The Inkanyamba – legendary water monster of South Africa

Howick falls

A while ago I was working on a return trip (fourth time!) for some of our regular clients – this specific tour will be in KwaZulu Natal. As I was putting the trip together, I decided to add a visit to Howick Falls on one of their day tours. This got me reading up on a great local Zulu myth – the Inkanyamba of KwaNoggaza (“Place of the Tall One”).

howick falls

The Howick Falls is approximately 95 meters high (310 feet) and lies on the Umgeni River. The Umgeni River and its tributaries follow the course of gorges and steep crags, forming volleys of water that rush into pools until the water reaches the Indian Ocean, 95 kilometers away.    The view from the top, in particular, is pretty inspiring, and the volley of water mesmerising. And you needn’t come for the view alone. There are also a series of interesting walks and trails, some to the bottom of the falls. The official Howick Falls Gorge Walk begins at the bottom of Harvard Street and makes its way to the seat of the falls.


According to local legend the pool at the bottom of Howick Falls is the residence of the Inkanyamba, which is a giant serpent like creature with a finned mane, huge fore-flippers, a horsey head and a fierce temper.  It is said that the Inkanyamba is most active in the summer months, when its anger causes the seasonal storms, but it is hardly ever seen in summer.  This would support the Zulu’s assumption that the creatures are migratory in nature.


Only Sangomas are said to be able to safely approach the falls – and then only to offer prayers and other acts of worship to the Inkanyamba, the ancestral spirits and the Great God.  According to the Xhosa beliefs the Inkanyamba takes to the sky once a year, in the shape of a giant tornado, so that it can find its mate.

Howick Falls

Listening to some of the stories it’s no wonder that the Inkanyamba have inspired awe and terror through both the Zulu and Xhosa communities for centuries.  There are even some cave paintings found in KwaZulu Natal depicting these animals.  Archeologists have referred to them as ‘rain animals’ because of their association with the extreme summer storms experienced here.  Cryptologists think that they might be a type of freshwater eel.  Personally I hope the Inkanyamba is in a good mood when our precious clients visit 😉

The Awesome and Untouched Wild Coast of South Africa

The Wild Coast of South Africa, also known as the Transkei, is a beautiful, rugged and unspoiled coastline that stretches north of East London along sweeping bays, footprint-free beaches, lazy lagoons and rocky headlands.  The Transkei section of the Wild Coast is rural South Africa at its best, and the roads to the coast lead the visitor through the Xhosa heartland, a stunning landscape of rolling green hills dotted with thatched huts, offering interesting glimpses into a culture far removed from the stresses of modern life.

Apart from Port St Johns and Coffee Bay, most villages north of the Kei River are made up of only a handful of fisherman’s cottages, the occasional backpacker hostel and the odd hotel.  There is a wealth of comfortable Wild Coast accommodation for the visitor, making it an ideal destination for peaceful, laid-back holidays away from the tourist hoards.  Road Travel can assist with all your accommodation requirements in the Wild Coast.

The Wild Coast is blessed with fine weather during the winter months, when the Sardine Run attracts a frenzy of activity from gannets, seals, dolphins and predatory fish as it moves slowly north along the coast.  High vantage points along the coastline make great lookout points for dolphin and whale watching.  Humpback and Southern Right Whales migrate from the Antarctic to the shores of South Africa to calve and are often seen from the coast.   A unique and much loved quirk of the Transkei is the frequent sightings visitors have of cows on the beaches.  Even though beaches have no grass or drinking water, herds of cattle still love coming down to the beach to sleep, relax and chew the cud.  They are easily approachable and make great photographic subjects.

The area is also a firm favorite with anglers, offering excellent fishing grounds both at the coast and in the estuaries, particularly at the mouths of the larger rivers like the Kei and Mzimvubu which are navigable for several kilometers upstream.  Launching a ski boat for a day of deep-sea fishing is an exhilarating start to a wonderful day out at sea with magnificent views of the coast.  Other Wild Coast activities include golf, fly fishing, mountain biking, rock climbing, abseiling, surfing, canoeing, horse riding, game viewing and bird watching.   From its people, to its unforgettable beaches, waterfalls and famous landmarks, the Transkei Wild Coast offers a wealth of things to see and experience.  This coupled with a great climate, hot summers and mild dry winters, makes it an ideal off the beaten track destination.

