Tucked away in solitary splendor some 40km from Mbala town in Northern Zambia is world’s No 12 highest waterfall. On the continent only Tugela of Kwa-Zulu Natal passes its 222m height.
Beaming with holiday excitement, a few kwacha’s to spend and a brand new Nikon it was easy to pick on Mbala because I had never gone there before. I would also get a chance to visit my sister who was recuperating from a leg operation after surviving a fatal car accident on her way back from Kasama with her husband a few months back.
With hopes of going to the falls dwindling owing to problems organizing transport, Julius a local biker I ran into in ten kwacha bar agreed to take me after a lengthy bargain. The sky was angry, looming nimbus washing the town in an intermittent light drizzle. With only three days left of the visit, the feeling was one of apprehension as I continued contemplating the list of unticked places in my diary. It was 4th January and the popular bi-monthly open market known as umunada was taking its turn. As Julius filled the gas tank, I kept mulling over going to see umunada and shoving the visit to the falls to another day. But he had picked on this day as the most convenient for him and I had no choice but to ‘ride along’.
The trip to Kalambo Falls
We hit the road and thankfully the clouds embarked on journeys of their own. During the rainy season, Kalambo road turns into heavily-rutted and pot-holed mud pits. This makes you feel you really have to earn sighting the falls. The road serpentine in and out of jungle into open tracts of grass as the valley rises and invites above the horizons. Taking a corner on our left, a billboard with white letters welcomed us to the Kalambo Falls National Monument with viewing fees in Kwacha, Tanzanian Shillings and American money.
The entrance to the Kalambo Falls, from here the foundation for the information centre NHCC is putting up is clearly visible. Picture by Julius.
We were welcomed by a lone keeper who enthused throughout the inter-change that I was just too willing to pull off as the lapping, whooshing and pounding sounds of the falls rose like a Waltz. Taking a side-railed pavement path down, I sensed the air change to a crisp breeze. As though it were charged with negative ions you couldn’t help but succumb to that wonderful nature- induced euphoria. From where I was perched I saw the water come up in froth and looked to wonder for a bit, as it gracefully bended to begin its 222m journey down the quartzite rocks. A near perfect view of the waterfall is not entirely a given. A small tree growing by rocks on the side proved a strong temptation. I was also told I could take a small path that meanders through Tanzanian territory for a good view , except it teems with vicious reptiles. The area is so untamed. It inspires every form and shape of imagination. Julius told me that if you looked at the point where the water lands to ‘walk’ to the lake you will notice shapes of banana plants with what appears like ripe fruits on them.
At 222m high only Tugela of Kwa-Zulu passes its height. In the whole world it is the 12th highest waterfall. Picture by Chibamba Kayula.
Sitting on the Kalambo river which is pretty much the ink that defines the Zambian border with Tanzania all the way into lake Tanganyika which is shared by a four-some of countries (DRC, Burundi, Tanzania and Zambia) the falls is two times higher than the Victoria falls, Zambia’s other cross border waterfall. The waterfall is in high flow around May-June when the width of the falls climbs to about 15m from around 8 in the dry months. But the shrinkage comes with its own attractions. I’m told you can stand atop the falls with one foot on the Tanzanian territory and the other in Zambia. Unlike its sister falls, viewing is the only charm so far but this is about to change as the government of Zambia through the National Heritage and Conservation Commission (N.H.C.C) is putting up a lodge and an information Centre. The foundation for the two installations is clearly visible.
Homohabilis might have contemplated the powerful scenes when he made his home around the falls some 200 000 years ago. Evidence of his home here is buried in the riverbed some 20 minutes’ walk from the falls. Together with Julius we relied on victor, the keepers’ 16 year old son to walk us to the ancient sites. We hobbled through dambos cultivated with cereals as the path is unmarked. On reaching, there are few leads that these are sites of first importance for the pre-history of central Africa. Dr. J Desmond Clarke carried out excavations along the riverbeds from 1956 to about 1966. Results of these found evidence of an almost complete succession of fossils from early stone times to the beginning of the Iron Age. The oldest evidence of the use of fire by man south of the Sahara was unearthed here.
Homo habilis made his home around these river beds some 200 000 years ago, this is according to evidence unearthed by Dr Desmond Clarke in the 1950s. The sites are also famed for showing evidence of the first use of fire by Man south of the Sahara. Picture by Julius.
