Of The Zambezi River God’s Revenge

Genre; mystery

The Legend of the Zambezi River God, the Nyami Nyami, is a story known and shared by locals of Zambia and Zimbabwe. Visitors to Kariba Dam are greeted by an imposing statue that is supposed to depict the famed River God.

An enterprising dealer may try to sell you a Nyami Nyami walking stick which is not a walking aid but rather an artistic impression of the Tonga lifestyle, but be careful not to confuse the “historical stick” with the actual Tonga cultural and religious beliefs.

nyami nyami walking stick

On an episode of River Monsters, Jeremy Wade speculated that this invisible executioner of the Zambezi River might be a vundu catfish but whatever it may be to survive the surging might of the Zambezi river it would definitely be formidable…….

River Monsters Jeremy Wade the Nyami Nyami is a vundu catfish

I have never given much thought to this legend, even though around my neck I wear an ivory carved Nyami Nyami pendant neck piece, an old gift.

ivory pendant nyami nyami

I had been gifted the pendant by an elderly lady, old enough to be someone’s great mother, “for luck” she had said. She also insisted I wear it always. Wearing it always was easy to do since, it was very light and the fine leather thong that secured it around my neck, had been bonded together and the only way I could remove it was by cutting it off.

I met the lady during a school field trip to Kariba Dam, she was selling pricey but beautiful curios and oddities at a market stall. I had desperately wanted to buy a souvenir but I had nothing left to spare since I had bought a rare flower. A valentine gift to bring my crush back at school.

Mlilo, she must be something special” she remarked

I was momentarily caught off-guard as she had addressed me by my clan name, then I remembered I was wearing a name tag, all the students wore them. I smiled politely and shrugged.

I last had someone give me a flower a lifetime ago” she said, as she sighed wistfully.

Again I shrugged as  I turned to walk back to the school bus, I took a step then paused, a random voice in my heard whispered “Why not

I faced her again and without much in the way of ceremony placed the flower into her calloused hands.

flower

Danke” said thanking me in my mother language and proceeded to chant my clan praise which I am ashamed to admit I hardly knew, then added an unfamiliar blessing but it sounded like it roughly translated to “May your fire never go out in the storm

That’s when she handed me the ivory pendant “For luck” she said.

I ran to catch up with the other students going back to the bus which was already hooting as the driver signaled we hurry up. I don’t remember what happened with the crush for valentine but this was a high school crush, those came and went with school terms. I totally forgot about the incident and never thought much about the Nyami Nyami

Years later, I still never thought of the Nyami Nyami even as I absentmindedly fingered the pendant around my neck wondering, why all of a sudden it was quiet and hot. The noisy desk fan had stopped rattling shakily about, the metal blades that threatened to pop off and decapitate the nearest person had stopped rotating, it did that sometimes for no reason, but this time it was because the power had gone out; again. The power utility company called it load shedding, when they scheduled electricity blackouts.

Of late, the electricity was like an errant spouse, who left the house early in the morning while you were sleeping and returned well after you had gone to bed. Today however this was an unscheduled blackout, so picked up the mobile phone to call the fault section. That’s when I noticed the mobile phone had no network I tried the landline handset and it had no dialing tone either. For as a second, it felt like those alien invasion type of movies, but then from watching Hollywood movies, aliens never come to Africa.

I went to bed in darkness, it was a moonless night, the kinda that gives one night terrors, and I had strange troubled sleep. I dreamt of two ancient souls separated by a vast dam wall and connected by a deep empty yearning and a storm raged as one formed a fist and pounded the wall in frustration, thunder crashed as cracks appeared and darkness swallowed the world while the wall crumbled down. I woke up with a start, my hand clutched tightly around the Nyami Nyami pendant and the dying tremors of an earthquake; apparently we had just experienced a seismic event.

Later much later, I would learn that the power outage had hit both Zambia and Zimbabwe. The authorities would say that “an event” which had occurred at Kariba South Hydroelectric Station had triggered the total shutdown of electricity. They blamed the drought for low water levels, which caused low electricity generation and the crack in the wall was as a result of tremors caused by shifting tensions. Strangely enough, they were gathering local elders in both Zambia and Zimbabwe to do an appeasement ceremony so that it would rain, after all it would not hurt to practise our customs.

Something must have worked because eventually it rained, breaking the drought; although no official statement was ever given, repairs to the Kariba Dam had to be suspended for a year, in some circles the word is this is in deference to the wishes of the Nyami Nyami……

Some nights on a moonless night I have the stormy dream again, I see the lady who gave me the Nyami Nyami pendant, she still has the flower I gave her, pinned to her hair,

Tell them to remember our story” she whispers and she dives into the churning water, as the crack in the dam wall widens and water spills out to swallow everything…

That’s when I wake up.

~B

The above is a work of speculative fiction inspired by some true events. You could read more on the Nyami Nyami on this post Zambezi River God

Blogbattle themed Flower

NB Fact the Kariba Dam is under a 300 million dollar repair project which had it not been undertaken the dam’s collapse would have happened within the next five years.

The Tonga people believe that Nyami Nyami will one day destroy the dam that displaced them from their tribal lands; in its quest to be reunited with its mate and to seek retribution.

For clarification, according to the Tonga people Nyami Nyami is not a God they do not pray to Nyami Nyami but rather pray through the Nyami Nyami for intercession

Of Nyami Nyami: A Zambezi River God

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…..

lake-kariba-dam-pic

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?

 

~B

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

Photocredit www.victoriafalls-guide.net