Kariba Dam Wall was completed in 1958
Lake filled between 1958 and 1963
Length: 220 Kilometres (140 Mi)
Width: 40 Kilometres (20 Mi)
Total Area: 5,580 square kilometres (2,150 sq Mi)
Capacity: 185 cubic kilometres (44.4 cu Mi)
Mean Depth: 29 meters (95ft)
Maximum Depth: 97 meters (320ft)
In 1954 a decision was taken to dam the Zambezi River at Kariba gorge. It was to create an expanse of water the size of Wales, stretching the equivalent distance of London to Manchester or New York to Washington, making it by far the largest man-made lake in the world. The objective was to harness water for a hydro-electric power scheme. The Federal Government also had plans to use the lake for commercial fishing.
Against immense odds the Kariba dam wall was finally completed in December 1958 by an Italian company, a mammoth achievement that cost 80 men their lives.
The Tonga Tribesman and the Nyaminyami River God
Before the dam could be built, 57000 Tonga tribesmen had to be relocated. This was no easy exercise as the river had immense spiritual significance to the Tonga people and was the focal point around which their lives revolved. They did eventually agree to be relocated but they forecast doom for the project at the hands of their river god “ Nyaminyami”, a serpent like creature about three metres in diameter. Work on the dam wall was hindered time and again by violent storms and flash floods and the Tonga River God started to crop up in bar room conversation.
The Tonga tribesman called the rock under which the serpent lived “Kariwa”, the trap, and hence the name of the lake, KARIBA.