We ambled around, digging through the washed sand and picking up pieces of stones. Victor even dug up a small dark ancient-looking piece of pottery which I thought was a very free gift for my memento.
It was time to say our goodbyes to victor and his dad. After signing in the visitor’s book we paid the mandatory 5 kwacha viewing fee as the now darkening clouds prepared to match us home. I know my legs will never thank me for the trip but my memories certainly will.
One cannot talk about Mbala without mentioning the tiny but picturesque lake, known as Chila. According to ‘Umutomolo, on the banks of Lake Chila’ a book written by Samuel Puta, elders have stated that the formation of the lake occurred after Chila (a person) and other gatherers of wild fruits called Indo refused to give some of that food to an infirm and hungry woman when she begged them to do so. Apparently, the earth opened up swallowing greedy chila and the entire village. The lake is less than a kilometer long and 800m wide. Despite the size, it sparked interest in historians because its riverbeds have an assortment of historic military wares dumped at the end of the First World War when soldiers from German East Africa surrendered to the Northern Rhodesia Rifles. With changes in climate, the lake has twice disappeared and reappeared fuelling more mystery amongst the local Mambwes and Lungus. The last time it dried up was in 1955. On the shores of the lake is Chila lodge, where I caught up with the town’s popular music ensemble, the Kalambo Hit Parade famed for their hit, “Mpanga Yamambwe.” It was a somewhat laid-back and exciting way of welcoming 2013.
Moto Moto Museum
The visit to Moto Moto Museum preceded my visit to Kalambo Falls and is always a good place to start. It is a refreshing 30 minute walk from Mbala’s CBD and it really helps to put the town’s history and significance into perspective. Opened in 1974, Father Jean-Jacques Corbel named it Moto-Moto in honor of Bishop DuPont. DuPont had invariably attracted the name because of his skill in “making fire”. With the bulk of collection in the fields of Ethnography, Arts, Pre-History, History and Natural History, it has the second largest assemblage in the country after Livingstone Museum. Father Corbel put together an extensive array of tools, craft instruments and items from traditional ceremonies and witchcraft. These items are still exhibited in the galleries. After paying 10 kwacha for entering plus another 10 known as camera fee I could Nikon almost anything I admired from inside the galleries. The History Gallery has information about Mbala’s role in the World Wars. Names of natives who served in the British army are clearly eulogized. These include Mr. Noah Mulenga of Londe Village, the frying pan that he used for cooking is displayed near a German military helmet. Some, like Daimoni Mweete, went on to fight for the British in Burma. The Museum displays a picture of Mr. Mweete sitting on a giant turtle in the Burmese jungle. In the Ethnography section is a traditional kiln known as Ilungu which was used to fashion iron tools. Moto-Moto has wonderful guides who are keen to share knowledge about all the artifacts and objects on display.
Tanganyika Victoria Memorial Institute, (T.V.M.I)
Ambling from the museum I swung by the Tanganyika Victoria Memorial Institute (T.V.M.I) which is located along President Avenue. T.V.M.I was built in 1902. Named in honor of Queen Victoria, the building was gutted by fire a few years later and rebuilt between 1949 and 1952. As a social institute meant to provide recreation it served as a point for social games.
Tanganyika Victoria Memorial Institute. Picture by Chibamba Kayula.
It is a sturdy multi-walled structure built to withstand the shocks of time. Now under the care of the Municipal Council, T.V.M.I has a public library. The reading material includes old journals, such as 1930s Black Woods’ Magazines. The building also houses a nursery school and a conference room. One oddity of the building is a circular piece of metal mounted on a piece of wood in the library. I was informed that it is a propeller from the SS Good News’. After dislodging the dust from the propellers metal plate, I learned that the SS Good News was the first steam ship to be launched on Lake Tanganyika. Further investigation informs that the ship was built on the Rofu River under the direction of Edward Coode Hore, and launched on March 3rd 1885. It continued service on Lake Tanganyika until the First World War broke out in 1914. A visit to the T.V.M.I is not complete without viewing this propeller.
Mbala Old Prison.
Spurred on by the amount of historical information I had gotten, I started my hunt for Mr. Sosala a researcher my sister informed me had once worked with the Moto-Moto museum. It was difficult to land an appointment but with a little cajoling he was willing to offer me a few moments. Together we ambled towards Bavika supermarket and grabbed empty chairs as we relaxed over sodas. It was here where I was taken on a thrilling history lesson about what I can only refer to as Northern Provinces most exciting tourist destination. According to Mr. Sosala the town is also home to one of the oldest prisons in Zambia. Called Mbala Old Prison, some of the people who served time in the prison include late freedom fighters: Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe, Isaac Sikazwe Masaiti, Abel Mwanakatwe and the still living Zanco Mpundu Mutembo.