Nelson Mandela was born in Mvezo near Mthatha in 1918.  He spent his childhood, the happiest years f his life, in the modest rural village of Qunu.  Here he did what most Xhosa boys do, herding the livestock, playing in the rivers and skidding down the granite stone he called “The Sliding Stone”.  The Nelson Mandela Museum in Mthatha runs tours to both Mvezo and Qunu.  The ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ exhibition details Mandela’s life history in his own words.  The museum is currently undergoing extensive renovations, so please do get in touch with us at Road Travel and we can give you more details.

The Wild Coast is very rural and tradition still plays a big part in people’s lives.  The Xhosa and Pondo people live in bright thatched mud huts that dot the hills, mostly without electricity and running water.  They farm vegetable patches and keep cows, goats, sheep and pigs.  Customs involve ceremonies, drumming and dancing.  When something is wrong, locals consult Sangomas, or healers, who prescribe herbal remedies.  While you can visit Xhosa and Pondo villages on your own, we at Road Travel would suggest going with a registered guide who can interpret what you’re seeing and advise you how to behave.  Village tours can include a simple but delicious traditional meal, a visit to a sangoma, drinks at a shebeen and even home stays.  Contact us for more details.

The sensitive Wild Coast eco-system is being threatened by the planned construction of multi-lane toll-road highway, as well as proposed open-cast titanium mining in the Xolobeni dunes.   A coalition of organisations and individuals who are concerned about these developments and hope to press for ecologically sensitive economic solutions for the Wild Coast region, have formed the Sustaining the Wild Coast (SWC) campaign.  If you would like to support the campaign, join the mailing list, or learn more, then please visit their website for more information:

Some portions of text used with kind permission from

Sangomas, the African Shamans

A sangoma is a practitioner of herbal medicine, divination and counselling in traditional Nguni (Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele and Swazi) societies of Southern Africa.  In effect they are the African Shaman.  They perform a holistic and symbolic form of healing, embedded in the beliefs of their culture that ancestors in the afterlife guide and protect the living.  Sangomas are called to heal, and through them ancestors from the spirit world can give instruction and advice to heal illness, social disharmony and spiritual difficulties.

The philosophy is based on a belief in ancestral spirits.  Both men and women can be called by the ancestors, though sangomas are usually female.  A trainee sangoma (called a twaza) trains under another sangoma, usually for a few years, performing humbling service in the community. At times in the training, and for the graduation, a ritual sacrifice of an animal, such as a chicken, goat or cow is made.  The spilling of this blood is meant to seal the bond between the ancestors and the sangoma.

Sangomas function as the social workers and psychologists in their community.  They know the local dynamics and can counsel appropriately with this background knowledge.  The formal health sector has shown continued interest in the role of sangomas and the efficacy of their herbal remedies.  Western-style scientists continue to study the ingredients of traditional medicines in use by sangomas.

Sangomas have many different social and political roles in the community such as divination, healing, directing rituals and narrating the history, cosmology, and myths of their tradition.  They are highly revered and respected in their society, where illness is thought to be caused by witchcraft, pollution (contact with impure objects or occurrences) or by the ancestors themselves, either malevolently, or through neglect if they are not respected, or to show an individual her calling to be a Sangoma.  For harmony between the living and the dead, vital for a trouble-free life, the ancestors must be shown respect through ritual and animal sacrifice.

Sangomas are steeped in ritual.  They work in a sacred healing hut or Ndumba, where their ancestors reside.  They have specific coloured cloths to wear to please each ancestor, and often wear the gallbladder of the goat sacrificed at their graduation ceremony in their hair.  They summon the ancestors by burning a plant called Imphepho, dancing, chanting, and most importantly playing the drums.

The Sangoma possesses a collection of small bones and other small objects like seeds, shells etc., each with a specific significance to human life.  For example a hyena bone signifies a thief and will provide information about stolen objects.  The Sangoma or the patient throws the bones but the ancestors control how they lie, and the Sangoma then interprets this metaphor in relation to the patient’s life.  In the same way, Sangomas will interpret the metaphors present in dreams, either their own or patients’.

Sangomas will give their patients Muti, medications of sand, plant and animal origin imbued with spiritual significance, often with powerful symbolism – lion fat is given to promote courage in the younsters.  There are medicines for just about everything from physical and mental illness, social disharmony and spiritual difficulties to potions for love and luck.  Road Travel arrange tours which include visits to the best Sangoma in town, so get in touch with us to find out more.