The carpenter, Malawi

I was enjoying a relaxed ride along the shoreline of Lake Malawi from Nkhotakota to Nkhata Bay, the mostly good road allowed me to appreciate the slow sweeping corners along the lakeside. Out of the corner of my eye i thought i saw a guy hollowing out a tree trunk, so being a little nosey, i turned around to see what he was up to.

Carpenter starting to excavate the trunk to form a canoe by Lake Malawi
Carpenter starting to excavate the trunk to form a canoe by Lake Malawi

Melengue, a fisherman had commissioned a local carpenter to fell one of his trees and create a dugout canoe – the second in his fleet. They had spent the previous day chopping down the tree which was about 1m diameter at its base, removing the bark and branches to create a smooth trunk. Now, the carpenter was perched on top of the log, hacking into it with a pick-like axe, to chisel out the inside. The wood on the inside was much darker than the finely grained exterior, still damp with sap. Because of the grain, the wood was tough to hack into, though the carpenter slowly and surely made progress with hand sized chunks of wooden swarf being removed with each cut. I asked to take a photo of the trunk and the carpenter and he said i could if i gave him some money, which i refused. He allowed me to take a couple of photos.

Kids often come to sit and watch me, near Lake Malawi
Kids often come to sit and watch me, near Lake Malawi

Some kids came along to keep an eye on me and i shared some sweets with them and took some more photos. I’m not sure if they had been so close to a Mazungu (white person) before, saying that white skin is softer. After they touched and stroked my forearm, we agreed that our skin was the same, just a different colour.

I found out that Melengue was 16 years old, had a 15 year old wife and a 2 year old daughter. He said that he wanted to marry young to make sure he had a clean wife as there are so many diseases in Malawi. He lived in a compound containing 3 houses, one each for his brother, his mother and himself. Melengue’s English was basic and pretty good as he left school at 12. His English was more than adequate enough for us to have a conversation and for him to translate mine and the kids questions.

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