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Tuesday, 31 October, 2000, 15:59 GMT
Malawi's 'lost tribe'
Most people build their houses on rafts on the water
By Raphael Tenthani from Lake Chilwa

The people who live on the islands of Chisi and Thongwe in Lake Chilwa in Malawi are some of the most isolated anywhere on the continent.

There is no conflict on the islands, only love and unity, and that is the way we want things to stay

Island resident
Only a handful of the 2,000 inhabitants have been to the mainland, and few Malawians know about the islands.

Fewer still have visited.

Cholera is a year round scourge, and poverty is widespread among this 'lost tribe' of Malawi.

The Chisi and Thongwe islanders are cut off from the outside world.

Poverty is rife, there are no clinics and modern sanitation is virtually non-existant.

For people here the lake is both the life blood and a threat.

It provides drinking water, washing facilities and a toilet - a combination which easily leads to a cholera outbreaks.

People die from the disease all year round.

Village meeting
The communities are tight-knit
Most of the inhabitants live on the water in houses built on reed rafts.

Magulaye Salima, who is more than 70 years old, has lived like this for most of his life.

He told me that cholera has not yet affected him, and that he treats each outbreak as a natural phenomenon.

Mr Salima showed me inside his simple floating hut, and told me how fish - and only fish - are the island people's only source of income.

Fish trap
Fish trapping is the main source of protein and income
Fish here is the staple diet. Mr Salima said he could not recall a day when he had not eaten it.

Many islanders appear to put up with the way things are - few have seen other lifestyles, they have never left the islands and have not seen a car or used electricity.

Others feel they are being forgotten by Malawi's Government.

One man I met, Ronald Chigwere, felt that nobody seemed to care about the people.

A good catch
Some islanders have never eaten any flesh other than fish
He told me former President Hastings Kamuzu Banda never visited the islands during his 30 years of office, and that President Bakili Muluzi had promised much, but had not delivered.

A hospital has been built, but no doctors have been sent to staff it.

However, the government says it is planning to send health workers to Chisi and Thongwe to treat the cholera epidemic and teach people better hygiene.

Canoe on Lake Chilwa
The lake is the villagers' life-support system - and health threat
Their arrival will be welcomed - but most islanders do not want too much to change.

Magulaye Salima told me that there is no conflict on the island, only love and unity, and that is the way they want things to stay.

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23 Oct 00 | Africa
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