Of Nyami Nyami: A Zambezi River God

nyami nyami

victoria falls

Bound not only by history and the majestic Victoria Falls; Zimbabwe and Zambia share the Zambezi river as a border between them including the common legend of a River God fabled to patron it, the Nyami Nyami.

nyami nyami

The Nyami Nyami  is a River God said to look something like a cross between a snake and a fish with varying accounts as to its actual size and appearance, I am surprised that no one has added being a shape-shifter to its list of abilities.

clip art nyami nyami

As legend would have it told, the Nyami Nyami lived under a large boulder that jutted out from the Kariwa gorge where the present day Kariba Dam wall was built, and any mortal foolish enough to venture close to there got trapped and dragged under water never to be seen again. This is how Kariba Dam got its name from the word Kariwa/Kariva which means trap. The Dam construction project might also have been explained to the locals as being a “Water Trap” to hold water from the river.

The Tonga people used to live a simple life sheltered from the outside world on the banks of the mighty Zambezi River. In drought times the Nyaminyami would let the people cut off pieces of itself to eat, and no matter how much they cut, would never get finished. The name Nyaminyami could be from the Tonga phrase meaning pieces of meat: nyama yamaninganinga.

Then civilisation invaded in the 1940s. Shattering their simple lifestyle, as they were relocated from areas that would flood upon the building of the Kariba Dam and its Hydroelectric Power Station to supply electricity to Zimbabwe and Zambia. The Tonga folk let themselves be relocated but they held the belief that the Nyaminyami would never let the dam project be completed.

building kariba dam

Almost true to the Tonga’s expectations the Kariba dam project was plagued with unparalleled flooding of the sort that is supposed to be witnessed only once in a thousand years, but yet happened consecutively for three years

Eventually they would turn to the Tonga tribal elders and spirit mediums to intercede on their behalf…..


The dam was completed in 1958 and started generating hydroelectric power in 1960.

Kariba Dam Opening
Sir Duncan, Queen Elizabeth at the official opening of the Kariba Dam on Tuesday 17th May 1960

its still generating power for Zambia and Zimbabwe today.

kariba electricity

The End?

 No, not quite. See when they completed the dam wall, they separated the Nyami Nyami from his mate. The earth tremors that are frequent in the area are a result of the River God trying to break down the dam wall and reunite with his mate. The Tonga people believe that one  day Nyaminyami will break down the wall and they will return to their ancestral homes on the banks of the Zambezi River.

Update: Someone shared an interesting theory with me that: IF the Nyaminyami is there we might be mistaken about its appearance (well, personally I think it shapeshifts) See, the dam was built by an Italian consortium Impresit and its highly likely they drove their Italian made Alfa Romeo vehicles. Take a look at the logo of the Alfa Romeo vehicle and tell me it does not remind you of some legend?:

alfa romeo logo

What do I think? I think that deep in the murky waters of the Zambezi there is some creature there, something,ancient, uncommon and unknown. I heard an interesting story about how separating the Nyaminyami from its mate was actually a calculated move, they did not want these creatures breeding, dealing with only two is trouble enough……

The Nyami Nyami River God myth or real, what do you think?



Day 14 of my blog everyday challenge Africa: Stories from home

Photocredit www.victoriafalls-guide.net


  1. I’ve actually heard of Nyami Nyami before, in an episode of a popular television show called River Monsters. It was a show about fishing: a British biologist and fisherman would run around the world catching rare and dangerous fish. He suspected that Nyami Nyami was inspired by a large catfish that lives in the Zambezi River that’s called a Vundu or Solomon Fish. But he was an outsider looking in, and television isn’t the most honest of mediums. So I have no idea what Nyami Nyami actually is; all I know is that I’m not about to go swimming in the Zambezi.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hi Josh
      looks like the Nyami Nyami is famous I have even seen it referred to as the lochness monster of the Zambezi river on a TV show ( I dont remember which one though)

      Whenever repairs are going to be done to the dam wall they first consult with local elders …..to respect tradition they say… just to be safe, in case the Nyami Nyami really is something more than an overly large fish….

      Swim in the Zambezi at your own peril, there are crocodiles in there!!!!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Man, crocodiles are one animal that I don’t mess with.

        If local elders don’t want the dam to be there? I wonder if they could just give the wrong advice while being consulted about repairs? Perhaps Nyami Nyami will do them a favor…


      2. interesting point … actually currently it seems the are some repairs that need to be done before the next rain season otherwise there’s a very real risk of the dam going.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Well, I personally hope nothing goes wrong. I know that dams are horrible for the environment and all, but if it were to come crashing down people might be killed in the flooding. So, I hope that doesn’t happen.


  2. I’m compelled to believe there is a huge catfish or an eel that’s frightening to look at. The African in me would never tread those waters because I don’t know whether Mr Nyaminyami will drown me. I’m not taking risks

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It makes sense, I mean If I were a River God I should able to do water crafting and by extension body morphing otherwise known as shape-shifting.
      Oh when the book is out, point me in its direction I am on a quest to read fantasy based on African lore and the magic within our ancestry please and thanks

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Someone just told me this interesting update…. It could also be that when the Dam people were describing The Dam to the local people they may have said they intended to build a Water Trap to hold back water ………….


  3. For me the river is the nyami nyami. If you look at the river from above, the shape of the river meanders like the tail of a snake away from the falls. And the mouth is the falls bellowing smoke and thunder. Well that’s my two cents anyway 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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