The BaTonga

 of Binga  

The Great River People

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~    Of Zimbabwe, Africa 



Link To: Shaver's Community & Faith Based Service Guide

Africa Changing Focus

by Ruth Shaver

Africa, in the Westerner's mind's eye, often is out of focus.  At times, we can see only the extreme poverty; starving and crying children that are the staple of charity campaigns; news stories about Africa telling of armed conflict and corrupt systems of government; photos of people lying in hospital beds, thin and dying from AIDS…

These are real images of Africa - the suffering is immense and our prayers, compassion and commitment to working together towards social justice there is imperative.  As imperative though, is our respect for the people of Africa.  A regard for the people and true desire to develop a relationship, built at every level with consideration and care in preserving the precious gift of African cultures, should be our first thought when walking on their holy ground. 

A wider view of Africa comes into focus when we open ourselves to their lives - children laughing and smiling, feeling safe and secure wrapped onto the back of a caring mother; welcoming handshakes that are strong and meaningful; an earnest and sincere interest in the answer you give to the question, “How are you.” - the you never meaning yourself only, but embodying all of your family.


Africa is rich with material wealth and natural resources.  Inherent beauty and vitality is imbued within the landscape, people and communities; strikingly at discord with the darkness of poverty, injustice and disease that also permeate people's lives.  Hope is hard to hold on to in the best of times, yet it can still be seen on the faces of people when just a ray of light shines from beyond the pain, fear and loss being felt so deeply.  People in Africa are yearning for reconciliation and healing.

The BaTonga of Zimbabwe have touched my life and helped me to find a clearer view into myself through the sharing of their lives.  The way is open to you also; there are windows and doors waiting to be explored through the links on this site.  I caution though – when you peer into Africa, some of you will be changed forever.  I took a ride over the ocean and found the moon was sideways and a rabbit jumped into the spot where the man's face had always been. Even though I'm back in the US for over 2 years now, I still only see the rabbit.  I pray if you visit, your view will be changed too. 


When you do visit, go on music safari, soak in Binga's Chibwatatata Hot Springs, see BaTonga Museum, Craft Center, or take a boat out to fish the “tiger” on Lake Kariba.   Binga will get you as hooked as that fish is on your line, but surly you wont put up the fight a tiger does to be released.  You will have a bit of the BaTonga people in your heart forever and that will pull you back, time and again.  Maybe some of you will even become engaged in efforts by the organizations detailed on this page to the right.  And then you can offer that firm handshake back to them, with the honest desire to know their answer when you ask, "How are you?" 

Organizations listed to the right are partnering with the BaTonga people to bring about justice. They listened, heard and asked of The Great River People a very important question, "How can I help?" 


Written by

Ruth Ann Shaver


Brief History of the BaTonga People of the Zambezi River Valley - Zimbabwe 

The BaTonga are "the great river people" in the North of Zimbabwe and South of Zambia that were forced to move into arid regions of their country when the construction of Kariba dam, completed in 1959, swelled their beloved Zambezi river into a lake that filled in the valley they called home.  After the move, they were given bags or grain to sustain themselves, until they cleared and learned to farm the desert they were trucked into.  People still depend on bags of grain to survive, yet they are often not to be found in a country experiencing 1,600 inflation.

World Commission on Dams Report Section 3.3 details human impact on Valley BaTonga

The BaTonga people's lives were bound to the river. Two harvests a year, from the alluvial flood gardens, sustained their families. Being a culture that worships their ancestors, the forced move from beloved decesed relatives gravesites was a spiritual devastation. There is a very sad song about relatives and their resting places once honored and visited now under the water of the lake.  

The BaTonga built houses on stilts, while living on the Zambezi, weathering annual floods as a natural fact of life. They lived with the river, something that  modern cities plagued by floods could learn from today. In haunting reminder of what was, some villages still build those same huts on stilts, more to hold grain today.  Yet it is a reminder of the life giving water that once was, is now a long walk away.  Today people find their water, a bucket at a time, from distant and unreliable boreholes or muddy streams that dry into cracked earth after the rainy season.

During the relocation, the concern for the people's placement into lands marked "uninhabitable" on maps at that time, came well behind "Operation Noah" a global effort to relocate displaced animals, which held world wide interest. Those animals were given the same home as the Tonga. The ancestors of those animals have thrived in their new environment, yet the BaTonga are not allowed to hunt them.  The hunting is done by those with the money to pay a large fee for permission to do so. 

 This leaves the people  farming next to hills inhabitated by one of the most concentrated habitats in world for the big 10 of Africa. Elephants trample men and women working in fields every year. Lions attack herds of precious cattle and goats. Water Buffalo gore children walking home from school.  Increased populations of hippos and crocodiles pull people to their graves as they try to get a bucket of water. 

No equitable economic remuneration has  ever been paid to the BaTonga for all they endured and gave up.  Water captured and electricty generated by the dam has failed to reached their villages in pipes or wires. (You can see the effort to address these injustices on Basiliwizi non-profit on the right.) The spirit with which the BaTonga live, worship, celebrate and mourn could not be taken from them and this makes knowing them an honor.                              

Read about Ruth Shaver's time with the BaTonga and other interests in service and travel at the main page link:Main Page

Read even more of her time as a guest of the BaTonga in Surprises of the Spirit, a book Ruthie (Leidorf) Shaver co authored with Reverend Bernard J. Boff.   All proceeds from the book will support the Ministry of the Mission of Accompaniment to the Tonga people.  Donation: $10 ($15 if mailed)  Call Sr. Nancy Mathias at 419-244-6711, ext. 301 (or 800-926-8277 if in Ohio outside of Toledo.)

 Ubi Caritas et Amor, Deus ibi est.

Where Charity & Love are, God is There.  




Dreaming of going to Africa?

Tweende Tubone!

 Let's go & see!


Binga Information 

Binga News and Weather



Binga News/Weather

AllAfrica.Com Article 2/07 "Binga [Zimbabwe] - A Sleeping Tourism Giant"

Binga Zimbabwe Current Weather

AllAfrica.Com: Craft Uplifts Binga Women's Lives

News Story: Binga Farmer Working in Field Killed by Hippo

Southern Africa Documentation Cooperation Center - Doctors Threaten To Leave En Masse 1/26/07


Binga, Zimbabwe Based BaTonga Internet Project

Basiliwizi Non Profit Advocacy for the BaTonga of Zimbabwe

Binga Trees Project - info on seed oil projects

KUNZWANA trust - traditional music exchange - music and culture safaris

Link to MS Zimbabwe Programs- Danish Assoc. for International Co-operation in Zimbabwe

Link to Mission of Accompaniment

Austria Zimbabwe Friendship Association


Afrizim Binga Lodges

Afrizim Houseboats

MS Zimbabwe Danish NGO: Official Opening of BaTonga Museum in Binga

Binga Craft Center

Vintage Africa Safaris: Sample of Africa Guided Tour with Binga on the Stop

TheJatropha System: How to make a Binga oil lamp

 Notes about this site: 

We offer this webpage as a goodwill sharing for those wishing to make a connection with the BaTonga and Africa.  

All information provided as an informal resource on listed topics, with weblinks to be used for reference only. 

All rights reserved on photos.  Do not use without permission from Ruth Shaver. 

We do not authorize the use of our names as representation to, or endorsement organizations listed here. 

We are not accountable for actions of, or complaints with, any organizations linked on this pages.    

We recieve no monies or inkind materials from any non-google adverisment related linked organization, as a result of this webpage.