Lake Bangweulu

Lake Bangweulu

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Encyclopedia
Bangweulu — 'where the water sky meets the sky' — is one of the world's great wetland systems, comprising Lake Bangweulu, the Bangweulu Swamps and the Bangweulu Flats or floodplain. Situated in the upper Congo River
Congo River
The Congo River is a river in Africa, and is the deepest river in the world, with measured depths in excess of . It is the second largest river in the world by volume of water discharged, though it has only one-fifth the volume of the world's largest river, the Amazon...

 basin in Zambia
Zambia
Zambia , officially the Republic of Zambia, is a landlocked country in Southern Africa. The neighbouring countries are the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Tanzania to the north-east, Malawi to the east, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to the south, and Angola to the west....

, the Bangweulu system covers an almost completely flat area roughly the size of Connecticut
Connecticut
Connecticut is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It is bordered by Rhode Island to the east, Massachusetts to the north, and the state of New York to the west and the south .Connecticut is named for the Connecticut River, the major U.S. river that approximately...

 or East Anglia
East Anglia
East Anglia is a traditional name for a region of eastern England, named after an ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom, the Kingdom of the East Angles. The Angles took their name from their homeland Angeln, in northern Germany. East Anglia initially consisted of Norfolk and Suffolk, but upon the marriage of...

, at an elevation of 1,140 m straddling Zambia's Luapula Province
Luapula Province
Luapula Province is one of Zambia's nine provinces, and is located in the north of the country. The provincial capital is Mansa. Luapula Province was named after the Luapula River....

 and Northern Province
Northern Province, Zambia
Northern Province is one of Zambia's nine provinces. It covers approximately one fifth of Zambia in land area. The provincial capital is Kasama. The province is made up of 12 districts, namely Kasama , Chilubi, Isoka, Chinsali, Kaputa, Luwingu, Mbala, Mporokoso, Mpika, Mpulungu, Mungwi and Nakonde...

. It is crucial to the economy and biodiversity of northern Zambia, and to the birdlife of a much larger region, and faces environmental stress and conservation
Habitat conservation
Habitat conservation is a land management practice that seeks to conserve, protect and restore, habitat areas for wild plants and animals, especially conservation reliant species, and prevent their extinction, fragmentation or reduction in range...

 issues.

With a long axis of 75 km and a width of up to 40 km, Lake Bangweulu's permanent open water surface is about 3,000 km², which expands when its swamp
Swamp
A swamp is a wetland with some flooding of large areas of land by shallow bodies of water. A swamp generally has a large number of hammocks, or dry-land protrusions, covered by aquatic vegetation, or vegetation that tolerates periodical inundation. The two main types of swamp are "true" or swamp...

s and floodplain
Zambezian flooded grasslands
The Zambezian flooded grasslands is an ecoregion of southern and eastern Africa that is rich in wildlife.-Setting:The Zambezian flooded grasslands can be found on seasonally or permanently flooded lowlands in the basin of the Zambezi and neighboring river basins...

s are in flood at the end of the rainy season in May. The combined area of the lake and wetlands reaches 15,000 km². The lake has an average depth of only 4 m.

The Bangweulu system is fed by about seventeen rivers of which the Chambeshi
Chambeshi River
The Chambeshi River of northeastern Zambia is the most remote headstream of the Congo River and therefore considered its source...

 (the source of the Congo River) is the largest, and is drained by the Luapula River
Luapula River
The Luapula River is a section of Africa's second-longest river, the Congo. It is a transnational river forming for nearly all its length part of the border between Zambia and the DR Congo...

.

Sections of Lake Bangweulu


Numbers in round brackets like so — (12) — refer to locations on the satellite image.

A notable feature of the Bangweulu system is a series of parallel sandy ridges running south-west to north-east. These are particularly striking in satellite photographs and are easily seen along the north-western shore, the Lifunge Peninsula (2), Mbalala Island (3), Chilubi Island (6), and the Kapata Peninsula (10). They divide the lake into three sections parallel to its main axis. One divides off a section called Lake Chifunabuli (1), 50 km long but only 5 km wide. Its entrance through a gap in the sand spits (at the end of Lifunge Peninsula) is only 250 m wide. Another sandy ridge, Mbabala Island, divides off a section called Lake Walilupe (4), 30 km long by 13 km wide. The main, middle section of the lake between Ifunge and Mbabala is known only as Bangweulu.

