Footsteps Through Time

Footsteps Through Time
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Monday, 22 May 2017

Source of Zambezi River Dries Up

By Paul Shalala in Ikelengi
Originally published: The Zambian Analyst [edited]

It has never happened before, at least in living memory... In fact no one remembers such a thing ever happening. And this has happened at a time when, water levels are supposed to be at their highest on account of the good rains experienced in the past six months...

This blogger travelled over 500 kilometers from his mining town of Kitwe to the border town of Ikelengi in northern Zambia to verify reports that the source of the Zambia river had dried up... Geologists believe that the Zambezi river starts from the Kalene Hills and it flows underground for some kilometers, only to appear in Mukangala area where the official source is.

A dry patch now meets the eye from the spot where the source is, where the Zambezi river used to ooze from. In happier times, that was the first sighting of the river as it creeps from the undergrowth to form a rivulet. And then it disappears and creeps back in visible patches here and there.

It is also the reason why beautiful walk-ways were made for people to easily walk around and see the phenomenal spot.: the source of the Zambezi river This same spot is also the reason why a nice visitor center was constructed by the Zambia government to provide information for tourists.

Even Willy Chiwaya. the conservation assistant who has been taking care of the Zambezi source for the past 10 years has never seen anything like this before. "I have been working here for 10 years and this is the first time ever seeing the source drying. We did not just have enough rains this year that is why it is dry," said Mr. Chiwaya.

And the traditionalists also have an explanation. "The forefathers are annoyed that is why the source is dry. They are annoyed with the white people who have encroached into our land and chased us from the source. We are asking the government to allow us resume the musolu ceremony," said

Senior Headman Mukangala, a local Lunda leader who lives less than two kilometers from the source of the Zambezi river. The source of the Zambezi river is protected by the National Heritage and Conservation Commission. The Visitor Information Center at the source of the Zambezi

The area, which is 36 hectares, has been declared a national forest in order to preserve the source. However, this year has been full of surprises. "The water table has really gone down. We have not had enough rains this year like we have had in the past. But there is still water here, though its 300 meters away from the actual source were we are standing," said Mr Chiwaya.

The Lunda speaking people are the owners of this land - the source of the Zambezi river. The Lundas called the river Yambezhi but the white man opted to call it Zambezi. Actually, the Republic of Zambia derives its name from the Zambezi river.

In the years before the source of the river became a national heritage site, the Lundas considered the area as a shrine. They used to come to this area to perform rituals. And then came the white man. "Where there is a monument, that was some kind of a hospital were the sick were brought for healing. What used to happen is that the ancestors would come here, get few leaves and trees to mix together and give the herbs to the people who were at the camp and they would get healed," revealed Mr Chiwaya.

He further explained about the restrictions which were followed religiously at the shrine. "There are some restrictions which are currently not being followed thats why this place is no longer a shrine. Only circumcised men where allowed here and women who did not have sex during the day time were also allowed to come."

Senior Headman Mukangala lives a few kilometers away from the source of the Zambezi. During the colonial error, he used to be Chief Kabanda but in 1947, he was de-gazette on account of not having enough people in his chiefdom. The British colonial government claimed his villages were scattered and he would not manage to hold his chiefdom together.

Today Senior Headman Mukangala feels the drying up of the source of the Zambezi river is a curse. "The decision to stop us from celebrating the Musolu traditional ceremony at the source of the Zambezi is what is causing problems and the drying up of the source. The spirits are annoyed," said the traditional leader in an interview.

Before the whites started visiting this area in the 1920s, the villagers used to perform a ceremony called Musolu. In this ritual, they prayed asking the gods for good rains. But now they no longer perform it.

"During the ceremony, we used to start by praying to God for good rains. All Headmen under my leadership would gather at the source of the Zambezi. All people would be happy because they would be talking to God directly," he said. The Musolu ceremony, like many other cultural activities of this nature, is performed once a year.

Senior Headman Mukangala now recalls how it was done. Throwing some seeds on the ground, Senior Headman says: "Once we paint our faces with white powder, we would then ask God that whatever we have planted, let it germinate so that next year we can have enough food for your people." But all is not so dry at the source of the Zambezi.

Three hundred meters away from the actual source, there is some activity. A small brook of water coming from an underground fountain, is the first sign that the Zambezi river still runs here.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was originally aired on TV1's Newsline program on 19 May 2017 and the video can be watched here.

Source: Source of Zambezi River Dries Up Due To Climate Change (21/5/17)


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