The Inkanyamba is a mythical serpentine or eel-like cryptid from Zulu and Xhosa folklore.
The Zulu and Xhosa believe Inkanyamba is a supernatural aquatic creature that lives in turbulent waters at the base of waterfalls. It also lives in lakes and rivers.
The waterfall most commonly associated with the creature is Howick Falls near Pietermaritzburg in KwaZulu-Natal Province.
Researchers believe that folkloric traditions about Inkanyamba date back to ancient times. Archeologists have reportedly found ancient rock art in the KwaZulu-Natal that appears to depict mythical storm serpents (“rain serpents”) with equine heads and horns similar to Inkanyamba.
Inkanyamba is a violent creature with a vicious temper. Folklore associates it with deadly storms and other violent atmospheric disturbances. Thus, locals hold Inkanyamba in terror.
Many native South Africans consider the beast so dangerous and destructive that they avoid mentioning its name out of fear they may summon it.
Inkanyamba is a giant serpent
Folklore and alleged eyewitness accounts describe Inkanyamba as a monster about 20-30 feet long. It lives in the pool at the bottom of Howick Falls (Zulu: KwaNogqaza, which means “Place of the Tall One”). The waterfall, about 95m high, is part of the Umgeni River.
Inkanyamba is a serpentine creature with a horse- or zebra-like (equine) head, a mane, and fins. The monster has a crest running along its back.
Some accounts claim it has many heads, like the mythical hydra. Folklore also depicts it as a winged serpent that embarks on seasonal flights to the sky in search of a mate.
It is most active during the summer months (June-mid-September). The turbulence of the water at the base of the Howick Falls is associated with the creature’s characterization as a tempestuous entity.
Inkanyamba causes deadly storms
Inkanyamba’s wrath is responsible for violent storms in South Africa during the summer months. The people of KwaZulu-Natal province ascribe deadly storms and hailstone phenomena to the angry creature.
People ascribed the deadly December 1998 storm in the Hogsback area of Eastern Cape Province to the wrath of Inkanyamba.
A folkloric narrative claims that violent summer storms occur when the winged monster ascends to the skies as a giant whirlwind or tornado to seek a mate. When returning from the skies, it may mistake shiny zinc roofs for its watery abode. It throws a tantrum when it realizes its mistake and wreaks havoc in vengeful wrath.
The belief that Inkanyamba may mistake zinc roofs for water explains why some South Africans paint rooves with dark non-reflective colors to prevent catastrophe.
Another version of the legend claims that storms occur when male and female Inkayambas engage in a violent mating ritual.
In some accounts, the other Inkanyamba is not a mating partner but a territorial rival. The two engage in a vicious territorial fight that accounts for deadly storms in the summer months.
Other accounts claim that storms occur when the creature throws a tantrum because it couldn’t find a suitable mate.
Due to Inkanyamba’s petty wrathful nature, people stay away from the area around the waterfall. Trespassers risk the mythical creature’s wrath. Thus, only medicine men, known as the Sangoma, approach the turbulent pool to perform the ceremonies and ritual sacrifices needed to appease the angry water spirit.
Inkanyamba eats people
Over the years, Howick Falls acquired the reputation of being a death spot. Many who attempted to cross the Umgeni River ended up swept by the currents over the precipice. People who wanted to commit suicide appeared to favor the site so much that locals concluded they acted under the hypnotic influence of the hungry creature waiting to devour them at the bottom of the falls.
Natives believe that when a person falls into the water, Inkanyamba eats the body. Thus, when a person dies by falling into the water, relatives gather at the waterfall and sing songs to persuade Inkanyamba to release the body. They want the monster to release the body so that they can give it a proper burial and perform rituals required by tradition.
Sightings and Tales
Although many consider Inkanyamba an invisible supernatural entity because of its association with atmospheric phenomena, some claim to have seen it at the falls.
According to alleged eyewitness accounts, the creature looks like a giant eel or snake. So, if you are ever within sight of Howick Falls and see a serpentine creature too big to be an eel or a snake, it is likely Inkanyamba.
The best-known alleged sightings include an account by a conservation services ranger, Mr. Buthelezi. He claimed to have seen Inkanyamba on a sand bank while he and a friend strolled along the Umgeni River near the Midmar Dam in 1962.
The monster slid into the river as they approached.
Johannes Hlongwane, who worked as a caretaker at a caravan park near Howick Falls, also claimed to have seen Inkanyamba in 1971 and 1981.
