Most Malawians who are not from the lakeshore, just like foreigners to Malawi, confess that chambo is the real delicacy from the lake of stars, Africa’s most beautiful lake, Lake Malawi. Of course, they have adequate and justifiable grounds to come to this conclusion.
If truth be told, those of us blessed to come from the lakeshore areas in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, before the insanity of “freedoms” that came under the misguided guise of liberties and democracy and multiparty, which was hijacked either by ignorance, foolishness or outright opportunism by those that wanted to act in all manners of rogue and vagabond ways, the lake of stars had real delicacies in the name of Ntchira, Kadyakolo, Nkhorokoro etc.
These were the fisher’s wife’s delicacies. The Chambo, Utaka and Matemba were the commercial catch, readily available to be traded to the folks from the hinterland who we branded “Angoni” in the youth days of fish scouting from the fishers camped at Malembo harbour.
Then life was teeming with abundance in Nankumba peninsula; abundant fish to the extent that most days boat loads had to be emptied at sea for fear of the crew drowning after too heavy a catch. In emptying the boats, the fishers would make exception for the fisher’s wife reserve by keeping ntchira, kadyakolo, nkhorokoro, sanjika and throwing away chambo, utaka, fwiriri and kampango. The retained delicacies had such magical taste they melted away any anger from the fisher’s bride. Today life is so bland that any fish is a delicacy.
Then there was game meat aplenty everywhere in the Nankumba peninsula. We, toddlers used to go hunting for duickers and antelopes just outside the grass fences of our huts with just clubs aided by our mongrels. As we come back with our kill we met our elder brother heavily laden with warthog and bush pig meat harvested from their traps.
Tired of fish and game, we could either turn to the bush for njiwa, nkhwali and nkhanga caught in our rudimentary traps or we could go to the marshes with our grandparents’ shotguns to down mphama, tsekwe and lili (water ducks).
Then there was plenty of fruit all around in the Nankumba peninsula from palm trees to baobab to bwemba, maye, nkhuyu, mpyupyu, kankande, mchisu and for those with brave pallets bwemba. We were so healthy we rarely fell ill and notwithstanding the heavy presence of mosquitoes we never knew mosquito nets, doom or chroloquine. Our food and fruit were adequate medicines and vaccines.
Times have changed so dramatically since 1994. Everyone learnt overnight that fire for cooking and heating can come from a phenomenon called makala (charcoal). Before that, we used dried fruits from palm trees called magwede as our firewood for curing fish, cooking, barbeque, boiling water for tea, which we are addicted to along the lakeshore notwithstanding the heat. Once in a while, as a substitute, we used firewood gathered from the dried branches of old dying trees. No one felled a tree in the peninsula for the purpose of energy use except for construction and these were mostly wild bamboos. So, life was lived very sustainably in the peninsula in those days.
Today in 2016, the world in the Nankumba peninsula is a dramatic revolt from the tranquil sustainability of the 1980s. The lake is barren and all it gives out once in while is bonya, the land is now a desert and the only animals one comes across are marauding hyenas. The marshes are dry pools of salty looking pans and even the crocodiles, the birds and all the crickets migrated enmasse to nobody knows where. The land is so poor and barren that even the reeds refuse to grow along the shores and all that is left is kaufiti grass.
As if all this invasion of destruction and damage were not enough, the chambo in the lake in the Nankumba peninsula awaits the final nail that will seal its coffin—oil drilling on Lake Malawi.
One of these odd days, the chambo wondered why it and its home Lake Malawi were being forsaken so much, considering the critical importance they play in the lives of Malawi as a nation and how harm and danger would be willfully allowed to happen to them. Then much as the chambo conceded that one way or the other it was destined for the lunch or dinner tables of the Queen and King’s table, but what will become of all the millions of human inhabitants of Blantyre and the entire Shire highlands who depend on their drinking water from Lake Malawi via Walkers’ Ferry, besides the millions more Malawians from Chitipa to Nsanje who depend on this stretch of water to access the most affordable source of protein, fish. Chambo cried, pointless tears in the water just like these writings will evaporate in the complexity of competing interests.