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The Nyami Nyami, otherwise known as the Zambezi River God or Zambezi Snake spirit, is one of the most important gods of the Tonga people. Nyami Nyami is believed to protect the Tonga people and give them sustenance in difficult times. The River God is usually portrayed as male.
Variously described as having the body of a snake and the head of a fish, a whirlpool or a river dragon, the Nyami Nyami is seen as the god of Zambezi Valley and the river before the creation of the Kariba Dam. The Nyami Nyami is regularly depicted as a snake-like being or dragon-like creature with a snake's torso and the head of a fish. It can be found as pendants on jewelry, usually carved out of wood, stone or bone, occasionally ivory, silver or gold both as a fashion accessory and as a good luck charm similar to the wearing of a St Christopher medallion. Elaborate traditionally carved walking sticks depicting the Nyami Nyami and its relationship with the valley's inhabitants were popular with tourists visiting Zambia and have historically been gifts to prestigious visitors.
It is the traditional role of tribal elders and spirit mediums to intercede on behalf the inhabitants of the river valley when Nyami Nyami is angered.
The Nyaminyami is said to reside in the Zambezi River and control the life in and on the river. The spirits of Nyaminyami and his wife residing in the Kariba Gorge are God and Goddess of the underworld. The Tonga people believe the building of the Kariba Dam deeply offended Nyami Nyami, separating him from his wife. The regular flooding and many deaths during the dam's construction were attributed to his wrath. After the Dam was completed the Tonga believe that Nyami Nyami withdrew from the world of men.