The Valley Tonga Cultural Project
The Valley Tonga live in the middle Zambezi Valley on both sides of the Zambezi River in Zambia and Zimbabwe. Upstream is the Victoria Falls, downstream is Kariba Dam. The Valley Tonga are the third largest ethnic group in Zimbabwe after the Shona and Ndebele.
The best known fact about the Tonga is that they were forcibly removed from the banks of the Zambezi River forty years ago to make way for the building of Kariba. Once deported from their habitat, they were abandoned.
In recent years, they have gained some outside attention largely through the beauty of their material culture (in particular their basket work and their goblet drums) which have become popular with the tourist trade.
Before the dam, the Tonga were able to grow two crops a year. Their winter gardens were made possible by the flooding of the Zambezi river which brought rich alluvial soils every year. The ground they now live on since their displacement is desperately poor and barely sustains one yearly crop of drought-resistant sorghum. Furthermore, they are plagued by damage done to their crops from wildlife which they are now forbidden to hunt.
The Tonga are a marginalised people who do not share in the luxuries of modern life in Zimbabwe. Until recently, they viewed outsiders with suspicion and their remote position has not encouraged investment in the area. Even the advantages of electricity and tourism which Kariba dam brought to the cities, have bypassed the Tonga almost completely.
Although the Tonga lost so much with the coming of Kariba, they managed to maintain their cultural identity. The KUNZWANA Tonga Cultural Project was set up to find ways in which the Valley Tonga people might exploit this distinct and vibrant heritage to their own advantage.
Nyaminyami is the Valley Tonga river spirit. His promise is that, one day, the Tonga will return to their original homes on the banks of the Zambezi.
The present festival intends to expose the general public to the distinctive qualities of Tonga culture, in particular its wonderful and often strange-sounding music.