Friday, July 06, 2012
Upon reaching Lake Malawi in 1859, Livingstone named it Lake Nyasa. As the British began to colonize the African continent, they eventually claimed all of the territory surrounding the lake and named it Nyasaland. Portugal then colonized the Eastern shore of the lake. Since the British still had their mission station on Likoma Island, the islands were given to Malawi when the final borders were drawn up.
Although ownership of the islands is not under dispute, the name of the lake is. Malawi obviously prefers "Lake Malawi". Most other nearby nations prefer "Lake Nyasa". According to Wikipedia, the name Nyasa came about from a mistake in translation. Upon arriving at the Lake, David Livingstone asked his guide for the name of the lake. The word that came back was "Nyasa". However, nyasa basically meant "lake," the generic word not the lake's proper name. Lake Nyasa stuck but should be translated as "Lake Lake" in other languages. I have seen this happen many times when researching the history behind a place name for my maps. Many of the names for native peoples are the result of this type of confusion between a local population and foreign explorers.