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The Luawata Bowls

The Luawata Bowls

The Luawata River is a seasonal tributary of the main Luangwa. It flows from around December to April. It’s a wild and dynamic little river carving a course through extremely remote wilderness areas between the South and North Luangwa National Parks.

GPS co-ordinates
S – 12° 22’ 28’’
E – 32° 6’ 31’’

Every year the Luawata floods – some years more violently and destructively than others. It’s course changes quite dramatically and many trees are swept away. Khaya nyassica – red mahongany – local name Muwawa. You never find them in the main riverine area of the Luangwa – they only grow and thrive along her seasonal tributaries. We started to harvest 4 muwawa within quite a short distance of each other in August – we finally finished getting them out at the end of October when temperatures were touching 45 and 45 degrees.

Adrian knew they had been there for some years and quite a bit of their main trunks were by now deep in the sandy river bed. Muwawa is a hard wood so there was no danger of it rotting and the soft bark and sapwood was long gone, but they could have been buried or even burnt in the regular bush fires that sweep through every year, so we really wanted to get to them this year.

It took 4 or 5 trips with a chain saw, a team of stout men, the cruiser with winch and a fair bit of brute force and strategizing to get the huge logs out. It was also one of the hottest years on record and the white Luawata sand made for uncomfortable and tiring work.

But you can never be bored working along the Luawata and the heat, tse tse flies and dust don’t bother us too much. We always have to be careful of elephant in these parts. They are not quite as calm and habituated to humans as they are in the South of the Valley. They do seem to stay away from the sound of the chainsaw but we have been seriously chased many times when we’re travelling between camp and the river. It’s always cow elephants – the matriarchs of the wandering herds, of course we mean them no harm but there is a bit of poaching pressure in these parts so they are suspicious of people. (to read about human/animal conflict and Elephantwood’s mitigation efforts – click here)

September, October and November of 2014 were devastatingly dry and it was a very rough time for the large herbivores. We couldn’t blame the cows for chasing us and Adrian ALWAYS makes sure he has several ‘escape’ routes so that we’re able to get out of the way as fast as possible. As a very last resort – he is armed with a .416 Rigby from 1912 which had belonged to his father. Happily we have never come close to having to use it on a bowl collecting trip – and of course, never intend to.

As well as elephants – we always see puku, bushbuck, impala, hippo, baboon and vervet monkey. Most days we see buffalo and warthog, sometimes wildebeest and kudu and if we’re lucky roan.

Then there are the big cats of course. We hear lion and leopard in camp 3 or 4 times a week at least and have had some good sightings of a large leopard Tom who seems to have been hanging around the muwawas – he’s not at all bothered by us – he climbs high in to a tree most days to avoid the biting flies and try to catch what little breeze there is in the scorched air. I wonder what he is doing now that the blessed rains have come. Heaven for the eles, hippo and buffalo – but a pain in the backside for the hunters.

Luangwa Fishing Party

Luangwa Fishing Party

 The dwindling Luangwa is a good place to fish at this dry time of year. We met up with these ladies and their children on a fishing party to the shrinking pools of water. They use the baskets to scoop up the fish then they’re smoke dried making a tasty and nutritious relish.

Published on 10th February 2015 in Wood Hunting.

Author Bio


Assistant wood-turner and bowl polisher

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