenda rivers into Mozambique. I was amazed by the courage of the man and his skills in fighting the guerrilla war with the British army in East Africa during the First World War. He was not captured and eventually surrendered at Abercorn in Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) at the Armistice.
Mount Kilimanjaro, Victoria Falls, the ruins of Zimbabwe, chimpanzees in Uganda, the Caborabasa Dam and the Zambesi and Chobe rivers, going around the Comoros Islands and catching salmon and dorado from Malindi on the coast of Kenya are deep memories. So are the memories of flying with vultures over Wankie game reserve, tracking wild dogs near Gwaai River lodge (now demolished), collecting spices and old books in Dar-es-Salaam. I chased the ghost of Beryl Markham (the famous pilot) at the Muthaiga Club in Nairobi where she lived and at the Wings Club of East Africa where she frequented. The stories of ‘White Mischief’ and the Ngong Mountains intrigued me as well as the mysterious unsolved murder of the Earl of Erroll in Nairobi and Van der Post’s ‘Ventures to the Interior’ on the Dziko Plateau. The ruins of the Flying Boat base can still be found at Cape Maclear. These BOAC ‘boats’ arrived there in 1949, traveling from England to the Vaal dam in South Africa. In the nearby bush, ‘Guru wan kulus’ still dance around the night fire to the sound of drums. ‘Guru’ are the first men of a secret society who dress strangely and dangerously and are often seen running around the streets of rural Malawi; dangerous things. Children scatter when approached and even adults quickly run away.
Africa is an exciting continent and Malawi, for me, is at the heart of it. In fact, it’s known as the “Warm Heart of Africa” and I often think of this delightful description during tropical sunsets. Drinking a cold Carlsberg beer (brewed locally) with good friends, as the sun sets at Monkey Bay, was the best place to think about. Ask anyone who has been there. But I didn’t get to the top of Mulanje mountain, and that’s the biggest regret I’ve had since moving from Malawi to Canada. So I must return one day to that Warm Heart.
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