#9 Lake Malawi, a jewel in the warm heart of Africa

#9 Lake Malawi, a jewel in the warm heart of Africa

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“From 22nd to 30th of January 2022”

Cape Maclear

Located in the Lake Malawi National Reserve, Cape Maclear is a small fishing village. We are just arrived that Valentin takes out the inflatable kayak. We are going to visit the beach from the shore. In front of us, we can see the islands Thumbie and Domwe. Two small floating peaks, very green which remind us the Philippines. On the beach, it is a constant flow of people: the fishermen are selling their catch of the day or puting them to dry, the women are washing the dishes or doing the laundry, the children are playing in the lake.

With travelers met in the village, we organize a day trip to discover the islands and the famous cichlids, they are small blue and yellow fish that are found only in this lake. We settle down on Thumbito island to eat lunch. Then, we discover the grilled Kampango. It is an endemic fish of the Malawi lake from the family of the catfish, It taste divine. Grilled on the fire, it is the best fish that I have ever eaten. It is crispy on the outside and the core melts in your mouth. The Chambo, another fish of this lake has also a very good reputation and we understand why when we tasted it. The white flesh is tender, one could compare it to sole fish.

We start to receive information about the cyclone Ana which is going to touch Mozambique and Malawi in the coming days. Slightly worried , we inform ourselves as we can to know the risks in the region where we are. The manager of our camp reassures us, Cape Maclear should not be too much touched, we have to expect strong winds, until 80km/h and a lot of rain. We will see tomorrow what the weather will be.

We get up at 6 am and we decide to go for a quick kayak tour before the weather turns bad. We pour the coffee in the Thermos, take small cookies, passion fruit and paddle South on direction of the Domwe island. There is not much people around, the fishermen return from their night on the water. We accosted on the island and took out our well deserved breakfast. Everything is quiet, not a sound. In the distance, we can see the clouds forecasting the coming storm. We do not waste time to go back and packing our stuff while the first drops begin to fall.
After having verified that nothing is left outside, we settle down comfortably inside Uyo. The rain increases little by little and the wind begins to blow. Nothing very nasty yet, what allows us to make a tour in the local market to buy bread and bananas for the breakfast of the next day. We do not stay too long either because we are quite wet… The rest of the day, we work on our next article and the editing of the new video. Rainy days also allow us to slow down the pace, to read, to sort out our photos and videos.

Mua Mission

After hitting the road again, we discovered Kungani (waterfall in Chichewa), a museum created by one of the missionaries of the city of Mua. In 1903, missionaries came from Europe to convert the local population to Catholicism. Three missionaries settled in the village of Mua and little by little the parish was created, then the hospital and the primary school. Father Boucher, who arrived in the parish at the end of the last century, became fascinated by the culture of Malawi. He was introduced to the local rituals and decided to create this museum to preserve and share his knowledge of the three main tribes in Malawi: the Chewa, Ngoni and Yao. Here is a non-exhaustive list of anecdotes we learned during our visit:

About Chewa

  • The society is considered matriarchal.
  • The Chewa communicate important messages mainly through dance. Only the initiated men wear masks and dance in order to spread a message. There are thousands of different masks. Any new need can lead to the creation of a new one. For example, there is a mask for Covid 19. Some masks can speak, but very little, hence the help of female singers to clarify the message. They can only participate if they have been initiated and are not allowed to wear the mask or dance. This ritual dance called Gule Wamkulu is celebrated at funerals, initiations, end of harvest, etc..
  • There are 4 symbolic deaths in the life of a Chewa. They are symbolised by the shearing of the hair. The first, a few weeks after the birth of a baby, the hair is cut to symbolise the passage from the mother’s womb to the child, and similarly at puberty after initiation. The third and fourth concern the widow three months after the death of her husband and finally one year after. After this period, she can start a new life if she wishes, but must destroy the house built by her deceased husband to live in a new one.
  • Both boys and girls are initiated in their adolescence to become adults. This is when the boys discover the secrets of Gule Wamkulu. Once they have been initiated with the knowledge, they can take part in the celebrations as Gule Wamkule..
  • Once a woman has accepted a man’s proposal, it is the man’s uncle who negotiates with the woman’s uncle for the dowry for the marriage. Sometimes this happens in front of the woman in question. Beauty, education or cooking skills are taken into account.
  • The husband goes to live with the wife’s family once he is married. The family gives them a plot of land for the man to build their house near theirs.
  • There is one chief per village democratically elected by the inhabitants. It can be a man or a woman. The chief can be dismissed if the inhabitants no longer consider him fitting to lead.

