History Of Malawi

Dr Robert Laws and the First Surgical Operation in Nyasaland

Article written by Inno Chanza

Dr Laws performed the first known successful operation in Nyasaland on 2nd March 1876 using chloroform to surgically remove the cystic tumour on a native at Cape Maclear to the amazement of the natives.

The natives had always known that Livingstone was a Doctor and when Robert Laws came they didn’t believe that he was also a doctor till that day that Laws operated that young man.
Dr David Livingstone used to walk with his medical box full of quinine and other tablets. Moving from village to village Dr Livingstone could assist natives with some ailments like malaria and black water.

The natives had learnt that there was white medicine which worked different from the own local bush doctor medication. When Livingstone died 1873 and his successors came to Nyasaland the natives never believed some of them when they said …they were doctors. The natives in their mind… thought the only white “nsing’anga” as they used to call him,,, was David Livingstone.

That day that Robert Laws performed first surgical operation on a native… the natives were so impressed that anybody named ‘Doctor’ to them was a demigod… who could do what a bush doctor could not do. Dr Alpine of Livingstonia had medically assisted the great M’mbelwa I from some ailments which soften his heart towards the Europeans.

The natives were surprised in 1879 when a young female white woman came and she was also called “Doctor”. This was Dr Waterston who helped Dr Laws to treat native women and girls.

Dr Macvicar arrived in Blantyre in 1896 and helped to establish the Blantyre Mission hospitals. Dr Macvicar advised the Blantyre Mission to open their Mission hospital in Mlanje. The Mlanje hospital was thus opened in 1896 by Dr Macvicar and worked with John Gray Kufa the first known qualified Medical Assistant in Nyasaland.

Daniel Malikebu a protégé of John Chilembwe left in 1907 to follow Emma Delany in America to become a medical doctor due to the natives fascination of the white Doctors of Nyasaland who followed the steps of Dr Livingstone.

Malikebu qualified as the fist native medical doctor in 1919.
Malikebu qualified in 1919 as the first native doctor in Nysaland and Hasting Banda due to the influence of the Livingstonia medical doctors… left in 1915 to become a medical doctor.

In 1930s, Levi Mumba complained about the future of Nyasaland native education after completion of primary school as there were no secondary schools. The govt just addressed his concern by giving his son a scholarship outside the country.

Later in the early 40s, Blantyre Secondary School and Zomba Catholic Secondary School…. were built. In 1941, Governor Edmund Richards decided to provide scholarships to University of Makerere for natives from these Secondary schools.

In 1943, 3 students were given scholarships. In 1944, 4 students were given scholarships. In 1945, SV Bhima was given a scholarship medicine at Makerere while G Kamanga was given a scholarship to Fort Hare University. G Chingati was also given a scholarship to study at the University of Johannesburg.

Meanwhile the first Cambridge School of Certificate exams were held in 1948 in Nyasaland, John Msonthi and Dyson Chona sat on these exams and passed them. The Nyasaland govt first introduced the Cambridge Higher School Certificate in 1958 at Dedza Govt Secondary School.

Orton Chirwa did his Standard 1 to 6 at Livingstonia and was sent to St Francis College, Marian Hill in Durban thereafter he was allowed at Fort Hare where he found Manoah Chirwa and Champion Ngoma.

Champion Ngoma was a son of a migrant a friend of Hastings Banda from Nkhotakota. Champion Ngoma was at Wilberforce Institute before he was allowed at Fort Hare University in 1945. Hastings Banda was paying for Champion’s tuition at Fort Hare.

Henry Chipembere spent his Secondary schools’ days in the late 40s at Blantyre Secondary School. The colonial govt later gave him a bursary to Golomonzi in Rhodesia before he was given a scholarship to Fort Hare where he was admitted in 1952.

Augustine and Harry Bwanausi were at Blantyre Secondary School. Augustine was given a scholarship to Makerere to study Bachelor of Science where he met Kanyama Chiume and Rubadiri. Harry was given a scholarship to study medicine Fort Hare and Johannesburg Medical School in the mid-50s. David Rubadiri from Likoma, who his secondary school at the oldest East African Secondary School Kings College at Budo in Tanganyika.

By 1959 there 23 graduates in Nyasaland 21 men and 2 women.

As early as 1953, Roseby Kazembe was at University of Bath and Sarah Chavunduka was the first woman to be admitted at the University of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 1957 in Salisbury.

Nyasaland Govt in 1950 considered of sending some natives to the Universities in India. That year John Msonthi was sent to India. Willie Chokani was also given a scholarship to India as well where he did his bachelors and masters before he became the first head master of HHI Secondary School in 1957

These Nyasa natives trained by the colonial govt were to be involved in the 1964 cabinet crisis which puzzled Dr Banda.

In the picture, a male and female ward, at Blantyre Hospital in 1910, Blantyre Hospital was was built in 1896.

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