The Leper Tree of Malawi

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Leprosy is a curable disease, but less than seventy years ago, people were dying from it. After the end of the 17th century, leprosy became a significant problem not only in the poorer countries of Africa and Asia, but western Europe as well. Because of lack of understanding about the disease, the unavailability of a cure and the disfigurement it brought to the sufferers, lepers were often ostracized in society. People suffering from leprosy were forcibly removed from their communities, quarantined, or even killed. 

In the country of Malawi in southeast Africa, people who died due to leprosy were not given proper burial. They were not buried in the ground, but either left hanging from a tree in a graveyard or tied up and put inside a hollow tree and left to die, so that the earth would not be contaminated by the disease. Such an incident is reported to have occurred in the village of Liwonde, as recently as sixty years ago.

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According to the story, nine people from a local tribe fell ill with leprosy. In order to keep the disease from spreading, individuals were rounded up, tied and led to a large baobab tree at the base of Chinguni Hill. They were then thrown into the hollow of the baobab and left to die. The "Leper Tree," as it has become known, remains standing today though it doubles over to one side, and there’s lesions and sores on its bark. On its trunk appears a hand-painted sign that reads: “The grave for people who suffered from leprosy in the past.” You can still poke your head into the hollow and see skulls and skeletons lying at the bottom.

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Sources: Atlas Obscura / prentissdarden.wordpress.com / reprobate.co.za

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