About Ngoni

  • This Catholic tribe comes from the Zulu people of South Africa
  • The dances are not exclusive to men but women and children also participate.This society is patriarchal. One becomes chief from father to eldest son. He can leave his place to a younger brother if he recognises that he is bad.
  • Cette société est patriarcale. On devient chef de père en fils ainé. Il peut laisser sa place à un plus jeune frère si il reconnait être mauvais.
  • The dowry that the husband owes to the wife’s family is high. It corresponds to a minimum of 4 cows, which is a lot in Malawi. Afterwards, the wife goes to live with the husband’s family once she is married.
  • Ceremonial clothing is very beaded and there are no masks, unlike the Chewa.

About Yao

  • The tribe came from the north of Mozambique. It is the only Muslim tribe in the country.
  • Circumcision is still practised and is carried out by the sorcerer at the time of the initiation of the adolescent, around the age of 14. He must then remain isolated for a month before returning to his family.
  • No woman is allowed to attend the funeral, not even the wife of the chief.
  • This is a patriarchal society
  • The dowry to marry a woman is expensive
  • Dance rituals are done with a single mask, much simpler than the Chewa.

After this very enriching visit, we let ourselves be guided by the music of the tom-toms. Next to us was a practice of local dances. Most of the dances are done in couples, so both husband and wife must be present to participate. We enjoy the show from the stands. After the couple dances comes the men’s dance. Chicondi, our guide, suggests to Valentin to join them but he doesn’t like it so much… the dance is not easy, between leg lifts and fast movements. Then comes the women’s dance. Without leaving me much choice, I find myself with a loincloth around my waist in the middle of these women smiling at me. We don’t speak the same language but the smiles and signs are enough for us. The beginning is not too complicated, perfect to warm up. Then some movements are a bit harder but I manage to find the rhythm. The tom-toms stop and I intend to go back to my seat when they let me know that it’s not over. Then we form half a circle and in groups of four we meet in the centre to perform a bust and buttocks movement that I still can’t reproduce.

Once the practice is over, we thank everyone and go to meet the priests of the parish. There are currently 4 of them, Father Brandon from Ireland, Father Ryan from the Philippines, Father Christophe from Burundi and Father Allan from India. Monica, a sister from Nigeria, is currently training in Chichewa in their parish. We are invited to share dinner with them and stay overnight.

The next day, curious, we get up early to attend the 6am mass given by Father Ryan. The weekday mass only lasts 30 minutes. We haven’t had the opportunity to attend Sunday mass yet but apparently everywhere in Africa they are incredible, full of energy, music and dance! After a walk to the village to look around the weekly market, we hit the road again.

Mareli Islands

Valentin spotted islands on the map in a much less touristy area. It is a small protected archipelago in the Lake Malawi National Park. It is called Mareli Islands. It consists of 3 islands Nankoma, Maleri and Nankantenga. We want to get as close as possible to the islands from the coast to access them with our kayak. As we search for our way, the adventure begins and so do the unexpected encounters.

We retrace this little expedition in the latest video Episode 8 | From the kayaking expedition on Lake Malawi to the unexpected encounter.

Nkhata Bay

Back from our trip to the Mareli Islands, we hear about the only ferry, called Ilala, which runs on Lake Malawi. It crosses the lake from north to south and back once a week. It stops on the Malawian islands near the Mozambique coast. We plan to go to Likoma, the biggest one. The Ilala goes to Nkhata Bay on Monday. We decide to go there this weekend to possibly board the ferry. After 5 hours on a small road not always very well maintained, we arrive in Nkhata Bay at nightfall. The reduced visibility with the darkening sky does not help the driving. Many pedestrians are moving on the road and the risk of accidents is quite high.

Once settled in the Mayoka lodge car park, we meet our friends Delphine and Louis (@hourizontoubor) for a reunion evening, one month after Mozambique. We park in the Mayoka car park above the lake. We don’t have the view from our van but the place is very nice. This part of the lake is cleaner and the risk of bilharzia is lower. This is a disease that can be caught in stagnant water and on the shores near the villages. The inhabitants wash their dishes and toilets in the lake water, which favours the proliferation of snails carrying this disease.

We stay a few days in Nkhata Bay, varying the pleasures between kayaking, swimming with the fishes, working on the video and preparing our short week on Likoma. It’s decided we will board on Monday with our friends for a week far from our vans and the hustle and bustle of the villages. To be continued in the next article…

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