General Information About Kariba
The town of Kariba, built at the site of the hydro-electric dam across the Zambezi River, is a focus for tourism, and provides a starting point for access to the vast inland sea of Lake Kariba.
The little town which developed haphazardly on the hills near the site of the massive hydro-electric dam constructed across the Zambezi River in the 1950s, became known as “Kariba”.
The name 'Kariba' is thought to be a corruption of a local word 'Kariva' which means "little trap". It is believed when those who wished to construct the dam wall wanted to explain the nature of the project to the locals, they emphasised that they wanted to build a little water trap-Kariva. However, the complex pronunciation of the 'v' in Kariva saw the Western constructors produce a sound much like a 'b' hence the creation of the word Kariba.
Kariba is now a small and spread-out resort town which is the starting point for tourism activities centered on the lake of the same name.
Access is by air into the town's minor airport (from where transfers can be arranged) or by road via a scenic route through the Zambezi escarpment hills about 4-5 hours' drive from Harare. The distance by road from Lusaka (via either Chirundu or Siavonga) is less, but involves border formalities which can cause delays. It can, however, allow visitors the chance to cross the Zambezi River over the Chirundu Bridge or the awesomely impressive Kariba dam wall.
Kariba Culture and History
Culture, Legend and Crafts
If you are interested in buying local crafts, you can find attractive African prints, crocheted garments, items of local jewellery, and wood and stone carvings at the Dam Wall Observation Point, at the “look-out” point on top of the hill known as The Heights and at various points along the road into the town.
A famous feature of Kariba craftwork is the intricately-carved wooden walking stick originally designed by an enterprising Kariba artist/entrepreneur in the 1970s. The sticks, which can be found on sale at all the craft stalls are an interesting artistic blend of the ancient legend of Nyaminyami – River God (or Spirit) of the Zambezi and the modern story of the Zambezi’s Tonga people who were displaced by the building of the dam.
The sad reality is that when Kariba Dam was built, the huge body of water that flooded the land upstream of it displaced thousands of the Zambezi valley's original inhabitants, the Tonga, who were evacuated from their ancestral, riverside fishing grounds to a harsh new life in arid farmlands inland to the south of the new lake.
In Tonga tradition, Nyaminyami (a mythical creature with the head of a serpent and the tail of a fish) was a benevolent Spirit, providing for his people in times of drought or flood by offering his flesh for them to eat. However, the building of the Kariba dam angered him and separated from his wife who became trapped downstream during its construction. He vowed to wreak havoc and destroy the wall one day. He had several attempts - two major floods during construction in the 1950s succeeded in breaching the coffer dam and setting back progress for many months. However, the Tonga believe that in the end his wrath was overcome and the wall has held back the waters every since.
The legend of Nyaminyami inspires art, sculpture and craft work in the Kariba area and provides a livelihood for local people selling to the tourism industry. A simple, but beautiful stone Nyaminyami sculpture, strategically positioned at the Kariba Dam Observation Platform has now become a well-known feature in all photographs of the dam taken from this point.