The lake is now 140 miles long and up to 20 miles in width; it covers an area of 2,150 square miles and has a maximum depth of 320 feet, with an average depth of 95 feet.
The name “Kariba” is derived for the Tonga word karive, meaning “trap”. It is well named as the river has been trapped by the dam across the gorge.
It is here that the legendary serpent creature Nyaminyami is said to live.
The BaTonga, who have lived in the region for centuries, say he is the god of the river.
When the Tonga people were forced to relocate to higher ground by the Kariba Dam Project in 1950, they summoned the help of Nyaminyami. They believed their river god would never allow the dam to be built and they would be able to return to their age old villages.
The designer of the dam committed suicide after one of his dams broke killing hundreds of people.
In 1957 Nyaminyami struck, causing the worst floods ever known to Zambezi, the flood washed away most of the partly build dam and killed several of the white workers. Their bodies disappeared mysteriously. The foreman of the construction crew was told by the village elders that Nyaminyami had caused the disaster and in order to appease his wrath a sacrifice would need to be made. The foremen agreed to the sacrifice. A white calf was slaughtered and floated onto the river. The next morning, according to this Tonga legend, the calf was gone and the workers’ bodies were in its place.
The next rainy season brought further floods nearly as bad as the previous year, however the project survived and the river was eventually dammed. In the 1960’s the generators were switched on and the supply of electricity flowed into the region. It is believed that Nyaminyami and his mate where separated by the dam and the frequent earthquakes and tremors felt in the area since the construction of the dam are caused by Nyaminyami in an attempt to crumble the wall and be reunited with his partner. Earthquakes of up to 5 on the Richter scale have been felt as far away as Harare - and they continue to be experienced today.
Is Nyaminyumi -real or a legend and what about the stories that have been told about him and his mate? Have the local people invented him to explain strange occurrences on and around the lake?
To be on the lake at dusk is both a wonderful but strange experience with the skeletons of trees long dead from exposure to the water sticking up from the depths below.
Every September the town of Kariba holds a festival in honour of Nyaminyami. He is very noticeable in Kariba, and a statue of him overlooks the wall that caused so much heartache for not only him and his wife, but for the people and the animals of the Zambezi Valley.
With the possibility of a massive flood in 2009 - will Nyaminumi surface to cause destruction in Zimbabwe? I never fail to wonder how the dam still stands today - with the crumbling structure having to have concrete poured into it on a regular basis and the control room so unstable that visits for maintenance are limited to a short period only.
The spirit of the Lake lives on - each year taking lives by boating and plane accidents which seem to have no explanation.