Myths and Legends of Mosi-oa-Tunya

The Victoria Falls legends and myths are something of great interest to all that know the area... We delve into the stories behind Victoria Falls including precious jewellery, a river god, a tribe and earth tremors. These legends take us from Victoria Falls all the way to Lake Kariba.

Victoria Falls Legends

Victoria Falls Legends and Myths: In Zimbabwe and Zambia, the Victoria Falls are known as Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means “the smoke that thunders”. It is a place of great beauty and history and besides geological and geographical facts and theories, it also can be examined through traditional myth and legends. For instance, in earlier days the indigenous people believed that the thunder and the huge flood of water were caused by evil spirits, so they tried to calm them with jewellery as a sacrifice.

This stunning place always fascinated people, and the indigenous Tonga tribe believed in a river god called Nyami Nyami, who lives under a large rock in Lake Kariba, located upwards of the Victoria Falls, close to the Kariba dam wall today. This mythical creature is a mix between a snake and a fish. A Nyami Nyami pendant is a popular souvenir to buy in Victoria Falls.

According to African mythology, Nyami Nyami has been in hiding since the white men arrived at the Victoria Falls, but a long time ago the chief of the Tonga tribe saw him twice. When the god appears, the water turns red. But nobody risks coming too close to his rock, because legends tell about men who went there with their canoes, disappeared and never came back. So they call this area Nyami Nyami’s trap.

Victoria Falls Legends

Over the years the water in the lake rose up and now the rock is covered 30 m under the surface, which is said to be annoying the river god. Another issue that makes him angry is the separation from his wife because of the dam wall. People started to build, build on, or rebuild the wall in the years 1950, 1955 and 1956 – and each year a natural disaster occurred. There was more rain than ever before, hurricanes and floods destroyed houses and killed many people. In 1956 it rained 16 million litres per second, which only happened once in 10,000 years. So it is quite conceivable that the river god Nyami Nyami got upset by the people living there and not caring about him and his wife.

Today minor earth tremors are occasionally felt in and around Kariba. The local legend claims that this is Nyami Nyami trying to see his wife but he is separated from her by the dam wall. When he can’t get through, he turns around with such anger that the whole earth starts to shake.

Whether you believe in these myths and legends or not, they are still quite fascinating. Perhaps you should travel to the Falls to discover the magic for yourself…