from SNIKE MZULAH in Siavonga, Zambia
SIAVONGA, (CAJ News) – BOASTING the largest and arguably the most beautiful man-made lakes in the world and one of the longest rivers in Africa, Siavonga in southern Zambia is iconic.
It offers a variety of tourism attractions on both water and land.
So, there is more to the town than Lake Kariba, which is 290 kilometres long with up to 50 kilometres wide, and Zambezi River, the fourth-longest in Africa, the longest east-flowing river in the continent and the largest flowing into the Indian Ocean.
The Zambezi offers great opportunities for viewing of wildlife especially hippopotami, elephants and crocodiles as well as canoeing and fishing adventures to tourists, the hilly landscape which provides beautiful scenery, the culture and way of life of the local Tonga speaking people.
Apart from the above attractions, Siavonga has a mysterious hip rock and stones area, called Bbalabbi.
Bbalabbi is in the Bbakasa area, situated on the steep side of the hill.
It is believed that anyone who goes to Bbalabbi without a prayer could die on their way.
Bbalabbi is a shrine area. It is said to be a must for someone to pray requesting spirits known as Mizimu for permission to climb the hills leading to the area, lest they be harmed or encounter strange occurrences.
Bbalabbi is surrounded by a natural hedge of shrubs which can make it impossible to pass during the rainy season.
The hedge goes round the shrine measuring 500m by 500m. No one can pass through while walking. One has to bend, at some points crawling in order to penetrate.
This complication in passing through this thicket has been interpreted into some respect to the shrine.
Some elderly community members claim that no one sees Bbalabbi until one squats or kneels down.
At Bbalabbi, there are no trees and grass. It comprises stones arranged according to the size. They are naturally grouped in a way that bigger ones are in the middle. On either side are small ones.
The area is steep but interesting and hectic to move about. The echo produced when a stone is thrown is strange. It is heard from the nearby bushes and sounds as though it is hollow underneath.
Headman Bbakasa (aged 76), said the area has always been sacred.
He said only old people used to be allowed to visit the area when they wanted to plead for anything from the spirits.
“It is believed that at Bbalabbi there used to be doves with rings on the feet and these doves used to visit the villages. The immediate interpretation was ‘Mizimu yatuswaya’, meaning the spirits that have visited us. Other strange things were the invisible goats which people used to hear when approaching the shrine,” the leader said.
Women were not allowed. Men who had sex outside marriage were barred. It was believed they would get lost or die.
Headman Hamugande related Bbalabbi to a strong spirit which at one time repelled a chopper which wanted to land there.
“The white man, a tourist with a chopper, who wanted to visit the area struggled to land there until it went away,” he says.
Hamugande encouraged the government to regularly visit Bbalabi and other areas, like Bbimbi, which is a place of salt.
Bimbi is a plain with tall grass. The grass is used to make salt and it is the same area where they make spears given to Chief Sikoongo when installing the chief. No one can become a chief without a spear from this area given by ba Muzambe, a traditionalist,” Hamugande explained.
Geoffrey Jakopo, Siavonga District Commissioner, said Bbalabbi is one of best tourist attractions in the district.
“Apart from the Kariba Dam, Bbalabbi can be the second best tourist attraction that we have in Siavonga although it’s not easily accessible because of its location,” he said.
“This natural wonder is on top of a mountain and for you to go there, you have to climb the mountain. But it’s a walkable distance. And you can only access Bbalabbi by walking and even by chopper but because of the said spirits you might not land there.”
Jakopo said the government, Through the Ministry of Tourism and Art, plans to document all the tourism sites in Siavonga in order to market them through the Zambia Tourism Agency (ZTA).
“There’s actually a plane of documenting all the tourist attractions in Siavonga and later air them on our national televisions like Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) and Zambia National Information and Services (ZANIS) so that the world can see that Siavonga is just another place in the world blessed with a lot of tourism attractions,” Jakopo said.
“We want to ensure that Siavonga is put on the map so that we can continue having more tourists coming to see our natural wonders that the almighty God has blessed us with,” he said.
Jakopo wants Siavonga to compete with the more popular Livingstone in terms of tourism.
Siavonga is considered to be a second tourist town after Livingstone, bordering neighbouring Zimbabwe.
“That is why we need to put our efforts together to see to it that we change our place for the better when we talk of tourism,” Jakopo said.
“We want a situation where every weekend we have people from within Zambia and different parts of the world to visit our town and that will help in boosting our local economy. That will help to sustain jobs for our people working in hotels and lodges. We will also have a lot of money in circulation.”
Jakopo hopes that before 2026, Siavonga will be the most beautiful town in Zambia as well as the best place for local and international tourists.
“Like for Bbalabbi, we need to organize resources so that we work on the road that leads to this important site,” he said.
The local is already working on the road from Kariba store to Bbakasa.
For some time, Siavonga has entirely depended on fishing.
However, this industry is declining because of receding water levels in Kariba.
“So it is high time we concentrated on the tourism sector,” Jakopo said.
The official believes authorities must introduce sporting events on Lake Kariba.
“We need these events, like we have our annual Lwiindi Ceremony, a traditional ceremony to honour the spirits of the ancestors and celebrate the onset of a new rainy season to ensure good rains and a good harvest.”
The Tonga people organise the ancient Tonga ceremony in late November or early December across the Zambezi Valley.
– CAJ News