Mbala Old Prison Picture by Mulenga Kalolo
But it is not just the prison, as I learned, an old disused Victorian Brick building standing naked along President Avenue that conjures up memories of a young and troubled town. When its sons were rolling up sleeves to fight alongside Europeans in the World Wars (where they were conscripted to work as porters, laborers and scouts) the town of Mbala was just being born.
Called Abercorn, British interest in the town grew following travels by David Livingstone leading to the onset of the town’s colonial era as early as 1893, making it one of the oldest towns in Central Africa. War time trenches dotted around town bear witness to the hostilities the town witnessed (between the warring factions in the First World War), being on the border of Zambia and Tanzania the two former British and German colonial territories. The town became a key outpost in British colonial control of South Central Africa. Mr. Sosala also believes that as a British fortress, its status could have been preceded by Zombe a town which was located too close to Tanzania. It also once served as a locust control center in the 1920s when East and Central Africa was ravaged by the grasshoppers.
I caught up with Zanco Mpundu Mutembo, a former inmate of the old prison and freedom fighter in Zambia’s Independence. Conferred with the status, symbol of the nation, his image cast in stone stands defiantly as the freedom statue in the nation’s capital. On October 24 1984, President Kaunda honored him with the companion order of freedom. At 79 he balances his gait so well with the staff which Chief Mpezeni gave him back in 1958. He starts by recounting about the time he was incarcerated in the Old Prison with his friends who included Bwalya Kenani, Benson Mumba, Andrew Mwenya, James Chapoloko and John Chalele besides those mentioned earlier. Mr. Mutembo is the only surviving member of that group. He also had places he wanted to show me. Together we visited Lumumba house, located at 214 Bwangalo Road. It is an old-looking medium-sized building near Barclays Bank. It was built and used by the colonialists as a communications center. Sir Evelyn Hone, the last governor for Northern Rhodesia handed over the structure to Mr. Mutembo in recognition of his status. This is according to Mr Mutembo. At the rear of Lumumba house are two smaller structures that were toilets for colonialists. They are not latrines. They did not use water. They were bucket toilets. As we ambled around, Mr. Mutembo told me about the times they would come to pick up the dirty buckets as inmates. It’s a long time but the memories are still clear to him.
Together with Mpundu Mutembo I also visited the Heroes Cemetery, the burial site for soldiers killed in the World Wars. It is a kilometer from town along Kalambo road .There are English, Polish, German and Zambian names on the epitaphs. A nearby stump indicates the presence of a house a long time ago. “This is where the home of Hugh Marshall who doubled as DC and Postmaster was located”, Mr. Mutembo tells me. He was infamously named Mutambalike (meaning to stretch on the ground) by the locals because he was known for stretching Zambians on the ground for canning. Apparently the locals were very creative with names for Europeans who had peculiarities. A white man who drank lemonade could be called Bwana-Mandimu. As mentioned before, Bishop DuPont found himself with the tag Moto-Moto.
The world War Memorial Stone.
Lastly Mr. Mutembo points me to the cenotaph situated at the towns’ roundabout.
The Cenotaph proclaim tributes to 1467 men of Northern Rhodesia who served in the British Army as carriers and were killed in action died of wounds or sickness. Pic by Chibamba Kayula.
The cenotaph proclaims tributes to the 1467 men of Northern Rhodesia who served in the British Army as carriers and were killed in action or died of wounds or sickness. It is also near this cenotaph, on November 25th 1918, that the Germans commanded by General Von Lettow Vorbeck laid down their weapons before General W.F.S Edwards. The cenotaph is near Arms Hotel, an inn established during the Wars. The hotel has undergone renovations and is in private hands. It has rest rooms and a bar. After booking a seat in the Power tools coach I strolled down its corridors and was greeted by that almost unmistakablefeeling that I had taken a trip back into time. Travelers waiting for their buses are quietly sipping lagers in the hotels bar.
You almost can’t help but imagine General Vorbeck raising a glass of whisky to Edwards and proposing a toast, ‘To our newly-found peace, cheers’!