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Nyaminyami – The Legend of the Zambezi River God

20 May
Nyaminyami Zambezi River God Pendant

Nyaminyami, Zambezi River God Pendant

The Zambezi is the fourth longest river in Africa and the largest river that flows into the Indian Ocean from Africa.  With a length of over 2500 kilometers, the river flows from Zambia, through eastern Angola, along the eastern border of Namibia, across the northern border of Botswana, along the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe finally crossing through Mozambique and emptying into the Indian Ocean.

The people of the BaTonga tribe of Zimbabwe lived in the Zambezi River Valley for many centuries.  Despite existing in a flood plain, the Batonga people learned to live with the river relying on the fertile soil, plentiful water and food sources that the Zambezi provided.

BaTonga legends told of a dragon-like creature with a snake’s torso and the head of a fish, which they called Nyaminyami.  This creature was said to live in the river and control life in and on the waters of the Zambezi.  Nyaminyami is said to reside under a rock in the Zambezi River, protecting both the river from damage and the resident Batonga people from harm.

Nyaminyami Zambezi River

Zambezi River

In the 1950’s work began on a hydro-electric dam in the Kariba Gorge of the Zambezi River Basin between Zambia and Zimbabwe.  The BaTonga people were told to leave their homes and move away from the river to avoid the flood that the dam would cause.  Reluctantly they allowed themselves to be resettled higher up the bank, but they believed Nyaminyami would never allow the dam to be built and eventually, when the project failed, they would move back to their homes.

In 1957, when the dam was well on its way to completion, Nyaminyami struck. The worst floods ever known on the Zambezi washed away much of the partly built dam and the heavy equipment, killing many of the workers.  After the disaster, flow patterns of the river were studied to ascertain whether there was a likelihood of another flood and it was agreed a flood of comparable intensity would only occur once every thousand years.

The very next rainy season, however, brought further floods even worse than the previous year. Nyaminyami had struck again, destroying the coffer dam, the access bridge and parts of the main wall.  The project survived however, and the great river was eventually controlled. In 1960 the generators were switched on and have been supplying electricity to Zimbabwe and Zambia ever since.

The BaTonga still live on the shores of Lake Kariba, and many still believe that one day Nyaminyami will fulfill his promise and they will be able to return to their homes on the banks of the river.

Nyaminyami Zambezi River God Pendant

Nyaminyami, Zambezi River God Pendant

Amulets depicting Nyaminyami, the Zambezi River God are believed to offer protection both on and off the water and are sought out by adventurists and fishermen visiting the Zambezi River.  Recently the legend of Nyaminyami was featured on an episode of “River Monsters” on Discovery.  Fisherman/Adventurer Jeremy Wade goes after a Giant Vundu underneath the Kariba Dam.  Watch video.

The pendants shown here are hand carved in African Verdite stone and Bone and are available for purchase on my website: sunstonesbeads.ca
These pieces are purchased directly from the carver in Zimbabwe who supports his family with his art.

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