An African's Anecdotes and Accoutrements
|Lake Kariba, in the north of Zimbabwe on the border with Zambia, is the fourth largest manmade lake in the world, and the second largest in Africa. It was built in the latter half of the 1950s, and at that time was the largest manmade lake in the world. It was officially opened by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth in May 1960 after five years of incredible turmoil. The local tribespeople, the Tonga, claim the problems were caused by the wrath of the Zambezi River’s god Nyaminyami (pronounced Niyami Niyami). Here’s an artist’s impression of Nyaminyami lurking in the depths of the Zambezi River:
Looks scary? To us, perhaps, but to the Tonga people NyamiNyami is a benevolent being who, during times of famine, allowed the Tonga to remove strips of his flesh for consumption. What a guy – oops, I mean god! Nyaminyami is like the more famous Loch Ness Monster, and he has, on occasion, been seen by the Tonga, who claim he has the head of a fish and the body of a snake. For centuries Nyaminyami has protected his chosen people who managed to survive the slave trade, wild animals, hunters and early white prospectors and explorers. All was fine, until the 1950’s, when an Italian dam building firm began constructing Lake Kariba.
The Zambezi valley was filled with the sound of heavy earth moving vehicles, digging out the valley and felling thousands of trees - some of which were themselves thousands of years old. Roads were constructed and the Tonga were displaced. They were told to move away from the river and their homes to avoid the flood that would be caused by the dam. Reluctantly the Tonga complied, believing that Nyaminyami would never allow the dam to be built and they’d eventually be able to go back to their homes. The Tonga claim that the completion of the dam wall separated Nyaminyami from his wife – she lives upstream and he would be confined by the wall to the lower Zambezi.
Nyaminyami was furious. In 1957 the Zambezi Valley experienced the worst floods in its history. Most of the dam was washed away, together with a lot of the construction equipment. Many of the construction workers were killed, and mysteriously the bodies of five white construction workers could not be found. The Tonga elders were approached, and they advised that Nyaminyami was upset and that in order to appease him a white calf should be sacrificed and placed in the water. The now desperate search party agreed, mainly because the families of the missing construction workers were coming from Italy to collect their bodies. That evening the sacrifice was made, and the calf’s body floated out on the water. The following morning the sacrifice was gone. While it’s easy to assume the crocodiles resident in the Zambezi had taken the offering, it does not explain why the five missing men’s bodies were found floating in the water where the sacrifice had been floated…
Undeterred, the construction company repaired the damage and continued building the wall. In 1959 the Zambezi flooded again, and this time the waters rose 6 metres in one day. This time it wasn’t the Tonga people under threat, but rather the animals. A massive evacuation exercise was launched, coordinated by one Rupert Fothergill. He arranged, in conjunction with the then Northern and Southern Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe) governments a massive evacuation exercise for the animals – Operation Noah. By the end of the exercise 7,000 animals had been saved, and countries in Europe as well as the USA and Australia had sent manpower and aid to assist. Warthog, monkeys, snakes, lion, cheetah, rhinocerous, elephant, buffalo, impala, zebra, waterbuck, hyena, hares, jackals, porcupine, bushbabies, bushbuck, sable, civiet, mongoose, dassies, badgers, squirrels, baboon, kudu, duikers, ant-bears, scaly ant eaters, genet cat, bushpig, greysbok and night apes are just some of the species rescued during Operation Noah.
Here are some “interesting” facts about Kariba that might send a chill down your spine:
The name “Kariba” is derived for the Tonga word karive, meaning “trap”.
Lake Kariba is the only one of six dams built by the same construction company still in existence today.
T he French designer, Andre Coyne, died in 1960, after his Malpasset Dam wall cracked and burst, killing 421 people.
A massive amount of cement is pumped into Kariba Wall every month to strengthen the crumbling construction.
83 construction workers died while building Lake Kariba, and six of them are encased inside the dam wall.
The entire Zambezi Valley has recorded some serious earth tremors since Lake Kariba’s completion – some measure over 5.0 on the Richter Scale.
Every September the town of Kariba holds a festival in honour of Nyaminyami. He is very prevalent in Kariba, and his image is the main feature of the famous walking stick carved by the local people of Kariba. He also holds a special place overlooking the wall that caused so much heartache for not only him and his wife, but for the people and the animals of the Zambezi Valley.