Nyami Nyami – The Zambezi River God.


Nyami Nyami is the Serpent like River God of the Tonga Tribe.  A god who presides over the mighty Zambezi River and looked after the people that live(d) along its’ banks.     Legend has it that the Nyami is at least 3 feet wide but no one has ever seen his entire length and when he swam past the water ran red.  It is said he went into hiding when the White Man arrived.

Nyami Nyami is a corruption of the original name Nyama yamaninga ninga and literally means “meat, meat”.  The Nyami Nyami was said to reside with his wife under rocks close to where, nowadays Lake Kariba Dam is situated .  

Nyami Nyami provided the people with water for crops and animals and in times of drought would rise his mighty body from the Zambezi and allow the people to cut away strips of meat for food from his powerful and large body.

The legend of the Nyami Nyami was reinforced in the 1950’s when the Kariba Dam was being built.  There were 5 terrifying natural events that occurred.   It is believed that the building of the Dam separated Nyami Nyami and his wife, who had gone down stream to bless their people.

 On 15 February  1950 as survey work for the new dam was ongoing a cyclone swept up from the Indian Ocean.  The mighty Zambezi rose by 7 meters in the swell of this hurricane.  When rescue teams arrived 3 days later the tree tops were strewn with dead antelopes and other animals and the survey team swept away in a landslide.

On Christmas Eve 1955 as work had began in earnest a mighty flood stormed down the gorge and washed away the foundations, receded and swept down again.

November 1956 with work still ongoing flash floods came early and impeded work on the Dam.  The early rain falls gathered in the catchments and plains above what was to be the Dam and the river rose by six meters crashing through the gorge and into the dam catchment area and it was only in March 1957 that water levels subsided – this was a 1 in 1,000 year event.

Yet the Nyami Nyami was said to still be angered and in January 1958 a flood such as could be expected to occur only once in every 10 000 years, swept down the riverbed, wreaking havoc on all in its path. 16 million litres per second exploded over the suspension bridge for the Dam.

Yet the Dam was built and it is said that The Nyami Naymi is to this day separated from his wife.