The Nyami Nyami, otherwise known as the Zambezi River God or Zambezi Snake spirit, is one of the most important gods of Tonga people. Nyami Nyami is believed to protect the Tonga people and give them sustenance in difficult times. The River God is usually portrayed as male.
Variously described as having the body of a snake and the head of a fish, a whirlpool or a river dragon, the Nyami Nyami is seen as the god of Zambezi Valley and the river before the creation of the Kariba Dam. The Nyami Nyami is regularly depicted as a snake-like being and can be found as pendants on jewellery, usually carved out of wood, stone or bone, occasionally ivory, silver or gold both as a fashion accessory and as a good luck charm similar to the wearing of a St Christopher medallion. Elaborate traditionally carved walking sticks depicting the Nyami Nyami and its relationship with the valley's inhabitants were popular with tourists visiting Zimbabwe and have historically been gifts to prestigious visitors.
It is the traditional role of tribal elders and spirit mediums to intercede on behalf the inhabitants of the river valley when Nyami Nyami is angered.
The Tonga people believe the building of the Kariba Dam deeply offended Nyami Nyami, separating him from his wife. The regular flooding and many deaths during the dam's construction were attributed to his wrath. After the Dam was completed the Tonga believe that Nyami Nyami withdrew from the world of men.