Water shortages in Zambia & Zimbabwe? Is blaming the river god silly?

Water shortages in Zambia & Zimbabwe might just be helped by ritual


The countries of the Zambezi have experienced wars, corruption, bad governance, tough economic times, & all of the evils that come with prolonged poverty.  Now water shortages in Zambia & Zimbabwe are bringing power cuts, reducing access to clean drinking water, & affecting everyone, rich & poor.

While the rest of the world celebrates their local version of Halloween,  the world press is reporting that traditional leaders & chiefs believe a return to traditional ways & the performing of certain rites might resolve the underlying cause of the problem – The anger of the gods stopped the rain.  We read this & smile & tut.

Many sites have repeated this line under tongue in cheek headlines, Quick research reveals that these reports occur sporadically.  Like rainfall patterns.  The current spurt seems to come from a report by Walter Nyamukondiwe in Zimbabwe’s the Herald *

African spirituality is individual, tribal, modern, complex & multi faceted.  Much of the history of these beliefs is lost, partly because much tradition was preserved orally, mostly because early missionaries did a good job of omitting this aspect of tribal life when they brought education to the continent.  I do not speak any local languages, & sadly, most information about the river-god is limited to tourist websites.

Most people believe in right & wrong, & that actions have consequences.  Despite soil & mineral richness, prosperity here is flighty & evasive.  People die of curable illness & violence.  Disaster follows disaster.  Given the recent history of this area, it’s easy to see why people might indeed feel cursed.  Whatever religion a person follows, it is not difficult to understand why many  believe they have fallen from favour.  Like children, we love to think of Africa in simplistic terms.  A mysterious, dark continent of cartoon animals, magic, human foes and godlike heroes.

This could not be further away from the reality of this complex part of the world. People here have individually been exposed to or participated in more life changing times & than anyone outside can possibly imagine.  Despite adversity & living in an insecure & changeable world, visitors are surprised to see how many Africans laugh, dance & express delight.   This is not because they are simple, it is because they have learnt to appreciate the value of a pleasant moment.  Celebrating a meal, peace & humour comes easier to a people who know that nothing can be taken for granted.

Are traditional chiefs blaming the river-god for the lack of water? Yes, some are.  They are taking part in traditional Tonga rain-making ceremonies on both sides of Lake Kariba

Which chiefs?                                                                                                                          Chief Chipepo, Valley Tonga people on the Zambia side, Chief Nebiri of Kariba on Zimbabwe side are examples.  There are others, & plans for more.

Is the water level dropping?                                                                                         Yes, this is seasonal.  Despite this, the water is currently at a 10 year low.

Is there a river-god?                                                                                                           The Zambezi River god is known as Nyaminyami, or the Zambezi Snake spirit.  This god is important to the Tonga people

Is there any controversy?                                                                                               These gatherings for ceremonial rites require funding.  It has been reported in the Bulawayo based Sunday News that villagers in southern Masavingo have been asked to pay a rain-making tax  to fund these gatherings. Some Christian communities are against these rites, & regard them as being demonic.

Further thoughts…

When we finish grinning & nodding, let us spare a thought for the many people to don’t have clean drinking water, & those who have no secure access to any kind of water.  Let’s pause when we flick a switch & assume a bulb needs replaced when it doesn’t immediately get light.  Perhaps, just for laugh, let’s drink water straight from our tap instead of from a bottle, just because we can.

Let’s giggle, smile & even a dance now & again even though we have been spared the levels of change & depravity that will prevent some people ever relaxing again.

My Gran stockpiled food until she died, which was a long time after the war she lived through. No matter how much life improved for her she lost forever, her confidence in any surety of what tomorrow might bring.

Despite her basic level of education, she knew & understood more about humanity than I ever will.  She baked pies, listened to the radio, cooked, but turned things off when she wasn’t using them.

Flowers grown were donated to old age homes, excess food went to the working mum across the road.  She washed my eyes, & used home remedies if we were ill even though there was a clinic at the end of the road.  She never prayed often, but when she did she did it quietly when she thought I couldn’t hear.

She prayed about small things, that general ailments would improve, that kids would do well at school. Everything else she left for God to decide the best way forward. Some Africans are like that.  If they know they have done bad things, then it’s right they are punished. They would like the punishment to end  before it kills them & their loved ones, & many believe that their world will improve when individuals start behaving better,  and start doing good things.

I might not know much about the river-god, but I do believe that the regions fortunes will improve when bribery, vice, corruption, embezzling & fraud stop being acceptable.

We all turn to rituals at times of deep distress, they seem to offer comfort & provide us with a means of handing over a problem that is too big for us to solve ourselves.

God bless Africa & all her people

Citations & sources

http://www.herald.co.zw/rain-making-for-lake-kariba/             http://zimbabwe.news24.com/National-News/Angry-river-god-blamed-for-parched-Kariba-20151029

Image credit:  Creative Commons Licence , Credit to Jason Wharam via flickr, no changes or editing, Image link