The Batonga

Follow in the footsteps of intrepid 19th century explorer David Livingstone on his expedition of discovery to the mighty Victoria Falls. En route he encountered the Batonga – the first black people to cross the Zambezi from the North. They settled in the Gwembe valley and have been in the same general area ever since. Only the nomadic San Bushmen roamed the area before their arrival.

In the 1950’s a dam was built at Kariba Gorge to provide hydro-electric power for the copper mines in Zambia. 57 000 Batonga had to be moved to higher ground, before the angry waters of the entrapped Zambezi rose to form Lake Kariba – at the time the largest man-made lake in the world. These ancestor-worshipping people had no option but to leave behind their sacred burial grounds on the bed of the new lake.

Hundreds of years before Livingstone’s visit, Portuguese traders travelled up the Zambezi in search of ivory and a variety of other goods, which they paid for with Ndoro – ceramic copies of the Conus Virgo trading shells, which were highly prized by the tribe for personal adornment. Occasionally the Ndoro motif can be seen carved on Batonga doors and drums. ┬áLike the Portuguese 15th and 16th century forays into the African hinterland, Omani Arabs also ventured up the Zambezi on trading missions, from Zanzibar and other bases on the East African coast. It was undoubtedly they who showed the Batonga how to make hardwood doors for their very simple pole and mud thatched huts. Doors operating on the same principle can be found on the West African coast – from Nigeria, up in Mali, all the countries around the bulge, Morocco, the Maghreb countries, through the Gulf down to Zanzibar as well as the Middle East and Andalucia in Spain. In short, wherever there was Arab trade.