On the Knife Edge of the Victoria Falls

© David Rogers
Knifes Edge of the Victoria Falls.
This spectacular walk along the Knife Edge of the precipice is the only way to view Victoria Falls from the Zambian side. It can be accessed shortly after the Zambian border post and it is possible to walk across from the Zimbabwean side. It can be quite a heart-stopping walk if you are afraid of heights!

During winter, there is a very good chance that the Eastern Cataract - which you look on to from here - will be dry and no water will be falling over the top. During the rainy season, this is one of the closest points - in horizontal distance - from which you can approach Victoria Falls either side of the Boiling Pot.

In any season, the view alone down into the bottom of the gorge is worth it and you can clearly see how the present Falls are dying from east to west. Knife's Edge offers a unique perspective back along Rainbow Falls and you can clearly see Danger Point and the sheer drop below it.

The remainder of the Victoria Falls is obscured from here, but there is probably no better spot from which to view the huge plume of spray than this overlook. It is impossible not to appreciate the power of the moment of contact of all that water with the base of the gorge.

You only have to stand on the edge of Victoria Falls to understand the fascination that it must have held for people since time immemorial. Even the most hardened atheist will appreciate the transcendental nature of the water and understand how it has become enshrined in local folklore and mythology. Early Western explorers noted that local inhabitants treated the area around the Falls with deep spiritual respect.

Ancestral Worship at Victoria Falls

Many of the Mukuni (Toka-Leya) people, who have occupied the Falls area for hundreds of years, believe that a number of spirits live in and around the Falls. They hold a number of places as sacred where prayer and sacrifice take place.

The Toka-Leya have a high priestess whose position is known as Bedyango. She is reputed to have a high ritual influence and officiates over the annual rain ceremony, the Lwindii festival, that takes place in the wet season. Participants are primarily young men (the basilombelombe) who want to prove their bravery by collecting water from the Boiling Pot (Chiposyo) and from a point on the lip of the Falls known as Chisamu Chilikumbede.

Before the ceremony, the youths smear themselves with a white powder known as mpemba, which symbolises purity. The smearing is done at a place called Ampemba at Chizabingo, a few kilometres south of the border post on the Zambian side. Once the basilombelombe have performed these rituals, they are eligible for marriage. Part of the Lwindii ceremony also takes place at another important shrine, Kwasamukale, near Mukuni village, where participants honour the ruler of the Mukuni clan and those who have gone before him.

Each chief is represented by a step on a sacred stairway that represents the continuity of the tribal monarchy. The first Mukuni chief, Siloka, is buried on what is known as Siloka Island on the lip of the Falls, and prayers are regularly held at his grave.

Water taken from the Boiling Pot is also used to placate ancestral spirits. An important shrine for ancestral worship is Katola Buseka near the bungee jumping site. The Mukuni tradition holds it important for valuable offerings to be sacrificed to the ancestors here in order to receive their blessings. Indeed, the famous bungee jump of Chief Mukuni was to honour his ancestors.

An important Toka-Leya shrine is Nsambalwa, about 400m southwest of the Sun Hotel near the Zesco hydroelectric plant, a site used for ritual cleansing activities and healing sickness.

Bedyango's role is also that of a spiritual witness for births, marriages and deaths and the appointment of tribal leaders. The Zambian luxury safari boat, the African Queen, is named after the high priestess, and she is reputed to bless the boat each year on its anniversary.

Brett Hilton-Barber and Lee R. Berger. Copyright © 2010 Prime Origins.

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