Myths & Legends

As the waters of Zambezi thunder Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe stands smiling bonded by its mysteries and myths. The same ore or shadow which propound the country was the same will used in the countries drive for independence.

Many people talk of stories which have become just tales with time. Here we explore some of these legends and myths which have become hymns.

Nyaminyami - The River God

Nyaminyami Walking StickLake Kariba, once the highest man-made lakes in Africa is also associated with myth and mystery. The lake is associated with the River God, Nyaminyami. The mythical god is said to have been enraged by the displacement of his people which led to major difficulties during construction of the dam. In revenge around 80 people lost their lives when storms from the Zambezi River collapsed Kariba. Even the sun shunned construction of Kariba. Subsequent soaring temperatures forced workers to house their tools in cooling buckets. Displaced animals were rescued from the Lake in what is now known as Operation Noah!

African mythology of the local Tonga tribe of the Zambezi Valley states that Nyaminyami the River God who lives in Lake Kariba is believed to be a serpent-like creature. He is said to be about three metres wide, but nobody dares to guess at his length. Legends has it that the water stains red when he swims past. Chief Sampakaruma saw him on two occasions many years ago, but the river god has been in hiding since the white men arrived in the country.

According to African mythology he lived under a large rock close to the present day Kariba dam wall. No tribesman would venture near it those few who did were sucked down with their canoes in the whirlpools and never seen again. They called the rock Kariwa, the "trap" and hence the name of the lake, Kariba.

The rising water of lake Kariba covered the rock Kariwa and it now lies 30 metres below the surface annoying Nyaminyami. The tonga people also believe that Nyaminyami is married and that the building of Kariba Dam wall would seperate him from his wife, this would anger him greatly and the river god threatened the peace of the valley.

The Revenge of the River God

City dwellers had mocked the stories of Nyaminyami, the river god but by 1958 the laughter had turned to chilled apprehension. Especially for those working on the project of building Kariba dam wall. Survey work on the proposed dam wall began in the late 1940's. On the night of the 15th February 1950 a cyclone from the Indian Ocean swept up the valley. Such a thing had never been heard of in this landlocked, stable land. Fifteen inches of rain, driven by a hurricane, fell in a few hours.

Lake Kariba - Dead TreesThe river rose seven metres that night. A number of villages were swept away. When rescue teams finally managed to reach the area three days later, the putrefying bodies of antelope and other animals were seen hanging from the tops of trees. The survey team had perished in a landslide.

Work on the dam began in earnest in 1955 – but on Christmas Eve that year, an unprecedented flood stormed down the gorge and washed away the foundations of the coffer dam and the recently constructed pontoon bridge. The flood peaked, receded, and then peaked again.

This had never happened before and people started to talk about the river god.

Nyaminyami struck a third time in November 1956. The heavy rains fell a month before they were due. Sudden flash floods impeded work on the dam.

The Zambezi swollen with water from local catchment areas would rise over a metre in a night. They were unaware that 1300 kilometres away the Zambezi was mobilising its forces. It is fed by a catchment area of over a million square kilometres, of which nearly half is above the lake.

Heavy rains were falling throughout this vast region. The water was being hoarded in the floodplains of Zambia and the forests of Angola, and in January the Sanyati River, which entered the Zambezi very near the new wall, suddenly came down like cavalry charge. The river rose almost six metres in the next 24 hours and surged over the coffer dam.

The largest digger truck, which had not been moved, disappeared instantly. Only in March, after much damage had been done and the project set back some months, did the river begin to subside. Such a flood should occur on average once every 1000 years.

Believe it or not 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, which buckled and eaved. The north tower collapsed and the bridge rose clear of the water, bent like a gigantic bow. Its spine shattered in three places and the Zambezi carried away its battered remains with what appeared to be a roar of triumph. Finally in December 1958 the Kariba dam was completed but not before it cost the lives of 80 people. The victorious people felt slightly ashamed of having brought about the humiliation of this mysterious and primeval river.

Today minor earth tremors are occasionally felt in and around Kariba - tonga african mythology believes that this is Nyaminyami trying to see his wife but he is now cut off from her by the dam wall. When he can't get through He turns around with such fury that the whole earth shakes.

Ambuya Nehanda -  The Spirit of Freedom

Ambuya Nehanda the spirit of Freedom is known to have escaped death several times. Apparently the rope mopped on her neck could not kill her as she clutched a small packet in her hands. She was only executed when this packet was taken off her. Her story was later used to install black pride. Many people who talk of Ambuya, describe her as a spirit. They feel it is better known that the woman who was hanged was not Nehanda but a woman possessed by Nehanda. Mbuya Nehanda was reburied at Zimbabwe National Heroes Acre along with Mbuya Nehanda was a man known as Sekuru Kaguvi who was also executed alongside her!

Unknown Mystery at Hot Springs

A similar tale involves the unknown, in fact the unexplained which took place at Hot Springs. Legend detects that liberation fighters were served food by simply visiting several shrines and offering thanks! Soon after clasping their hands fresh cooked meals would appear! This mystery is reported to have stopped just before independence in 1980.

The Master of Deception

During early eighties, a man known as Gwasela terrorised Matebeleland. He was a one man Rambo, who refused to accept election results which gave Zanu PF the leadership of the country. He was a fanatic of the opposition party who devoted his life to install fear and try to destabilize the country. He is said to have been a master of deception and camouflage as he often mixed with unsuspecting crowds watching his favourite sport soccer almost every weekend. Gwasela was shot after a gun battle with the Zimbabwean Police but rumour say they killed the wrong man and Gwasela is happily married in South Africa.

Mysterious Mount Nyanga

Then come Mount Nyanga, the highest structure in Zimbabwe known for its ability to vanish people especially children. Scores of people are reported to have disappeared without trace. Locals believe the mountain has the ability to suck and initiate disappearance of those with foul mouths who speak against it or its people.