Zandvlei Trust

Lakes: African Culture and Natural Heritage

This is a statue of the Nyaminyami the water spirit in rivers, lakes and dams referred to below.

This extract was from an address at the World Living Lakes Conference, Mono Lake, Sierra Nevada, October 1999 by Credo Muttwa. 

"No matter where you go in Africa you will find African people referring to water by very interesting names indeed. And all of these words mean one thing no matter where you go: the fluid of creation, the thing that did something, the thing that caused something to be.

Our people believe many strange things regarding water. They  believe that water is a living entity. That water has got a mind, that it remembers. The reason why a lake forms where it is, the reason why a river flows through where it flows, there is an energy, an invisible spirit that moves like a snake, under the ground through the fine sand and which moves in the direction opposite to the one down  which flows. If this great fire snake, as we call it, this unseen energy, if it dies, then the river dies too.
In the language of my people , the Zulus a lake is called icibi. Now this word icibi gave birth to icibella which means "to patch". If there is a hole in a cloth and you put a patch on it, that patch is called icibi and you icibella.

Now why do we say that a lake is a repairer?

We believe that a lake controls the life forces of all living things around it. A lake controls the life forces of every bird, every fish, every tiny creature that you find in water and it also controls and stimulates the life forces of bigger animals up to and including human beings. And each time there is an illness in the land our kings used to prevail upon the tribes people to go closer to the lakes to get into that field. There is an invisible field of power all around a lake. If you take off your clothes and moisten your skin slightly and walk into that field , you will feel a tingling. That is what we call the spirit of the water, the icibi, the repairer of life.

Our people believe that there is a music, a sort of communication that goes on between streams, and rivers and lakes. That if you destroy a lake 20 miles away from another one, this music is cut off and the lake that you have destroyed dies, and so does another lake which has been in communication with it.

Let us regard each lake and each river. Not simply as an interesting stretch of water across whose expanse, spoiled millionaires will zip around in their powerboats. No!  Let us feel the water, let us accept one thing which our mothers accepted and our grandfathers knew: That the earth is a living entity where everything is joined to everything else in eternal marriage. And if you destroy something in one part of the world you create a chain of destruction that destroys things somewhere else".


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