Dugout Canoe in "Niasa"
Lake Malawi, Southernmost of the Great Lakes of Africa's Great Rift Valley

This dugout canoe has just blown in on the winds off Lake Malawi, the furthest southern of the lakes of the Great Rift Valley of Africa. The "Lake" has given its name to this area, unwittingly through the earliest explorers into colonial times and now again has the same name as the independent nation around it. One of my heroes, David Livingstone, was exploring along the east side of the lake in what would later become Niasa Province of Mozambique, when it had become independent of its earlier "Portuguese East Africa" colonial title. He asked the Jao-speaking "people of the lake" whom he had befriended and served, what was the name of this large body of water? "Niasa" they explained; so Livingstone duly recorded it, unaware that he had just named it "Lake Lake." During British colonial rule (largely based on the claim of Livingstone's explorations as a medical missionary with a principle purpose to stamp out the scourge of slavery from the continent that had furnished so much human chattle) the name for the colony was British Nyasaland. With the independence and presidency of the next British-trained physician to stamp a lasting image on the country, Doctor Kamazu Banda, the capital, currency and name changed to Malawi, the original name of the "Niasa."

Several physicians have found themselves in quite important positions of power in African history (as well as other parts of the developing world, such as Papa Doc in Haiti), and not all of these have served their people well; "president for life" in a "one party state" has a nice ring to it, and saves insecurity and re-election campaigning, and absolute power absolutely convinces the bearer that the head of state and office holders are to be served by the populace. Each of these Papa Docs became so convinced, and have found themselves heads of the most destitute states--and Malawi, "the warm heart of Africa" is now at the bottom of the world misery index. This is through no fault of the Lake Malawi pictured here, which is a rarity in arid Africa, a dependable large source of fresh water. Natural resources are impressive in much of Africa; it is the unnatural purposes to which they are put that is often the source of disappointment.