There are numerous bays, inlets, smaller lakes and lagoons around Lake Bangweulu, connected by open water, narrow channels or swamps. The largest is Lake Kampolombo (9), 30 km by 5 km, south of Lake Walilupe and connected to it by a 7 km channel. The 32 km long Kapata Peninsula lies between Lake Kampolombo and the swamps; at its tip on the eastern side is the 15 km long Lake Kangwena (11).

Only the western side of the lake and some of the islands have a well defined shore, with sandy beaches in places especially around Samfya, though even there, some of the bays and inlets are swampy.

The Bangweulu Swamps


The Bangweulu Swamps, larger than the lake, extend from the north-west clockwise around to the south. The main part covers an area of roughly 120 km by 75 km and they are normally not less than 9,000 km².

The swamps act as a check on annual flooding downstream in the Luapula by releasing water slowly through many lagoons and channels. They help prevent the Luapula valley being flooded excessively in the rainy season.

Rivers and channels through the swamps


The Bangweulu swamps are fed mainly from the north-east by the Chambeshi River
Chambeshi River
The Chambeshi River of northeastern Zambia is the most remote headstream of the Congo River and therefore considered its source...

, and drain to the south into the Luapula River
Luapula River
The Luapula River is a section of Africa's second-longest river, the Congo. It is a transnational river forming for nearly all its length part of the border between Zambia and the DR Congo...

. The lake is connected to these rivers, and them to each other, by a complex mass of channels through the swamps which may become choked by vegetation and change their course; there is no easy navigation between them. Floating beds of papyrus may close up the channels to a width allowing only dugout canoes to pass. Motorised vessels are hampered by their width as well as by vegetation clogging propellers. Since colonial times attempts have been made to improve navigation and alter drainage patterns by cutting channels through the swamp. In 1942, attempts were made, with limited success, to cut an outlet from Lake Walilupe to the Luapula's exit from the swamps, to allow motor boats to transport cassava and other produce from the northern area of the lake to Kapalala Ferry on the Luapula and from there to the Copperbelt.

Lagoons


There are numerous lagoons in the swamps, the more prominent ones are: Lake Chali (12) in the south-west, Lake Chaya (13) in the east at the mouth of the Lulingilla River in the east, Lake Wumba (14) in the north-east at the confluence of the Chambeshi and Luansenshi (20) Rivers, and the Pook Lagoon (15) in the East near Nsalushi Island (25).

Other features of the swamps


On the northern side there are several wide swampy estuaries where rivers enter the lake or swamps, going from north-west to north-east they are: Lupososhi Estuary (16), Luena Estuary (17), Lukuto Estuary (18), Chambeshi Estuary (19) (and Luansenshi Estuary which feeds into it).

On the eastern and south-eastern sides the swamps are fed by the Munikashi, Luitikila, Lumbatwa, Lukulu and Lulimala rivers. The estuaries of the last three are the main dry season grazing grounds of the Black Lechwe.

In the main part of the swamps, just south of Chilubi Island, is a large area which is very shallow in the flood season and may become fairly dry at the end of the dry season, called the Lunga Bank (27).

The lake is commonly assumed to be a prime habitat for Emela-ntouka
Emela-ntouka
The Emela-ntouka is an African legendary creature in the mythology of the Pygmy tribes, and a cryptid purported to live in Central Africa. Its name means "killer of the elephants" in the Lingala language...

, an unknown animal resembling a Monoclonius
Monoclonius
Monoclonius was a ceratopsian dinosaur from the Judith River Formation of Late Cretaceous Montana and Canada. It is often confused with Centrosaurus, a similar genus of ceratopsian . Monoclonius was described by Edward Drinker Cope in 1876...

.

Floodplains


Large grassy floodplains with an area of about 3,000 km² lie mainly south of the swamps, but also in the north-north-east, acting as an extension of the region in the wet season. The southern floodplains are famous for large herds of the near-endemic black lechwe. Further information on wildlife of the wetlands is found on the Bangweulu Wetlands ecosystem page.

