Meet the smart Nyika of Lake Tanganyika


THE history behind lake Tanganyika is filled by different paleontological factors but slave trade is believed to be the strongest component which made slave traders, Wanyapara and slaves to change its original name Ujiji to Tanganyika.

From Kazuramimba on the banks of Luiche and Malagarasi rivers to streets like Legezamwendo, Mtaawasimu and Mwanga which form Kigoma Township, villagers, fishermen and fishmongers have their own story about this second deepest lake on Earth.

From the time when the Bantu arrived on shores of Lake Tanganyika more than six hundred years ago, fishermen from the Waha people are always talking of a snakelike fish which use unfamiliar magical power to defend itself against an enemy who tries to touch or catch it.

This is electric eel which is capable of generating harmful currents measuring about 860 watts capable of outsmarting any predator including chimpanzee of Mahale, Gombe and other animal sanctuaries on the shores of lake Tanganyika.

History shows that, even before the arrival of the Bantu from central Africa, about 2.5 million years ago when ancestors of humans and apes took different ways from a common ancestor, chimpanzee migrated deeply into the rims of East Africa Rift Valley where they dwell today inside Gombe and Mahale national parks.

Humans and Chimanzee speak different languages but if it was possible for one ape to narrate what happened to it when it attempted to fish an electric eel out from rivers such as Luiche and Malagarasi it is possible few fishermen would be boarding their fishing boats on the shores of lake Tanganyika.

Chimpanzee are equipped with one few smartest brain on the planet but inside Mahale or Gombe national parks, a hungry stricken individual will always learn a special lesson in life if it tries to make a stupid move to catch an electric eel from water.

This individual will be very lucky if the snakelike fish run away after releasing about 860 watts for one second to intimidate or discourage the predator from killing it.

This happen when the pray feels the level of danger is higher, an electric eel is capable of repeating the act which is capable of hurting an individual which weigh between 70 and 80 kilograms but this powerful currents are capable of killing a juvenile instantly.

As we have seen on the previous paragraphs chimpanzees have smart brains which enable them to make tools and use them to acquire foods but it is not yet known if they have managed to use sticks to stab and kill these dangerous fish of fresh water in Africa. In cassava fields of villages such as Kalenge on the banks of mighty Malagarasi river famers always wait impatiently for their loved ones who go for fishing because the electric eel also attacks people who attempt to take it to their dining tables in Simbo and other villages on the sides of this third largest river in Tanzania.

Across the world there are about 8,000 different species of electric eel which are estimated to be 28% of all known species of fish in the world and 68% of freshwater dwellers. Electric eel or electric fish has elongated cylindrical body which grows up to 2 meters which enable the snakelike fish to weigh about 20 kilogram for healthier adult individual.

Due to its morphology, some people confuse this marine creature with a snake but scientists say the electric eel is a fish which is classified into the biological family of Electrophoridae while water snakes are grouped into a primitive family of aquatic snakes called Acrochordidae with three main species which are found in Australia and Indonesia.

Scientists describe a fish as a marine animal which has gills and has no limbs, with more than 33,100 officially described species, different researches indicate that this group has greater species diversity than any other group among vertebrates.

Although it has no dorsal fins the electric eel is a fish because it has fins, these are distinctive features of these marine animals that work as propellers which enable fish to swim smoothly in the water.

The electric eel has round pelvic fins which assist the fish in going up or down through the water also enables it during turning sharply, and stopping quickly. The pectoral fins help the electric eel in the creation of the dynamic lifting force that assists it in maintaining depth and also enables this strange looking fish to dive upward for a prey.

The rounded caudal fin of the electric eel is a dark brown or black vertical bar which works with anal or tail fin which extends just after the neck to the tail and work to stabilize the fish as it swims in the water.

On the other hand paleontologists say the earliest organisms that can be classified as fish were soft bodied chordates that first appeared about 485.4 million years ago when the majority of living organisms on the whole world were small, unicellular and simple.

Fossils records indicate the ancestors of electric eel evolved in the central part of Eurasia super continent about 251 million years ago but they were forced to migrate into other continents including Africa when the amount of Oxygen on the Earth’s surface crumbled.

This situation forced the ancient electric eel to migrate into freshwater of Africa about 145 million years ago, meanwhile historians believe these fish swam into Lake Tanganyika about 10,000 years ago through three rivers which are Malagarasi, Luiche and Ruzizi.

From those days the presence of these mysterious fish into lake Tanganyika has significant impact to life of people living in different villages which are located around this second deepest lake in the world and second largest inland water body in Africa.

History tells us that from about 3,000 years ago the Bantu people started to migrate while expanding their presence from west and central Africa to what is today Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania where it is believed they reached between six and eight hundred years ago.

From the time when they arrived on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, the Waha fishermen were confronted by the electric eel which attacked them with powerful electric shocks which made the Bantu to name the lake Nyika in recognition of their strength.

During slave trade which rocked Africa for many centuries contributed into the changing name of the lake from Nyika to Ujiji, this was done by Arab slave traders who firstly settled on the shores of the lake from 1500.

It is believed that time slave traders and their associates who were controlling caravan routes from Kigoma to Bagamoyo changed the name of the lake to Tanganyika which depicted the long route which they were passing through in the jungle before arriving on the shores of Indian Ocean where slaves were put into sea vessels to unknown destinations.

Many African lost their history and lives through slave trade but the electric eel or Nyika continue to flourish in lake Tanganyika which has contribute to the growth of fishing centers in Ilagala and Miyobozi which attracts traders from Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia.

Among Waha people, the electric eel or Mnyika is an important delicacy which has medicinal meat which heals different illness as it removes harmful toxins from humans body.

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