The Zambezi River Legend

All images below capture the Zambezi River Basin © Alison M. Jones.

The charming African legend we quote below refers to Africa’s Zambezi River that flows 1677 miles (2700 km) from the point where northwestern Zambia borders Angola, Namibia and Botswana.  It crashes down Victoria Falls, dividing Zimbabwe and Zambia, and runs through Mozambique – despite the Kariba and Cahora Bassa Dams. It is the largest African river to flow into the Indian Ocean.

While “Zambezi” is the local Tonga word for “Great River,” it is known by many as “The River of the Gods.”  By others, it is called “The River of Life” in honor of “Nyami Nyami” the local river spirit who nurtures the river’s fish and irrigates their crops.

In a lovely book on this important African river,1 we came across a legend that mystically merges the cycle of the sun setting and rising with the birth and passage of the Zambezi River.  In our minds, the legend could apply to the course of any river.

You see, the sun sinks into the mud where the river begins, far over there.


All night it is washed by the water as it is carried down stream. 


In the morning it rises bright and clean where the Zambezi meets the sea.


In our minds, this visual and poetic legend also relates to more than just a river.  It can be considered as a metaphor for the much more literal, scientific hydrologic cycle studied in most elementary schools and depicted below.

watercycleprint-horiz.jpgGraphic  by the US Department of the Interior/ US Geologic Survey

There has been a plan to create a Zambezi Seaway Corridor spanning 1,500 miles from Victoria Falls to the Ocean. It is touted that it would create a badly-needed and affordable transportation link to the sea from land-locked regions. It is also promoted to be a potential tourist attraction allowing visitors to  cruise “this morning that rises bright and clean where the Zambezi meets the sea.”

While NWNL has not focused on the Zambezi as a case-study watershed, we do wonder whether such an industrial project would indeed be a new “8th Wonder of the World” for tourism.  Or would it put at risk the unspoiled environment and abundant wildlife that spawned this legend? Hopefully, careful study and consideration will be given to all taxa  (mammals, invertebrates, amphibians and reptiles, birds, shrubs, trees and herbs) and human communities involved.

1. Teede, Jan and Fiona. The Zambezi: River of the Gods. London: Andrew Deutsch Limited, 1990.

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