Originally exported as Aulonocara nyassae, the variant of A. stuartgranti
at Cobwé was the first Aulonocara exported from Malawi, as it is possible
to collect these with a snorkel.
Building the Business
In 1985, Stuart was the de facto (and sole) ornamental fish exporter
in Malawi, and business grew steadily. He established a second team
on Likoma Island that would be responsible for collecting cichlids
at Chizumulu Island and later, when species from that area became
more important, Chilumba Bay. Before this, the Nkhata Bay team was
responsible for collecting fish all along the northwestern shore of the
lake. They even collected fish at Chilumba, but had to transport their
equipment, including the boat, on the lake steamer Ilala.
At each station, the collected fish are held in plastic drums (with
top nets) that float in the water. Once a week the lake steamer calls
at the various places around the lake, and one of Stuart’s employees,
a permanent passenger on the ship, carries supplies and catching
orders to the four teams and brings back the collected fishes. With
the recent expansion of the lake steamer’s schedule (two additional
stops in Mozambique) making the journey down south too long for
the bagged fishes, they are sometimes driven from Nkhata Bay after
they have been picked up from Likoma and Chilumba.
Before the recent advent of mobile phones in Malawi, contact
with the teams was primarily made via the permanent passenger on
the Ilala, although the Likoma team acquired the fourth landline
telephone on the island, which has a population of about 14,000.
(You can still call them; ask the operator for Likoma and telephone
number 4.) For almost all inhabitants, the only contact was via the
weekly visits of the lake steamer; now the possession of a mobile
phone is the modern standard and top-up cards can be bought on
every corner of the village.
After a few years of booming exports of Malawi cichlids, Stuart
gathered enough resources to acquire a plot of land next to where
he rented his fish house. For years he had lived in a tiny trailer
before he remodeled a garage to a bedroom in the rented property.
Now he had his own place and quickly started to build a fish house
and holding tanks. He also built a guest cottage in which he lived
until his main house was ready in 1990. An interesting fact is that
Stuart hired as his builder James Pindani, who had been head diver
for the Davies and the one who ventured into Mozambique at
Cobwé and collected Aulonocara as well as Pseudotropheus socolofi,
then known as Pseudotropheus “Pindani.” He later filled the same
role working for Norman Edwards.
I can still remember when James brought me to his modest home
and introduced me to his mother. She greeted me on her knees, and
I thought that was the Malawi standard, so I followed suit. I later
found out that Malawians are very humble and grateful, and she
was honoring me. In the case of Stuart, I can certainly understand
that they were grateful to him, since the 70 to 80 Malawians he
employed and their families total 1500, all of whom were directly
benefiting from this relationship. Employees were entitled to
housing, which meant that Stuart had to build houses (of simple,
African style) for each of his employees. For his higher-qualified
employees, he built four multiple-room brick houses furnished
with electricity at the Kambiri site, but later also in Nkhata
Bay, Likoma, and in Chilumba. Europeans are often branded as
colonizers and suppressors, particularly by those who have never
visited the continent, but Stuart’s employees were actually proud to
work for him, and their work “uniform” (a t-shirt with “Stuart M.
Grant Fish Exporter” printed on it) would garner them credit in
the local grocery store.
When Norman Edwards terminated his export activities in
Malawi in 1985, Stuart bought his single most important asset:
the diesel boat Lady Diana. This boat was built in Malawi at the
Mpepwe boatyard by Baulen, a top-notch boat builder that Stuart
hired a few years later. The Lady Di, as it was famously known,
turned out to be the ideal mode of transportation for visiting
hobbyists and scientists alike; although the boat was not fast, it
could withstand the sometimes-rough swells on the lake. I have
traveled with it all around the lake many times over. By today’s
standards in Malawi, the boat is relatively small (about 22 feet
long), and now I wonder how I could have spent weeks on end
living on it; I slept on the floorboards, fought for sleep with hordes
of cockroaches, witnessed the pummeling of high waves that would
sometimes dip the wheelhouse completely underwater and eject
the boat completely out of it at the next moment, and experienced
the breakdown of every single moving part in the boat at one time
or another. Nevertheless, the Lady Di was your ticket when you
wanted to explore the lake.
Stuart Grant introduced hookah diving gear into Malawi; today
almost all ornamental fish collectors of Africa’s Great Lakes make
use of this system.
Stuart recognized the advantages of the diesel boat over the
small open boats with outboard engines and had Baulen duplicate
the Lady Di in every detail, which he completed in 1996. The
new boat, the Lady Louise, named after Stuart’s daughter, became