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The Nyaminyami legend and the Nyaminyami walking stick are two different things

04 Oct 2017 at 20:22hrs | Views
This story has been itching to be told, but ripe opportunities were not availing themselves. That was until I decided to sharpen my media skills. And the opportunity presented itself unexpectedly and in the blink of an eye, I had the audience nodding in agreement.



Patsaka Nyaminyami Community Radio, that pacesetting community radio in Kariba which many still mistakenly assume to be running a commercial division called Nyaminyami FM 94.5 by dint of the unimaginative naming by copycats, was going a gear up. It had teamed up with the Radio Netherlands Training Centre (RNTC) to further sharpen the skills of its editorial staff and citizen journalists.  For three weeks, the team went through transformative, interactive training from the masters of media. This culminated in the graduation on 8th September 2017.

On that auspicious day, the Netherlands Embassy in Zimbabwe, who had facilitated the training, sent a representative to Kariba to grace the occasion. Patsaka Nyaminyami Community Radio management scratched their heads for an appropriate present for the embassy. What could be truly Karibean in nature and significance? The Nyaminyami walking stick won the day. It probably has the pride of place in the Netherlands Embassy right now, a constant reminder of their good gesture to the people of Kariba, the land of the Nyaminyami.

When presentation time came, Patsaka Team Leader, John Chirinda, called upon me to explain what the motifs on the stick represented for the benefit of both guests and the recipient. He hadn't forewarned me so it came as a shock. He took advantage of my having told my classmates earlier during the training that I was the longest and oldest resident of Kariba among the team.



I had written articles previously on both the Nyaminyami legend and the Nyaminyami Walking Stick published by The Herald and The Sunday Mail, so I took it in my stride. All seemed well until I mentioned that the Nyaminyami did not have the head of a snake and the tail of a fish, as widely believed. The next natural question would be what did it look like, then? And the faces around the room posed just that same question.

Relying on my deep knowledge of the Nyaminyami legend I explained that no living soul had ever seen the Nyaminyami in its full glory, therefore the head of a snake and the tail of a fish improvisation has been borrowed from somewhere else. One possible version, popularised by Anthony M. Williams, Editor of the African Fisherman magazine (www.africanfishermanonline.com) is explained thus in the Volume 21 Number 5 issue: "Kariba was built by the Italians. When the local wood carvers saw the Italian engineers driving around in their Alfa Romeos – a popular Italian car, with a serpent-like badge - they naturally decided to honour the Italians by depicting the Alfa logo in the form of the now famous walking stick!" There you have it. It's not the Tongas who popularised that head of a snake and tail of a fish story.



More importantly, the story of the Nyaminyami and the Nyaminyami walking stick are two different things. The stick only depicts the Tonga way of life. It is not a Tonga symbol, as I have explained in my earlier writings on the subject. The lack of records, reliance on oral history which varied with each narrator and the fact that the first missionaries opted to keep certain aspects of Tonga religion out of their records in order to win them over, all played their part.

To win the Tongas over, their religious beliefs had to be undermined. Even though the Tongas believed in "Leza", the Creator (Chilenga), they were conveniently described as praying to a dragon-like creature called Nyaminyami.  Words portraying similar creative, regal and protective powers of Leza include Sikabumba, Simalelo and Simwami. How the Nyaminyami, a spirit medium, an intercessor, ended up being described as dragon-like is also obscure. Remember no one has ever seen the Nyaminyami to be able to describe it. Oral tradition lost out to commercial interests here.

The Nyaminyami legend and the Nyaminyami walking stick are like; interestingly, Patsaka Nyaminyami Community Radio and Nyaminyami FM 94.5 - two different things but confused for one thing.


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Source - Laiton Kandawire, a Patsaka Coresspondent
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