Learn More About the African Myth of Nyami Nyami

The Nyami Nyami is a river god in Zambia and Zimbabwe described as half snake and half fish or a river dragon. Nyami Nyami is also known as the Zambezi Snake spirit or the Zambezi River god and plays a prominent role in an African myth. 

This river god is usually described as male, and it protects the Tonga people. Hence, it is the most revered Tonga god. Today, the Nyami Nyami is seen on traditionally carved walking sticks, on jewelry like pendants, earrings, bangles, and necklaces. 

It is believed that Tonga people wear it as a good luck charm and hence has been used as a gift given to prestigious Zambia tourists and visitors. Discover more about the Nyami Nyami below.

Learn More About the African Myth of Nyami Nyami
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Who Is Nyami Nyami?

Nyami Nyami, also known as the Zambezi Snake spirit or Zambezi River god, is the Tonga people’s most revered god. Tonga people live in Zimbabwe and Zambia. 

He is usually portrayed as male and he is the one that sustains the Tonga people during difficult times. Nyami Nyami is portrayed as a half-snake and half-fish creature sometimes and other times as a river dragon or whirlpool.

Nyami Nyami Today

Today, Nyami Nyami is used to make pendants and jewelry.  It’s usually made out of silver, ivory, gold, wood, stone, or bone.  It is considered a good luck charm, hence is famous as an accessory or jewelry.  

The Tonga people also have a Nyami Nyami walking stick which describes his relationship with the inhabitants of the valley and is therefore used as a gift to their prestigious tourists and visitors.


The Nyami Nyami lives in River Zambezi and is in charge of the surrounding life.  It is said Nyami Nyami and his wife, Kariba Gorge, are the god and goddess of the underworld. 

During the construction of Kariba Dam, there were lots of deaths which people attribute to Nyami Nyami’s anger. He got angry because the bridge separated him from his wife. It is said that after the construction was complete, 

Nyami Nyami retreated to the underworld fully. The Tonga people say that when Nyami Nyami swims past the lake, the water turns red.

Construction of Kariba Dam

First Wave

It is said before the construction of Kariba Dam, many people mocked the African myth of Nyami Nyami. However, during the construction, he was angered and caused a cyclone to strike.

In a few hours, fifteen inches of rain prompted by a hurricane followed. This caused the water levels in the river to rise to seven meters. This had never happened in the history of the Tonga people.

On that night, various villages, animals, and people were swept away.  The situation was so intense that the rescue team arrived at the scene three days later only to be shocked by dead animals and people. 

The dam survey team had also perished.  This delayed the works on the dam only to resume five years later.  

The Second Wave

On Christmas Eve of 1955, another flood struck again. It stormed the gorge and destroyed the coffer dam’s foundations and the new pontoon bridge. The flood rose to maximum, reduced, and increased again.  

This prompted the Tonga people to start talking about the river god who was evidently angry.

Learn More About the African Myth of Nyami Nyami
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The Third Time

Nyami Nyami struck again in 1956 with heavy rains that brought sudden floods that delayed dam work. River Zambezi water levels rose exponentially in one night. This water was coming from the local catchment areas. 

As the rains and water levels increases, the Zambezi at the same time was mobilizing its forces 1300 kilometers away. In January of the same year, the Sanyati River that joined the Zambezi near the new wall also came flooding in. 

This raised the water levels to six meters and swallowed the cofferdam within 24 hours. It also swallowed the largest digger truck. The river ‘calmed’ down in March after causing major damage. 

The dam was completed in December 1958 after taking 80 lives of people, animals, and property.

Tremors Today

Tonga people say that minor tremors occur in and around Kariba which is believed to be Nyami Nyami trying to see his wife. However, he cannot because the dam wall disconnected the two completely. 

When he knocks against the dam wall, it is said that he turns back in a fury that shakes the whole world.

Final Thoughts

There are many African gods, but for the Tonga people, Nyami Nyami is the most revered. The African myth surrounding him is considered a fact by many people. 

Whenever anything happens concerning the dam in the region, talks of Nyami Nyami are not far behind.