They Still Owe Him a Boat

Jono Terry

2018 - Ongoing

Zimbabwe; Kariba, Mashonaland West, Zimbabwe

On the 17th of May 1960, the Queen Mother officially opened the Lake Kariba dam wall. It was an engineering feat compared to the construction of the Great Pyramids of Giza. The white man in Africa conquering the seemingly wild Zambezi river and forever altering the landscape in our image.

‘Kariva’ was a local expression given to a stone lying alongside the gorge, the rock beneath the rapids, 350 miles downstream from Victoria Falls where it was believed NyamiNyami, the river deity with the body of a serpent and the head of a tiger fish, resided.

The creation of Lake Kariba and subsequent flooding of the valley displaced 57,000 Tonga people and destroyed more habitat than any single human action had before. The completion of the dam wall created the largest man-made lake in the world, produced the cheapest electricity in the world, and in turn separated NyamiNymai from his wife downstream.

In its creation, they had destroyed, and in their displacement white Rhodesians had created a Mecca they would always return to, a place where they felt they would truly belong. My interest in Lake Kariba has always centered around what I believe to be the spirituality of the land, for white Zimbabweans/Rhodesians the lake itself holds a sacred place, a playground where only the happiest of memories exist in a place made almost exclusively for us. For the local black population, it was a place of river gods and rain shrines, myth, and folklore that was challenged and ultimately destroyed by the creation of Lake Kariba.

Lake Kariba is where my father wants his ashes scattered, a sacrifice to NyamiNyami, becoming one with the land and finally answering the question of whether we belong. One day I hope to follow suit.

I have always been drawn to the duality of Lake Kariba. Geographically it sits between two countries: Zimbabwe and Zambia, there are two histories and two very different experiences of the lake - those of the white population and those of the black population. 60 years after its construction it remains a favourite place for many white Zimbabweans and continues to hold a prominent place in our national identity. They Still Owe Him a Boat aims to challenge our collective (white) memory of Lake Kariba.

{{ readMoreButton }}

  • The view from below the Kariba dam wall, on the Zambian side looking towards Zimbabwe.

  • National Anglers Union of Zimbabwe (NAUZ) Charara Campsite Swimming Pool. NAUZ is the location for the annual Kariba International Tiger Fish Tournament (KIFT) and New Year's Eve Party - both prominent events in the white Zimbabwean social calendar.

  • Patron of Club 263/Pagomo Grill located in the Kariba Heights watching the Premier League Football match between Manchester City vs Chelsea game

  • The captain's deck onboard the 'houseboat' Musankwa. The 'houseboat' phenomenon provided a boom for local Rhodesian tourism following the closure of the Mozambican border in 1975 following its independence.

  • Tiger fish trophy above the bar at Lomagundi Lakeside Resort. The tiger fish is synonymous with Kariba - the local river god, NyamiNyami is believed to have the head of a tiger fish, the Kariba Invitation Tiger Fish Tournament (KITFT) is the biggest of its kind and it is seen as one of Africa's premier freshwater game fish.

  • A large part of my own attachment to Lake Kariba is what I believe to be the sanctity of the land. I remember making this photograph because as the clouds parted and this heavenly light descended onto God’s mirror I knew that one day this is where I wanted my ashes to be scattered. It is my father’s chosen place too, our favourite place. Maybe in some way it can be seen as a final sacrifice to NyamiNyami but I prefer the symbolism of returning to the land and perhaps then, in the process, finally answer the question of where I belong.

  • As a young, white Zimbabwean, it was out here where I first fell in love with Lake Kariba. Out on the water after a long day of fishing, at the day’s end when the colours of the lake blend into the sky, an unknown horizon on a canvas of hues and you are guided home by the Zambezi’s warm breeze and the kiss of the moon.

  • During the construction of the dam wall there were two major floods - the ‘once in hundred year’ flood of 1956 and the ‘once in a thousand year’ flood of 1958. For the local black populations of the area both of these floods were attributed to the wrath of NyamiNyami. Indeed, following the 1958 flood, author Frank Clements declared “NyamiNyami has made good his threat. He had recaptured the gorge”. In order to appease the anger of the NyamiNyami a sacrifice was made, and according to one source a white goat was slaughtered and left to drift down the Zambezi River.

  • Family archives: swimming in Lake Kariba.

  • Warren Nyekete, the Lake Captain, photographed in the Lake Navigation office. Warren was only the second black Lake Captain in the 60 year history of Lake Kariba.

  • The view from the veranda of the Zimbabwe Power Company Sports Club, Lake Kariba, where it sometimes looks like the awning is holding up the sky.

  • Family archives: water skiing on Lake Kariba.

  • The hand of Mathias Chacharika, 87 year old Msampakaruma villager, one of the few remaining original inhabitants of Gova Valley, the name given to the surrounding area of the Zambezi River before the construction of Lake Kariba, forced resettlements and subsequent flooding of the valley.

  • Richard, houseboat employee and usher at St. Augustine’s Church, Lake Kariba.

  • Discarded tiger fish fins from the Kariba Invitation Tiger Fish Tournament (KITFT), the largest single-species, four-man, fresh water fishing tournament in the world. After the tiger fish have been officially weighed and scored for tournament standings employees from the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority conduct a more thorough record taking of all fish caught - length, weight, sex, the females are cut open to check for eggs and finally the fins are cut off so that there is no chance for the fish to be recorded again by them or fishermen for the remainder of the tournament.

  • Maramba (barbel/catfish) drying under a mosquito net in NAUZ Charara Campsite compound.

  • A worm sellers' sign on the road to Lake Kariba. Fishing was the primary attraction for many visitors to the lake, whose primary purpose when built was to provide cheap hydro-electricity to the region.

  • Kariba banana plantation worker during the morning harvest which is between 5am and 11am avoiding the intense Kariba heat. Here, the banana trees mingle with the Baobabs in a uniquely Kariba landscape that did not exist before the construction of the dam wall.

  • Laundry day atop the Kariba Heights, one of several white areas which were to be largely inhabited by the Italian workforce of Impresit who won the Rhodesian contract to build the wall.

  • Family archives: my father on Lake Kariba