Thursday, February 20, 2014

Magnificent Lake Kariba straddles the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. More than 223 kilometres long and up to 40 kilometres wide in places, it’s a wish list destination for people from all over the world. Owing to its size you won’t experience the water resort type elbow bumping you might expect. The shoreline is dramatically indented in parts and the lake incorporates many islands. There’s no shortage of wildlife viewing, spectacular sunrises and sunsets and plenty of accommodation options from waterside chalets and lodges to luxury houseboats.

Where the myth originated

Manmade, the lake was formed by damming the Zambezi River and, in the process, upsetting the Nyaminyami or Nyami Nyami, the Zambezi River God. The local Tonga tribe describes him as a dragon or serpent-like creature that stains the water red when he swims past. According to legend, Nyami Nyami first lived under a rock called Kariwa in close proximity to the present day Kariba dam. No sensible tribesman would venture near the rock lest he be sucked under in a whirlpool of water, canoe and all. Kariba Lake apparently owes it name origins to the word “Kariwa”, which means, “trap”. With the damming of the river, the rock was covered with water. To make matters worse, the dam wall separated Nyami Nyami from his wife. To this day, when minor tremors are felt in the Kariba area some locals believe this to be Nyami Nyami furiously struggling to get through the dam wall to see his wife.

The river god’s retribution

Between 1940 and 1958 various unprecedented natural calamities struck during the building process and many lives were lost. A rogue cyclone from the Indian Ocean created a hurricane followed by heavy rain, which swept away entire rural villages. A flood barreled down the gorge and washed away the cofferdam foundations. There were numerous other flash floods with loss of life, one of which led to the collapse of the suspension bridge. Raised out of the water and bent like a sickle, it was shattered and carried away accompanied by, what some say sounded like a roar.

Lake Kariba today

There’s no denying that local people and animals were displaced when the dam was filled. However, relocations took place and the new ecosystem has come to support life in many different forms. Rural villages and their livestock freely access the water. Lake Kariba really is one of Africa’s geological wonders.

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