People and the Mountain
The first recorded people to live around Mount Mulanje were the Batwa or Akafula, who were related to the Southern African San Bushmen. Although yet to be found on Mulanje, their rock art has been discovered on the nearby hills at Machemba and Mikolongwe.
The indigenous people living around at present are the Lhomwe, Yao and the Mang’anja people. These tribes have different cultural beliefs, but have one thing in common when it comes to Mulanje: they all believe that there are spirits on the mountain.
Since time immemorial, local people have believed that there are spirits on Mulanje. This belief has been handed down from generation to generation, and many people today still believe that these spirits control life on the mountain.
For example; it is said that one can sometimes find well-prepared food on the mountain. The food is found on plates, ready for eating, and the advice is that the finder should not share it: the spirits has provided the food, and he or she should eat it alone. In the same way, it is said that one can find wonderful fruits like bananas, pineapples and mangoes.
Further, it is also believed that there are specific trees on the mountain that are home to spirits. If these trees are felled, they immediately grow again. Imagine a tree that you cut down one day and find it back to its normal self the next.
Other stories include; Napolo, appearing and disappearing and many more.
Over 500,000 households are directly or indirectly benefiting from the Biosphere Reserve through mountain products, rivers and employment.
Due to a variety of livelihoods challenges, mountain resources have been used as the main coping mechanism. However, the rate at which people unceremoniously harvest the resources evoke fears of depleting the reserve and denying future generations from exploiting its benefits. These illegal activities have negatively impacted the unique biodiversity of Mount Mulanje including the endemic Mulanje Cedar, which is Malawi’s National tree.
As a response to this, communities are working together with relevant organizations like Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust and the Department of Forestry to reduce and prevent the damage on the mountain resources.