European exploration


The lake was known to Europeans from reports by chiefs such as Kazembe and from Swahili
Swahili people
The Swahili people are a Bantu ethnic group and culture found in East Africa, mainly in the coastal regions and the islands of Kenya, Tanzania and north Mozambique. According to JoshuaProject, the Swahili number in at around 1,328,000. The name Swahili is derived from the Arabic word Sawahil,...

 traders, and it was sometimes referred to as 'Lake Bemba' from the name of the dominant tribe. In 1868 explorer and missionary David Livingstone
David Livingstone
David Livingstone was a Scottish Congregationalist pioneer medical missionary with the London Missionary Society and an explorer in Africa. His meeting with H. M. Stanley gave rise to the popular quotation, "Dr...

 was the first European to see the lake at the north end of the Lake Chifunabuli section. He was taken by canoe as far as Mbabala Island. His last expedition a few years later foundered in the swamps and their maze of shifting channels as he struggled to discover the rivers draining in and out of the lake. He died in 1873 in Chief Chitambo's village on the edge of the southern flood plain, about 100 km from the lake itself. The spot is marked by the Livingstone Memorial
Livingstone Memorial
The Livingstone Memorial built in 1902 marks the spot where missionary explorer David Livingstone died on 1 or 4 May 1873 in Chief Chitambo's village at Ilala near the edge of the Bangweulu Swamps in Zambia. His heart was buried there under a mpundu tree by his loyal attendants Chuma, Suza...

 (see map).

It was a desire for the riches of Bangweulu's fisheries and game-rich floodplain which motivated King Leopold II of Belgium
Leopold II of Belgium
Leopold II was the second king of the Belgians. Born in Brussels the second son of Leopold I and Louise-Marie of Orléans, he succeeded his father to the throne on 17 December 1865 and remained king until his death.Leopold is chiefly remembered as the founder and sole owner of the Congo Free...

 to insist, in border negotiations between his Congo Free State
Congo Free State
The Congo Free State was a large area in Central Africa which was privately controlled by Leopold II, King of the Belgians. Its origins lay in Leopold's attracting scientific, and humanitarian backing for a non-governmental organization, the Association internationale africaine...

 and the British
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

 in Northern Rhodesia
Northern Rhodesia
Northern Rhodesia was a territory in south central Africa, formed in 1911. It became independent in 1964 as Zambia.It was initially administered under charter by the British South Africa Company and formed by it in 1911 by amalgamating North-Western Rhodesia and North-Eastern Rhodesia...

, on a land corridor reaching Bangweulu from Katanga
Katanga Province
Katanga Province is one of the provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Between 1971 and 1997, its official name was Shaba Province. Under the new constitution, the province was to be replaced by four smaller provinces by February 2009; this did not actually take place.Katanga's regional...

. This resulted in the shape of the Congo Pedicle
Congo Pedicle
The Congo Pedicle refers to the southeast salient of the Katanga Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo which sticks into neighbouring Zambia almost dividing it into two lobes, like the wings of a butterfly. In area the pedicle is similar in size to Wales or New Jersey...

 (34) which, as it turned out, does not penetrate the area enough to be of the desired value.

The first Christian missions in Bangweulu were founded in the early 1900s under the authority of Bishop Joseph Dupont of the Catholic
Catholic
The word catholic comes from the Greek phrase , meaning "on the whole," "according to the whole" or "in general", and is a combination of the Greek words meaning "about" and meaning "whole"...

 White Fathers
White Fathers
The missionary society known as "White Fathers" , after their dress, is a Roman Catholic Society of Apostolic Life founded in 1868 by the first Archbishop of Algiers, later Cardinal Lavigerie, as the Missionaries of Our Lady of Africa of Algeria, and is also now known as the Society of the...

 who was based north of Kasama
Kasama, Zambia
Kasama is the capital of the Northern Province of Zambia, situated on the central-southern African plateau at an elevation of about 1400 m. Its population, according to the 2000 census, is approximately 200,000. It grew considerably in the 1970s and 1980s after construction of the TAZARA Railway...

.

Human settlement


The area of the lake is inhabited by Bemba people
Bemba people
The Bemba belong to a large group of peoples mainly in the Northern, Luapula and Copperbelt Provinces of Zambia who trace their origins to the Luba and Lunda states of the upper Congo basin, in what became Katanga Province in southern Congo-Kinshasa...

 and affiliated tribes who also speak Chibemba
Bemba language
The Bemba language, ChiBemba , is a major Bantu language spoken primarily in north-eastern Zambia by the Bemba people and as a lingua franca by about 18 related ethnic groups, including the Bisa people of Mpika and Lake Bangweulu, and to a lesser extent in Katanga in the Democratic Republic of the...

