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Monday, April 05, 2010

LINDSAY SELBY: An early tale of Chipekwe

When the early travellers reached the Victoria Falls, and for long afterwards, there were no natives living within sixty miles of the place. They feared an evil spirit, they said, which haunted the falls. Cataract Island, on the lip of the falls, was once known as Devil's Island, and Coillard the missionary said of it: "The natives believe it is haunted by a malevolent and cruel divinity, and they make it offerings to conciliate its favour, a bead necklace, a bracelet or some other object, which they fling into the abyss, bursting into lugubrious incantations, quite in harmony with their dread and horror."

Many white men believe in a Victoria Falls monster that lives at the foot of the falls. Captain Reynard, the curator I have mentioned, told me that three men whose word he could not doubt had seen this creature.

Livingstone mentioned a serpent in these waters and it is part of the Barotse folklore. Natives assured Livingstone that it was large enough to hold a canoe and prevent the paddlers from moving in any direction. According to fairly recent accounts it is thirty feet long with a small slate-grey head and thick black body, which it exhibits in fold after fold.

Mr V. Pare, for many years in charge of boats on the Zambesi, climbed down to the bottom of the Victoria Falls gorge in 1925, when the water was at the lowest ebb in living memory. That was the first time he set eyes on the monster. It was a serpent-like creature, and when it saw Pare it reared up and then vanished into a deep cavern. Pare reported seeing it again, years afterwards, at the foot of the Devil's Cataract.

Natives call the monster Chipique and say that it came up from the ocean a thousand miles away. Native fishermen are so afraid of it that they will not venture out at night. "Chipique rules the river in the dark hours," point out the fishermen.

Mr J. W. Soper, who has trapped and shot a great many crocodiles round about the falls, has heard native reports of very large specimens. But it is unlikely that Mr Pare would have failed to identify a crocodile. It may be a large python, of course, like the legendary great snake of the Orange River.

From page 114. The book is called There's a Secret Hid away by Lawrence Green, and it is about tales of southern Africa. Printed by Howard Timmins, Cape Town. Lawrence Green died in 1973. This copy of the book was reprinted in 1981. The original was printed in 1956. I got this on loan from the British library but you can still get second hand copies of the books from dealers

List of his books http://www.booksofzimbabwe.com/page5LGG.html

1 comment:

Dale Drinnon said...

Interesting, the description sounds like your standard-regulation Water Monster. I'm not so certain that the use of the name "Chipekwe" belongs here, it might be a mistaken usage of a name actually foreign to the area, since it turns up in other places far away from here. The name does seem to mean only "Water Monster" itself. But in other instances it might be a rhino or a monitor lizard; it's probably generic.