Nyami-Nyami (Zambezi Spirit)

Brown Serpentine

  • 15cm (h)
  • 44cm (w)
  • 36cm (d)

24kg

Guruve is offering this intriguing sculpture for sale on behalf of a private collector in the UK. Unfortunately, when they purchased this sculpture, it didn’t have any provenance with it. So we have consulted extensively with various friends and elders in Zimbabwe regarding water spirit beliefs. Together, we have concluded that the most likely story that Nicholas was trying to convey is the nyami-nyami myth:

The Tonga people of Zimbabwe, who live along the banks of the river Zambezi, believe that the nyami-nyami (water spirit) inhabits the river. They believe this river spirit/god and his wife protects them. Devastating floods occurred at the time of the construction of the Kariba dam, when the Tonga people were being forcibly resettled. These floods washed parts of the half-built dam wall away and killed some of the workers. The Tonga attributed this to the wrath of nyami-nyami at being separated from his wife downstream.

A stylised version of the nyami-nyami appears on Tonga craftwork as a serpent with a fish’s head. In this piece, the sinuous form (mirroring the movement of the water) and the forked tongue reflect the serpent. A colleague suggested that Nicholas gave it a more human-like face to perhaps suggest a spirit, as it needs to be able to communicate with humans.

We recently restored this sculpture, so it is in excellent condition. As part of that project, we examined it in detail and we are convinced this is a genuine work by Nicholas Mukomberanwa. The piece is signed on the back. The style of the sculpture and Nicholas’ signature date it roughly to the 1980s.