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» » » Shungu na Mutitima (Mosi oa Tunya) – The Smoke that Thunders

Elizabeth Duve Dziva
Among the most essential African natural heritage which we have benefited from despite our cultural narrowness is Mosi Oa Tunya, widely known with the colonial name, Victoria Falls. The renowned waterfall is one of the most awe inspiring views on planet earth and   the largest waterfall in the world which is located on Zambezi river, the fourth largest river in Africa and on the boarders of Zambia and Zimbabwe named after Queen Victoria of England by a Scottish missionary and famous explorer David Livingstone who is said to have “discovered” the falls in 1855.
Of course the latter was probably the first white man to publish about the mighty falls to the outside world, but it is rather biased to agree to the fact that he “discovered” the falls. Apparently, before Livingstone‘s encounter, the majestic falls had always been a religious centre for the people native to the area. This is despite the Euro centric ideology that Africans had sacral fear of the falls hence would only worship from afar. The Tokoleya (Tonga or BaTonga and the Leya or Baleya) people of Bantu origins, the Lozi, Makololo, Nambya and the Ndebele are native to Victoria Falls.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the area has been occupied from around 3 million years ago.  The falls, fondly called Shungu Na Mutitima by the Tonga and later aManzaThunqayo by the Ndebele migrants from Zululand is a roaring machine. Apparently, the noise of the falls can be heard from a distance of 40kilometers, the mist from the falling water rises to over 400meters and the falls can be seen from a distance of 50km.
Before the dawn of overpractised and exaggerated modernization and Christianity which turned the shrine into a plain park, the area was a sacred and essential element of the Tokoleya culture. Victoria Falls formed an integral part of their religious life. The most important religious aspect of the Victoria Falls is that of the Chekausiye (Insikautshiye) which is also called the Nyami Nyami by other ethnic groups associated with the falls. The snake was believed to be the Zambezi River God or the Zambezi snake spirit which had a direct link with the BaTonga Gods (Barimo).
The BaTonga often depict the snake as male and according to oral tradition, it had a strong relationship with the inhabitants of the valley. Long ago, the inhabitants of the area would go and worship during difficult times like drought, famine and. However, due to the modern custody of such natural heritage sites, the custom of using the falls as a shrine has since vanished. Most probably, the slow bleeding of every aspect from socio economic to political system is due to the demise of such norms.
It is beyond reasonable doubt that Shungu Na Mutitima (Mosi Oa Tunya) is African heritage and needs not only to be enjoyed and devoured by both indigenous and foreign tourists but also to be safeguarded. There is need to cherish such natural wonders, the history and the romance as sacred heritage, for our children and our children’s children. An intensive effort to preserve our heritage is an essential link to our cultural, educational, aesthetic, inspirational and economic legacies, all of the things that factually make us who we are.
The striking Victoria Falls is a legendary site, apart from being the world’s greatest sheet of falling water; it’s got exceptional geological and geomorphological features and active land formation. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The Victoria Falls mist sustains a perennial rain forest. Victoria Falls lies along the Zambezi River, one of the largest rivers in Africa which flows 1,687 miles across Zambia, Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique until it reaches the Indian Ocean.
The falls are also located within and close to some major national parks namely the Mosi Oa Tunya National Park, the Victoria Falls national park, the Zambezi national park, Matetsi Safari area, Kazuma pan national park and the Hwange national Park. It also has the moon bow which is the reflection of the moon on the waters of the falls which can be enjoyed at night. It also has the lunar rainbow, and the devil’s pool, more so tones of water which have been estimated to 6million cubic liters fall to the ground every minute. Above all, According to David Livingstone, the breathtaking falls are a majestic sight, extraordinary enough to be “gazed by angels in their flight”
Our nation has diverse and extremely rich cultural heritage. It is a source of pride for us as Africans. We need not look any further for inspiration, communication and an opportunity for self identity than natural wonders like Mosi Oa Tunya
Elizabeth Duve Dziva is an Archaeological and cultural heritage practitioner presently teaching at Errymaple College in Zvishavane, the views in this article are solely those of the author in her own capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization. Email:

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