Hlongwane said the monster rose about thirty feet out of the water, revealing its head and neck. It had a finlike crest running along the length of its back.
In April 2000, residents of Zitapile in the Eastern Cape Province reported that a giant snake-like creature was terrorizing local communities.
A police spokesperson, Captain Mpofana Skwatsha, allegedly said livestock in the affected communities appeared troubled and nervous while the creature lurked around.
Residents who claimed to have seen the legendary beast described it as having a yellowish skin color, a horse-like head, and a thick body.
Claimed sightings of Inkanyamba around the Howick Falls sparked a debate about the creature in the 1990s.
Bob Teeny, reportedly a restauranteur, claimed he saw the beast at Howick Falls. He said that while viewing Howick Falls from a platform, a snake-like monster raised its head and part of its body out of the water.
Unfortunately, he could not prove the sighting because he was not carrying a camera.
He then attempted to settle the controversy over the existence of Inkanyamba by offering a reward for anyone who could provide photographic evidence.
Local cryptozoologists took up the challenge, and before long, multiple photos had emerged claiming to show the alleged creature. But most were blurry, and others were obvious hoaxes.
The controversy over Inkanyamba deepened when people began circulating rumors that the government wanted to capture it and move it to a sanctuary. The news created panic among the rural population due to fears that an attempt to capture the temperamental creature could unleash a deadly storm.
People began pressuring local authorities to block the alleged plan.
What is Inkanyamba?
The Zulu and the Xhosa believe that Inkanyamba is a supernatural creature associated with waterfalls and atmospheric turbulence. However, some cryptozoologists suggested that one or more species of giant carnivorous eels native to the region may have inspired the legend.
For instance, the giant mottled eel (Anguilla marmorata; family Anguillidae) lives in the fresh and brackish waters of East and South Africa. Adult females may exceed 6.5 feet in length and weigh more than 20kg.
The African longfin eel (Anguilla mossambica; family Anguillidae ) is smaller than the giant mottled eel. It is a freshwater eel native to South Africa. Males can reach 60 inches (5 feet) in length.
Anthropologist Sian Hall
In a newspaper article, the South African anthropologist Sian Hall dismissed allegations about a creature at Howick Falls beside giant eels and otters.
Hall’s comment inspired some cryptozoologists to suggest that Inkanyamba might be the African Clawless Otter (Aonyx capensis) native to the area around the Howick Falls.
The African Clawless Otter (also known as Cape clawless otter or groot otter) is the second-largest known freshwater otter species. Adult individuals may grow up to 64 inches in length and weigh up to 36kg.
However, the Zulus and Xhosa insist that Inkanyamba is not an eel or otter. They claim it is much bigger than any known eel or otter and has supernatural powers.
However, skeptics argued that the giant mottled eel or the African longfin eel might have inspired the legend.
|Other Name/s||Inkanyamba, Inkanyamba of KwaNoggaza (“Place of the Tall One”)|
|Type||Lake Monster, Monster|
|Habitat||Countryside, Lake, River|
Where to find
Inkanyamba: African Legend, Tharina Strauss, 2010.
African Legendary Creatures, Hephaestus Books, 2011.
https://web.archive.org/web/20060113075226/http://www.getawaytoafrica.com/content/magazine/features/feature.asp?id=909, “Legends of the Deep,” accessed on February 16, 2023.
https://apnews.com/article/5cd4f707307d558d0d697992717e5b0e, “Two-Headed Snake Feared as Bad Omen,” accessed on February 16, 2023.
https://forteanzoology.blogspot.com/2009/04/richard-freeman-howick-falls-monster.html, “Richard Freeman: The Howick Falls Monster Hoax,” accessed on February 16, 2023.
https://www.wolfenhaas.com/post/the-howick-falls-monster-river-god-or-suicide-serpent, “The Howick Falls Monster – River God, or Suicide Serpent,” accessed on February 16, 2023.
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233193018_The_snake_in_the_sky_Tornadoes_in_clay_and_local_narrative_in_the_Hogsback-Alice_area, “The snake in the sky: Tornadoes in clay and local narrative in the Hogsback-Alice area,” accessed on February 16, 2023.
https://hogsback.co.za/magical_hogsback/tornadoes_serpents.htm, “Inkanyamba, the snake in the sky,” accessed on February 16, 2023.
The Inkanyamba is a serpentine monster from Zulu and Xhosa folklore. It lives in the Howick Falls. Pic credit: Pixabay
Last modified on May 16th, 2023 at 10:55 am