Our History and People
The first archaeological signs of human activity in Victoria Falls date back three million years. Stone artefacts from the Early, Mid and Late Stone Age have been found in the area. The Stone Age inhabitants were subsequently displaced by Batoka, Matabele and Makolo tribes who, over time, dominated the area.
The first European to see Victoria Falls was Dr David Livingstone, a Scottish missionary and explorer who wanted to find a way to the east coast of Africa.
It was the Makolo tribe, whose descendants still live in the area today, that escorted Dr Livingstone in dug-out canoes to see the falls in 1855. Livingstone named the falls after the reigning British monarch of the time, Queen Victoria.
But European settlement at the falls didn’t start developing until 1900, when imperialist Cecil Rhodes, with ambitions to build a railway from the Cape to Cairo, commissioned a bridge to be built across the mighty Zambezi River. Rhodes died before the Victoria Falls Bridge was completed in 1905.
The Victoria Falls area is rich in stone age artifacts; weapons, ornaments and other tools from the era suggesting that there were healthy populations of the Homo habilis in the area dating as far back as three million years although the majority of the artifacts are from approximately 50,000 years ago.
Arab slave traders who operated throughout the interior of Southern Africa from the 1200s referred to the waterfall as “the end of the world”. Centuries later in 1715 a map produced by French cartographer Nicholas de Fer, indicated the presence of cataracts at the point where Victoria Falls is located, although they only rose to fame once David Livingstone ‘discovered’ them a century later.
The first Bantu inhabitants of the region were the ancestors of the Tonga people, believed to have migrated from the equatorial forests of the Congo Basin, reaching the Zambezi Valley via Lake Tanganyika and Lake Nyasa, sometime around the fifteenth or sicteenth century. Despite their decentralised and less warlike society, making them easy targets for more aggressive tribes, their descendants still live along the banks of the Zambezi above and below the Victoria Falls.
Towards the end of the seventeenth and beginning of eighteenth centuries, other Bantu peoples migrated south from their original homelands in the Southern Congo basin. The earliest of these tribes to arrive, following the Batonga, was the Toka-Leya, under Chief Mukuni. The word ‘Leya” means ‘to keep out of trouble’ and the explanation given that Mukuni led off a number of his followers and settled in the country on both banks of the river above and below the Victoria Falls.
The political organisation of the Lozi Tribe has long centred on a monarchy whose reigning head, the Paramount King, is known as ‘Litunga’ which means ‘keeper of the earth’. Early Lozi oral tradition states that they have always inhabited the area along the Zambezi River from the Victoria Falls upstream, eastwards up the Chobe river floodplain in Botswana, to the Barotse Floodplain in North-western Zambia.
After the fall of the Great Zimbabwe Empire in the 15th century, a sub-chief by the name Sahwanga left for present day Hwange National Park with a small group of followers, where they established their new home made of stone structures, similar to those found at Great Zimbabwe. By the 1800s their numbers had grown and they occupied land along all the major rivers in the arid area between Hwange and Victoria Falls.
In the 1830s an army that originated in the Tswana-speaking Bafokeng region of South Africa, known as the Makololo, led by a warrior called Sebetwane, invaded Barotseland and conquered the Lozi. Sebetwane and David Livingstone forged a strong friendship and it was the Makololo people that led Livingstone to the Victoria Falls in 1855. In 1864 a Lozi revolt resulted in the Makololo being overthrown and scattering.
The Ndebele, a branch of the Zulu who rebelled against King Shaka in the early 1820s and moved North through present day Botswana and into Zimbabwe. Led by Mzilikazi, the Ndebele swiftly overpowered the Nambya tribe and while exploring their new domain, which included the lands dropping down from the northern edge of the present-day Hwange National Park, down into the Zambezi Valley, had their first sight of the Zambezi River and the Victoria Falls which they named ‘AManza Thunqayo’ – ‘the water which rises like smoke’.
Although David Livingstone was the first white man to see Victoria Falls on the 17th November 1855. Various local tribes had been living here for years. The town of Victoria Falls originally became established as a trading post called Old Drift on the Zambian side of the river where they used to cross the Zambezi it was moved to the current day location of Livingstone in around 1900
By 1903 the famed Cape to Cairo Railway was nearing Victoria Falls as part of the extension into central Africa but crossing the Zambezi River posed a major stumbling block. Two crossing points were identified, one up-river near the Old Drift settlement and one over the Batoka Gorge. The latter option was selected by Cecil John Rhodes by famously saying “Build the bridge across the Zambezi where the trains, as they pass, will catch the spray of the Falls.”
The Victoria Falls Bridge
The entire 198m long bridge was prefabricated in England by the Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Company, before being shipped to the Mozambique port of Beira and then transported on the newly constructed railway to the Victoria Falls. It took just 14 months to construct and was completed in 1905. e Zambezi it was moved to the current day location of Livingstone in around 1900
Victoria Falls Hotel
Once the first steam train arrived in Victoria Falls, plans for the construction of the bridge turned into reality, all of which meant accommodation was needed. The hotel first opened its doors in June 1904 as a simple building of wood with a corrugated iron roof, well raised from the ground to afford ventilation and freedom from damp and pests. It consisted of 12 single rooms and four doubles, a dining room, a bar and offices.
While the rest of the world reeled from the post-war Great Depression, domestic and regional travel to the Falls was encouraged by the Railway Company with the offer of inclusive travel and accommodation fares, with passengers staying at the Hotel. The special offer was so successful that the company often had a long waiting list.
First Scenic Flights
Towards the end of the 1940’s Spencer’s Airways, using a fleet of one Avro Anson, one de Havilland Fox Moth, a Tiger Moth and one Fairchild UC.61A began offering short pleasure trips over the Falls and safari flights along the Zambezi River.
1980’s Tourism Boom
The birth of the adventure sport industry in the early ’80s sent the tourist industry into orbit. By the 1990s Victoria Falls was a boom town, fizzing with new hotels and tour companies. White-water rafting was raging, punters queued up for what was then the world’s highest bungee jump and new ideas for action-packed activities bounced from the drawing board into reality.
Area related news
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Victoria Falls… still running strong
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