Barotse Plains - Then and Now
The Baroste landscape is a vast expanse of low lying open land in Western Zambia . The floodplain is traversed by many canals and rivers, the most important one being the Zambezi. Along most of its length, the plain is over 30km wide, with the widest part being 50km just north of Mongu, which is situated at its edge.
It is such a surprising view as you come over the hill in Mongu to experience this vista that stretches as far as the eye can see.
What is even more surprising, is the two distinct faces of the plains. We visited the area in early November last year, and we came over the hill to see a very dry and dusty area. There were still a few waterways, but the land was brown and dry.
We decided to go and have a look at the plains again in April this year. What a change! The whole area was green and there was so much water. What a difference!
The harbor in Mongu that had very little water in it last year - just a puddle - was now full. The Government Health boat could now get out!
The only way across the floodplain is either by boat, or across the newly opened causeway linking Mongu and Kalabo. The causeway is 34km long and has 26 bridges. Last year, the causeway was not finished, and we had to drive on diversions along side it.
The main bridge across the Zambezi was not completed last year, and we had to drive on a temporary bridge on the side of it going towards Kalabo. On the way back we crossed the Zambezi on the ferry. Driving off was quite a daunting task as the river was so low.
This year the bridge had been completed and we were able to drive over it. It is 1km long and is a really beautiful structure. The graceful curve which spans the river is easy on the eye and does not detract from the magnificent vista of the plains.
It is so interesting to observe the ways of the Lozi people, who live in the plains. Their lives revolve around fishing and their main form of transport is still the mokoro. Their homes are built on man-made mounds which have been built up over the centuries using a process of reclaimed soil. These mounds are used for settlement and cultivation of crops. Their homes are temporary shelters made of reeds and grass so are easily transported when they have to move their homes as the flood waters rise.
Each year the Litunga, or Lozi King, leads his people out of the plains once they are fully flooded. This colourful ceremony is called the Kuomboka and is an eagerly awaited event in the area.
It is truly hard to understand and visualise the volume of water that runs through the plains and into the Zambezi River. It is pleasing that the strong late finish of the rainy season through February and March has resulted in the flow of water out of the Baroste plains being twice what it was this time last year. This bodes well for Kariba Dam, although the level of the dam was way below what it was at the same time last year.
The change in seasons in the Barotse Plain is really astounding and I am so pleased that we made the effort to go and see this magnificent part of our country during the rainy season.
Until next time.....