Nyaminyami Legend vs Nyaminyami Walking Stick

The Nyaminyami Legend and the Nyaminyami Walking Stick are two different things. This story has been itching to be told, but ripe opportunities were not availing themselves. That was until I decided to sharpen my media skills further. And the opportunity presented itself unexpectedly and in the blink of an eye, I had the audience nodding in agreement.

Patsaka Nyaminyami Community Radio, the pacesetting community radio in Kariba that many still mistakenly assume to be running a commercial division called Nyaminyami FM 94.5 by dint of the unimaginative naming by copycapts, was going a gear up. It had teamed up with the Radio Netherlands Training Centre (RNTC) to further sharpen the skills of its editorial staff and citizen journalists. For three weeks, the team went through transformative, interactive training from the masters of media. This culminated in the graduation on 8th September 2017.

RNTC final day September 8, 2017

On that auspicious day, the Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands in Zimbabwe, who had facilitated the training, sent a representative to Kariba to grace the occassion. Gaudencia Muzambi-Hwenjere, the Public Diplomacy, Culture and Scholarships Officer, was our honoured guest. The Patsaka Nyaminyami Community Radio management scratched their heads for an appropriate present for the embassy. What could be truly Karibean in nature and significance? The Nyaminyami walking stick won the day. It probably has the pride of place in the Netherlands embassy right now, a constant reminder of their kind gesture to the people of Kariba, the land of Nyaminyami.

When presentation time came, Patsaka team Leader, John Chirinda, called upon me to explain what the motifs on the stick represented for the benefit of both the guests and the recipient. He hadn’t forewarned me so there was initial alarm. He took advantage of my having told my colleagues earlier during the training that I was the longest and oldest resident of Kariba among the team.

I have previously written articles on both the Nyaminyami legend and the Nyaminyami walking stick published by The Herald and The Sunday Mail, so I took it in my stride. All seemed well until I mentioned that the Nyaminyami did not have the head of a snake and the tail of a fish as widely believed. The next natural question would be what did it look like, then? And the faces around the room posed just that same question.

Relying on my deep knowledge of the Nyaminyami legend, I explained that no dead or living soul had ever seen the Nyaminyami in its full glory, therefore the head of a snake and the tail of a fish improvisation has been borrowed from somewhere else. One possible version, popularized by Anthony M.Williams, Editor of the African Fisherman magazine, is explained thus in the Volume 21 Number 5 issue: ” Kariba was built by the Italians. When the local wood carvers saw the Italian engineers driving around in their Alfa Romeos – a popular Italian car, with a serpent-like badge – they naturally decided to honour the Italians by depicting the Alfa Romeo logo in the form of the now famous walking stick.” There you have it! It’s not the Tongas who popularized the head of a snake and tail of a fish story.

Alfa Romeo Logo

More importantly, the story of the Nyaminyami and the Nyaminyami walking stick are two different things. The stick only depicts the Tonga way of life before the damming of the Zambezi River at Kariba gorge.. It is not a Tonga symbol, as I have amply explained in my earlier writings on the subject. The lack of records, reliance on oral history which varied with each narrator and the fact that the early missionaries deliberately opted to keep certain aspects of Tonga religion out of their records in order to win them over to their religion, all played their part.

To win the Tongas over and subjugate them, their religious beliefs had to be undermined. Even though the Tongas believed in a supreme being they called Leza, the creator of all things (Chilenga), they were conveniently described as praying to a dragon-like creature called Nyaminyami. Words portraying similar creative, regal and protective powers of Leza include Sikabumba, Simalelo and Simwami. How the Nyaminyami, a spirit medium, an intercessor, ended up being described as a dragon-like creature is also obscure though it was clearly from the white settlers. Remember no one had ever seen the Nyaminyami to be able to describe it. Oral tradition lost out to commercial interests here.

The Nyaminyami legend and the Nyaminyami walking stick are like; interestingly, Patsaka Nyaminyami Community Radio and Nyaminyami FM 94.5 – two different entities but confused for one and the same thing.

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