The setting was Likoma, Malawi’s most attractive island, which arguably remains unpretentious by various human activities that have ruined other parts of the country.
But, then, maybe nothing beats the feeling of going to Likoma better than starting off at Monkey Bay, especially when it is aboard the MV Ilala.
Built in 1949, the MV Ilala passenger vessel, with its 450-passenger capacity, has over the years sailed the length and breadth of the lake, faithfully transporting people from Chirumba in the Northern part of Lake Malawi to Monkey Bay in the Southern Region.
For starters the ship among other things offers cabin class, first class, second class and economy class facilities as well as bars and restaurants, facilities that turn the experience of sailing on Lake Malawi into a memorable and comfortable for passengers.
On Friday 14th October at exactly 9:15am, the voice of Captain Dan Ngwira was heard on the public address system installed inside the Vessel announcing that the Ship would depart the Malawi Shipping Company (MSC) Monkey Bay base within 15 minutes.
It was not on its routine weekly trips, though. Rather, it was to play host to over 200 people that were attending the Likoma Arts festival that began on the ship and proceeds to the beautiful Likoma Island situated on the northern part of Lake Malawi. After Likoma, the fun continued on the ship as it snaked its way back to Monkey Bay.
Almost all people that had booked to depart from Monkey Bay to Likoma Island to attend the 3rd edition of Likoma Island Festival were already on board the MV Ilala.
On this particular day, the lake was calm such that when the ship left Monkey Bay it was clear that patrons to this year’s festival were destined to have one of their memorable occasions, in terms of arts festivals in the country.
Everyone on board seemed to have been overtaken by the incoming fun that was to be experienced in the next 40 hours as the MV Ilala cruised from Monkey to Likoma passing through Salima, Nkhotakota and Nkhata Bay where some arts faithfuls were waiting to join the fun.
The party started immediately after leaving monkey bay when DJs Reubie and Flame took turns entertaining the people who comprised on Malawians and other foreigners from Germany, Australia, South Africa and Zambia
By the time the ship docked at Chipoka jetty, the mood inside it had changed as patrons were now packed on the upper deck of the ship where the performances were being held. The stability of the ship made people to forget that they were floating on a body mass of water as they kept on drinking and dancing, here and there cheering at some fishermen found plying their trade deep in the blue waters of lake Malawi.
The cruise gave the patrons an opportunity to experience life on islands within lake Malawi, such that life on Namalenje in Salima and Mbenje in Nkhota-kota was experienced.
After departing Nkhotakota for Nkhata Bay, organizers, Smooth Productions, treated the patrons to an all-white party that was sponsored by Carlsberg Malawi Limited.
The all-white party lasted up to the morning hours of Saturday when the ship docked at Nkhata-bay Jetty where other patrons and musicians such as the Wailing Brothers and Moses Makawa joined the cruise.
However, the weather changed slightly in the morning of Saturday such that the ship was forced to leave Nkhata Bay earlier than planned. The change in the weather did, however, not dampen the mood of the people on board as they continued partying despite a few individuals that developed some stomach upsets due to the rough waters.
When the Ship docked at Likoma at around 2:30pm on Saturday, it was clear that, apart from the festival, patrons were also interested in Likoma as a place. As the organisers were setting up the stage, most of the patrons thronged the Island in search of anything fascinating, which they ably found at the Island.
Almost all roads in Likoma are not paved. The island’s population is populated by 8, 000 friendly people who own a very few cars. There is no industry or manufacturing company at the 17 square kilometers Island, thereby ensuring the very best fresh air for its inhabitants.
The Island is only 7 kilometres away from Mozambique on the northeastern part of Lake Malawi, it is surrounded by natural environment- rocky headlands, golden beaches and some huge baobab trees.
Without asking, locals are always ready and willing to furnish you with information that makes Likoma Malawi’s isolated tourism treasure. Most of them offered the visitors some free swimming lessons and guided their visitors while swimming
Among many other activities, patrons to the festival were also treated to some water sports such as swimming, scuba diving and sailing. Boat cruises around the island to the nearby Chizumulu Island and neighbouring Mozambique were also offered.
“I just wish there was a way to transfer this Island to somewhere more accessible than here. This is the best part of the whole lake Malawi which can make foreigners forget their homes,” said Alex Changu, a patron who came from Zambia to attend the festival.
He suggested that there is need to organize more arts events there so that people can learn a lot about the island as an ideal destination for their holidays, claiming that Likoma has potential to attract tourists just like the famed Victoria Falls.
Apart from the water sports and beautiful scenery, there is also a must-see Ancient St Peter’s Cathedral, the 3rd largest in Central Africa, which was constructed in 1903 by Scottish missionaries.
“This festival is a good way to go for the country because it offers people an opportunity to experience other places like Likoma and some Islands along the way. The approach is commendable because it is promoting the country’s tourism through arts,” said Noah Nansongole, Chief Tourism Officer responsible for Domestic and Regional Marketing.
Nansongole hinted that government is in the process of developing a plan that will see the country engaging arts as a vehicle to sell some of the tourist attraction sites in the country, a model which he said has proved to be pivotal in the development of other countries.
“We are really impressed with the patronage of this year’s festival because it has managed to attract the attention of patrons from countries in Europe and other African countries. We will meet with the organisers to see how best we can increase the time people spend here because, at the moment, a lot of time is spent on the ship and this gives the patrons little time to explore Likoma,” said Nansongole
Despite all the potential that the arts have to sell Malawi to the rest of the world, Smooth Production Co-director, Godfrey Kachimanga, expressed a concern over poor support from the corporate world, saying most companies do not value the potential of arts in the country.
He bemoaned a tendency by some companies not to trust organisers of various arts events, which he said is disadvantaging Malawi at a time when the country has reached consensus to promote tourism as an alternative source of income for the country.
“Countries like Zimbabwe value arts so much that companies do compete with each other to sponsor an event. But, here, people prefer keeping their money to themselves. Art has the potential to sell anything in this world,” said Kachimanga while appreciating support from the Ministry of Trade, Airtel Malawi and Island Beverages, purifiers of Kasupe Water, for the support they rendered towards organisation of this year’s event.
Kachimanga said that his smooth Production is exploring other ways of promoting other tourist attraction sites in the country, as one way of partnering government in promoting the country’s tourism sector.
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