With its rich heritage, stunning scenery and deep cultural roots, secluded Impalila Island is the perfect setting for the tranquil Ichingo Chobe River Lodge. Read on to discover everything you need to know about the island, its unique geography, inhabitants and fascinating history.
Where four countries meet
Impalila Island is a Namibian promontory perched on the Eastern tip of the Zambezi Region (previously known as the Caprivi Strip). It has the privileged position of being the meeting point between four countries, namely Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. The island is created by the Zambezi River to the north, the Chobe River to the south and a waterway known as the Kasai Channel that cuts this piece of land off from the rest of the Caprivi floodplains in the west. The island is about 12km long and 4km across at its widest point in the west.
Famous explorations and tribal empires
The island has a history dating back to the 1800s when it was first discovered by David Livingstone during his epic journey from Luanda in Angola to Quelimane in Mozambique. In fact, he camped on the island on his way downstream to discover Victoria Falls.
The island has been home to various tribal empires over the years. It was originally reputed to be the border between the Makalolo/Barotse Empire and the Matabele Empire of Mazilikatzi. Later, it became the border between these two empires and the tribes of Lobengula. There are many stories of skirmishes between these nations.
Impalila gets its name from the local Sibuya word, Kwapila, which means ‘unable to’. This refers to the fact that the island was protected on either side by two rivers forming a natural defence against invasion by other tribes.
During the war of independence between 1966 and 1980, there was a large South African military presence on the island. Fortunately, there was no actual conflict during this period. Much of the infrastructure on the island remains from this time, specifically a well-kept long, gravel airstrip that’s still used to this day.
Today, the island is home to about 450 adults and 300 children, many of whom come from the villages in the surrounding floodplain to attend school on the island. There are two lodges on the island, as well as a clinic, primary school, junior secondary school, and an administrative centre housing the police, immigration and customs officials.
The local tribe on Impalila Island is the Basubiya Tribe who were historically part of the Barotse Kingdom located in what’s now known as Western Zambia. The island is governed by an Induna (Senior Headman) who in turn reports to the Chief of the Subiya in Bukalo some 100km away. This form of traditional authority still prevails, and most disputes are resolved in their weekly Khuta meetings where the Induna presides with various village elders.
Visitors to the island often enjoy a fascinating walk through the villages to a 2000-year-old baobab tree, while learning all about the local way of life, which includes mostly subsistence farming, raising cattle and catching fish.
Speak like a local
All villagers speak both Subiya and the common language, Silozi. This is widely spoken in the eastern Caprivi and Zambia. It’s a Sotho-based language brought north by the Makalolo tribes in the early 1800s.
Why not learn a few common phrases so you can chat to the locals during your visit?
Good morning – mavuka hande
Good evening – mazuza hande
Goodbye – mwende hande
Hello my name is… – Njeme…
Thank you – nali tumela
You’re welcome – shangwe
What is your name? – njweni
How are you? – kwina vule
Nice to meet you – hande kukuvona
Ichingo Chobe River Lodge offers a myriad opportunities for relaxation, leisure and adventure in a truly spectacular setting along the banks of the Chobe River. Contact us for more information about booking your unforgettable stay with the Zambezi Queen Collection today.