. The Bemba heartland of Paramount Chief Chitimukulu
Chitimukulu
The Chitimukulu is the Paramount Chieftainship of the Bemba, the largest ethnic group in Zambia. The chieftainship is named after Chiti Mukulu , who in the 18th Century led the Bemba out from their original lands in the Lunda Empire of Mwata Yamvo in DR Congo to eventually settle the country...

 lies to the north-east, around Kasama
Kasama, Zambia
Kasama is the capital of the Northern Province of Zambia, situated on the central-southern African plateau at an elevation of about 1400 m. Its population, according to the 2000 census, is approximately 200,000. It grew considerably in the 1970s and 1980s after construction of the TAZARA Railway...

.

The Bangweulu fishery


The lake supports a seasonal fishing
Fishing
Fishing is the activity of trying to catch wild fish. Fish are normally caught in the wild. Techniques for catching fish include hand gathering, spearing, netting, angling and trapping....

 industry and the population may increase markedly during the season. In 1989 the average annual catch was estimated at 11,900 tonnes, caught by 10,300 people using 5305 dugout canoes
Dugout (boat)
A dugout or dugout canoe is a boat made from a hollowed tree trunk. Other names for this type of boat are logboat and monoxylon. Monoxylon is Greek -- mono- + ξύλον xylon -- and is mostly used in classic Greek texts. In Germany they are called einbaum )...

, 114 plank and fibreglass boats, and only 54 outboard motor
Outboard motor
An outboard motor is a propulsion system for boats, consisting of a self-contained unit that includes engine, gearbox and propeller or jet drive, designed to be affixed to the outside of the transom and are the most common motorized method of propelling small watercraft...

s. In 2000 the catch was 13,500 t.

Natural gas pipeline


In early 2004 a private European natural gas company finished preliminary plans to lay a pipeline which would cut directly through the Southeast portion of the Lake. Part of this plan was a proposed dam to allow for partial drainage of the required part of the lake. This plan was met with harsh opposition from the local people as well as environmental activists. After much court-wrangling and lengthy hearings on the project, the plan was disposed of by the European company as they built a detour for their pipeline in the surrounding province.

Towns and districts


The largest town, Samfya
Samfya
Samfya is a town located in the Zambian province of Luapula. It is the center of Samfya District. The town is located on the south-western shore of Lake Bangweulu, on the longest stretch of well-defined shore of that lake...

 lies on the south western shore and is the principal base for road and boat transport and tourism, as well as being the administrative centre for Samfya District covering about three-quarters of the lake and swamps. Chilubi District
Chilubi
Chilubi is a settlement on an island in Lake Bangweulu and its swamps, and is headquarters of Chilubi District in the Northern Province of Zambia.-Chilubi Island:...

 covers most of the rest, its boma
Boma (enclosure)
A boma is a livestock enclosure, a stockade or kind of fort, or a district government office. The term is used in many parts of eastern, central and southern Africa and is incorporated into many African languages as well as colonial varieties of English, French and German.As a livestock enclosure,...

 is on Chilubi Island (6), which is bordered by the swamps to the east. Luwingu District
Luwingu District
Luwingu District is a district of Zambia, located in Northern Province. The capital lies at Luwingu. As of the 2000 Zambian Census, the district had a population of 80,758 people.-References:...

 just touches the lake at Nsombo, which is the principal town at the northern end of the lake. Mpika
Mpika
Mpika is a town in the Northern Province of Zambia, lying at the junction of the Great North Road to Kasama and Mbala and the Tanzam Highway to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. It also has a railway station on the TAZARA Railway about 5 km away. Mpika is situated between the Muchinga Escarpment to...

 and Kasama
Kasama, Zambia
Kasama is the capital of the Northern Province of Zambia, situated on the central-southern African plateau at an elevation of about 1400 m. Its population, according to the 2000 census, is approximately 200,000. It grew considerably in the 1970s and 1980s after construction of the TAZARA Railway...

 districts just touch the eastern and southern margins of the floodplain, and Serenje
Serenje
Serenje is a district in Zambia. There is also the town of Serenje lying just off the Great North Road and TAZARA Railway. The British, during the time that Northern Rhodesia was a British protectorate, designated Serenje as a BOMA . To this day, the locals refer to Serenje Town as the BOMA....

 District and the Congo Pedicle just reach the southern margin of the floodplain.

Islands


There are numerous inhabited islands in the Bangweulu system.

