The God That Lives In The Zambezi River


We were barely in Zimbabwe a day and we had already heard of Nyaminyami, a river god of the Tonga people who live along the Zambezi river.

But we did not discover him because of large temples or ceremonies celebrating and worshipping him. As tourists we learned of him because he has become a very popular souvenir. Mostly in the form of hand carved stone necklaces like the one pictured in this post. They are said to bring good luck of course.

The god is a snake with a fish’s head and the Tonga people believe he lives in and protects the Zambezi River. The Zambezi is a big and powerful river most famous for the spot where it takes a 355 foot drop known as Mosia-oa Tunya which means the “smoke that thunders.” Though thanks to David Livingstone you and I know it as Victoria Falls.

In 1950 construction of a dam began in order to harness the power of the mighty river. A dam that would force the Tonga people to relocate because their homes would be flooded. But the story goes that they were not worried about it because they knew Nyaminyami would not let the dam be built. And shortly into the dam project the river experienced a thousand year flood that not only set the project back but also killed several of the white workers.

Thousand year floods are called that because they happen about once every millennium or so. That means once you have one you don’t have to worry about another again because that will be someone else’s problem centuries down the road. But the very next year saw another thousand year flood that once again set the dam project back, Nyaminyami had struck again!

But people are persistent and there is money to be made in producing electricity so the dam was eventually finished in 1960. The Tonga people were reluctantly relocated but to this day have faith that Nyaminyami will destroy the dam and restore the valley  to how it once was.

This belief is reinforced by the small tremors and earthquakes that began after the completion of the dam. For you see when they built the dam they separated Nyaminyami from his wife and every now and then he strikes the dam hard trying to get to her.

A geologist might tell you though that because of the weight of reservoir the dam created the earth under it is adjusting and settling.

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