Kariba – the facts
• Kariba Dam Wall completed in 1958
• Lake filled between 1958 and 1963
• Length: 220 Kilometres (140 Mi)
• Width: 40 Kilometres (20 Mi)
• Total Area: 5,580 square Kilometres (2,150 sq Mi)
• Capacity: 185 cubic Kilometres (44.4 cu Mi)
• Mean Depth: 29 meters (95ft)
• Maximum Depth: 97 meters (320ft)
In 1954, a decision was made to dam the Zambezi River at Kariba Gorge. It was to create an expanse of water the size of Wales, stretching the equivalent distance of London to Manchester or New York to Washington, making it by far the largest man-made lake in the world at the time. The objective was to harness water for a hydro-electric power scheme. The Federal Government of the day also had plans to use the lake for commercial fishing.
The Tonga Tribesman and the Nyaminyami River God
Before the dam could be built, 57,000 Tonga tribesmen had to be relocated. This was no easy exercise as the river had immense spiritual significance to the Tonga people and was the focal point around which their lives revolved. They did eventually agree to be relocated but they forecast doom for the project at the hands of their river god, “Nyaminyami”, a serpent-like creature about three metres in diameter. Work on the dam wall was hindered time and again by violent storms and flash floods, over 80 men lost their lives in the building of the dam and the Tonga River God started to crop up in bar room conversation.
The Tonga tribesman called the rock under which the serpent god lived “Kariwa” or “the trap”, hence the name of the lake, Kariba.