On the lake they are:
  • Chilubi Island
    Chilubi
    Chilubi is a settlement on an island in Lake Bangweulu and its swamps, and is headquarters of Chilubi District in the Northern Province of Zambia.-Chilubi Island:...

     (6)
    , the largest, partly in the lake and mainly in the swamps
  • Mbabala Island (3), a sand spit dividing off the Lake Walilupe section
  • Chishi Island (5), in the middle of the northern part of the lake
  • Lifunge Mwenzi Island (7), dividing off the northern part of Lake Chifunabuli
  • Small Islands: Chindo and Ibula Islands near the north-west shore, and Chibwe Ngombe Island, a tiny sliver north-west of Chilubi Island.

In the swamps:
  • Nsumbu Island (8) east of Chilubi Island
  • In the eastern swamps: Chisale Island, Panyo Island (24), Nsalushi Island (25), Nsumpa Island, Matonga Island and Kawulu Island
  • Near the Chambeshi River
    Chambeshi River
    The Chambeshi River of northeastern Zambia is the most remote headstream of the Congo River and therefore considered its source...

     where it enters the eastern swamps: Mutwamina Island and Munyanga Island
  • In the southern swamps: Ncheta Island (26) (with the village of Bwalya Mponda), and Mbo, east of the Luapula's exit from the swamps
  • Kasoma village on the south-east edge of the Lunga Bank
  • Kalimakonde village on the banks of the Churchill Channel

Flood season islands: on the edge of the swamps, connected to the mainland in the dry season:
  • In the north-east: Kasansa Island (23), Chichile Island (22), Luangwa Island, Mbishi Island, and Munkanta at the edge of Lake Chaya, where the Lulingila River enters the eastern swamps.
  • In the south: Kasenga (28), close to the outlet of Lake Kangwena, Kataba (29), and Yongolo, and Itulo at the edge of south-east swamps.

Other settlements

  • Lubwe (30) on Lake Chifunabuli has a Catholic mission and hospital
  • Kasaba (31), a Catholic mission in the north-west
  • Santa Maria, a mission on Chilubi Island
  • Mpanta, east of Samfya on the channel draining out of Lake Walilupe
  • Twingi (32), with a mission, at the south end of the Kapata Peninsula
  • Chaba (33), in the north-east
  • Mofu, in the north-east.

See also


  • Bangweulu Wetlands ecosystem
  • Samfya
    Samfya
    Samfya is a town located in the Zambian province of Luapula. It is the center of Samfya District. The town is located on the south-western shore of Lake Bangweulu, on the longest stretch of well-defined shore of that lake...

  • Chilubi
    Chilubi
    Chilubi is a settlement on an island in Lake Bangweulu and its swamps, and is headquarters of Chilubi District in the Northern Province of Zambia.-Chilubi Island:...

  • Chambeshi River
    Chambeshi River
    The Chambeshi River of northeastern Zambia is the most remote headstream of the Congo River and therefore considered its source...

  • Luapula River
    Luapula River
    The Luapula River is a section of Africa's second-longest river, the Congo. It is a transnational river forming for nearly all its length part of the border between Zambia and the DR Congo...

  • Water transport in Zambia
    Water transport in Zambia
    Water transport, and the many navigable inland waterways, in Zambia has a long tradition of practical use in Zambia except in parts of the south. Since draught animals such as oxen were not heavily used, water transport was usually the only alternative to going on foot until the 19th Century...

  • David Livingstone
    David Livingstone
    David Livingstone was a Scottish Congregationalist pioneer medical missionary with the London Missionary Society and an explorer in Africa. His meeting with H. M. Stanley gave rise to the popular quotation, "Dr...

  • Livingstone Memorial
    Livingstone Memorial
    The Livingstone Memorial built in 1902 marks the spot where missionary explorer David Livingstone died on 1 or 4 May 1873 in Chief Chitambo's village at Ilala near the edge of the Bangweulu Swamps in Zambia. His heart was buried there under a mpundu tree by his loyal attendants Chuma, Suza...

  • Congo Pedicle
    Congo Pedicle
    The Congo Pedicle refers to the southeast salient of the Katanga Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo which sticks into neighbouring Zambia almost dividing it into two lobes, like the wings of a butterfly. In area the pedicle is similar in size to Wales or New Jersey...

  • Emela-ntouka
    Emela-ntouka
    The Emela-ntouka is an African legendary creature in the mythology of the Pygmy tribes, and a cryptid purported to live in Central Africa. Its name means "killer of the elephants" in the Lingala language...