The Inkanyamba – legendary water monster of South Africa
A while ago I was working on a return trip (fourth time!) for some of our regular clients – this specific tour will be in KwaZulu Natal. As I was putting the trip together, I decided to add a visit to Howick Falls on one of their day tours. This got me reading up on a great local Zulu myth – the Inkanyamba of KwaNoggaza (“Place of the Tall One”).
The Howick Falls is approximately 95 meters high (310 feet) and lies on the Umgeni River. The Umgeni River and its tributaries follow the course of gorges and steep crags, forming volleys of water that rush into pools until the water reaches the Indian Ocean, 95 kilometers away. The view from the top, in particular, is pretty inspiring, and the volley of water mesmerising. And you needn’t come for the view alone. There are also a series of interesting walks and trails, some to the bottom of the falls. The official Howick Falls Gorge Walk begins at the bottom of Harvard Street and makes its way to the seat of the falls.
According to local legend the pool at the bottom of Howick Falls is the residence of the Inkanyamba, which is a giant serpent like creature with a finned mane, huge fore-flippers, a horsey head and a fierce temper. It is said that the Inkanyamba is most active in the summer months, when its anger causes the seasonal storms, but it is hardly ever seen in summer. This would support the Zulu’s assumption that the creatures are migratory in nature.
Only Sangomas are said to be able to safely approach the falls – and then only to offer prayers and other acts of worship to the Inkanyamba, the ancestral spirits and the Great God. According to the Xhosa beliefs the Inkanyamba takes to the sky once a year, in the shape of a giant tornado, so that it can find its mate.
Listening to some of the stories it’s no wonder that the Inkanyamba have inspired awe and terror through both the Zulu and Xhosa communities for centuries. There are even some cave paintings found in KwaZulu Natal depicting these animals. Archeologists have referred to them as ‘rain animals’ because of their association with the extreme summer storms experienced here. Cryptologists think that they might be a type of freshwater eel. Personally I hope the Inkanyamba is in a good mood when our precious clients visit 😉