Here are the facts. First fact: There was no country called Malawi until Europeans colonised and partitioned Africa into their fiefdoms. Some, like Belgium, Germany, Portugal, and Britain got huge chunks of Africa and exploited them to build their countries and kingdoms. Visit the Hotel des Colonies and Palais des Colonies in Brussels to see what we mean.
Before that there were only tribal groups, clans, and some organised kingdoms scattered around the continent. The people mingled and traded with each other. Sometimes they fought and subjugated each other.
Migrations for better and greener pastures, and to run away from marauding kings and warriors was not uncommon. That is how the Ngoni, Chewa, Tumbuka, Ngoni, and Yao found themselves in what we today call Malawi.
Second fact: Before the arrival of colonialists, our chiefs, the ancestors of the very people we kneel before today as our gogo chalos, bakuchindikika, Chiyembwi, Mwene wa Mwene, etc were cooperating with outside traders, mostly Arabs, to kill elephants, rhinos, and other animals to sell horns and tusks to Arabs. The same chiefs were working with the likes of Mlozi to sell their people, the ancestors of the nameless us, their subjects, to Arabs and other Asians.
Third fact: The European explorers-cum-missionaries-cum- traders found us in a dire situation. The slave trade was at its peak. The Arab slave buyers and their cooperating local slave selling chiefs had hunting rifles. The Europeans, too, had guns. The playfield was levelled. And the Europeans won. But the Europeans did more than the Arabs by introducing formal European-style education, cleared and constructed wide roads, introduced European money as a unit for the exchange of goods, and introduced a monotheist religion, killing, if not just suppressing, in the process all local religious beliefs.
Fourth fact: As the Europeans travelled around, they bought land from the chiefs, the ancestors of our Gogo chalos, not with money sometimes but cloth, beads, and other luxuries of the time. Understandably, land was then plentiful. The population of what we call today Malawi was less than half a half million if we use Nyasaland’s first census (969 183 inhabitants only) as a launchpad into the remote unrecorded past.
Then they renamed the places they found after their kings, queens, army general homes, friends, and boyfriends and girlfriends. So, apart from the roads bearing the names of foreigners, our geographical areas, particularly the border ones, got names such as fort Manning (Mchinji), Fort Johnston (Mangochi), Fort Lister (Phalombe), Fort Hill (Chitipa), Port Herald (Nsanje), West Nyasa, and North Nyasa.
When the Europeans got to Mangochi, at the point where Lake Malawi scissors into the West and Eastern arms, the land of Chief Nankumba, home of Mwala wa Mphini, they found people going about their businesses down the lake. Instead of asking what the place was called, Chief Chembe’s land was unilaterally renamed Cape Maclear. On the Eastern side of Chief Chembe’s land, the Europeans found people fishing and monkeys cavorting and somersaulting in trees along the peninsulas near Chikoko.
They heard the names of the places and peninsulas but the Europeans called the place Monkey Bay; not Chikoko, or Nankumba or just Mbuna but Monkey Bay. Monkey? Ifeyo anyani mu dziko lathu?
We protest. We can withstand names like Blantyre; but not Monkey Bay. The owners and occupants of that place are not monkeys. They are people. The chiefs in that area are not monkeys. They are chiefs. The women that go to maternity hospital there are not monkeys and don’t deliver baby monkeys. They are people and deliver human babies.
Our president, the first lady and the first children go and holiday there. They are not monkeys but Malawi’s first family. Our navy marines and police officers live and work from there, and they cannot be monkeys.
We, the Bottom Up expedition, led by our indefatigable Professor Dr Joyce Befu, MEGA 1, often visit the area to swim in our lake. And we are not monkeys.
Therefore, it has pleased us, as citizens of Malawi and owners of this country, to rectify colonial wrongs that have been tolerated for too long by our politicians, and to rename Monkey Bay, Blantyre, and Nkhata Bay in addition to all roads and infrastructure bearing foreign names. The new names of these places, roads and infrastructure shall be communicated and ‘gazetted’ here next week. Those of the anti-Malawian naming should “say nay” before then.
Happy Easter holidaysMask up.