The Times of Tanzania
Eastern Africa News Network

Renaming Lake Victoria: Stormy Contest Washes in Various Native Titles

Residents of East African countries are kicking off the new year 2022 with a new debate… Native names for Lake Victoria.

They are contesting that it is high time the colonial title for the famous water body should be scrapped and substituted with original local names, believed to be rightful titles, for maintaining the continent’s dignity as well as … well … appeasing ancestors.

Apparently, ‘Victoria,’ which was previously known as ‘Nyanza,’ features several other forgotten local names and titles depending on communities surrounding it.

It is the largest inland lake in Africa as well as being the largest tropical lake in the world.

Victoria waters cover a surface area of 68,800 square kilometres. The lake lies within an ancient basin meandering between Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

Lake Nyanza, or should it be the Ukerewe sea?

Tanzania has the largest share of the Lake surface at 49 percent, followed by Uganda with 45 Percent and Kenya segmenting 6 Percent.

In the past, Tanzania used to teach in schools that, Victoria should actually be addressed as Lake Nyanza.

The name Nyanza and its tongue-twisting variants, is believed to be the dominant title for the Lake and accepted among all local communities residing around its shores.

The Nyanza title is also recognized by people habiting several islands on the lake.

Victorian Principle

Except this Great African Lake was to be renamed after Queen Victoria the English Monarch during the…well… Victorian era back in 1858.

So, the Lake earned its current English name from the British explorer John Hanning Speke, who reportedly first documented it. He happened to have been on the East African expedition with Richard Francis Burton.

The two britons were on a mission to discover the source of River Nile. And claimed to have found it.

Speke would later cause an uproar among the Scientific Community around the world when he claimed that the Nyanza (Lake Victoria), was the source of the Nile River.

The Sea of Ukerewe?

But long before Speke landed on its shores, some Arab traders were already exploring Lake Nyanza. They frequently sailed on its waters and trekked the surrounding routes. These Bedouins previously named the lake ‘Kerewe Sea,’ possibly from the native tribe residing the Bukerebe Island, on the Tanzanian side.

In the early days, the Arab traders were exploring the inland routes in search of gold, ivory and human slaves within the Eastern Africa region. A recently discovered ancient map of the lake which dates back to approximately 1160 AD attests to that.

Floating on the Lake and measuring 530 square kilometers, Ukerewe is the fifth largest Island the world. The residents on the Isle, located in Mwanza Region, are known as ‘Wakerewe!’

Rubondo and Saa-Nane Islands in Tanzania are the two floating National Parks on the Lake.

Measuring just 2000 square kilometers the tiny, but densely populated Migingo island remains the center of territorial dispute between Kenya and Uganda.

Naming of the shrew

Now for the original names. The Baganda of Uganda calls the lake, Enyanja, according to one Petro wa Paulo, who was debating about the issue on Facebook.

The Luo (Dholuo) of Kenya, refer to Victoria as Lulwe, while their immeadiate neighbors, the Luhyas address the lake as Inyanza.

‘Nyanza’ is also what the Sukuma, Tanzania’s largest tribe call Lake Victoria. It thus also spins the corresponding, rocky City on the shore, which is called Mwanza.

The Meru community of Kenya refer to Lake Victoria as ‘Iria,’ despite living relatively far from the water body.

One David Ndung’u describes the water body as Lake Sango, a name he learned when in class three. However Tom Tambo, posting on Facebook says Sango is essentially ‘The Shore’ of Victoria.

On the other hand, Musau Muinde says Victoria is also known as Nalubaale in Kinyarwanda.

Sospeter Nyongesa belives the original name should be ‘Enyancha ya Walule,’ which means the ‘furthest’ place in Bukusu mythology.

Kagera is the largest River which pumps water into Lake Victoria.

River Kagera

There are two rivers flowing out of the great lake including the White Nile or Victorian Nile as well as the Katonga River.

Bus as the debate regarding Lake Victoria goes on, one Yafesi Biggy Amwayi sums it up as follows…

The Baganda call it Nyanja. The Luhya call it Nyanza. The Luos call it Winam or Nam. The Suba call it Sango.


The if you add other local names like Nalubaale, Lulwe, Lolwe and Enyancha, definately the denominating name will be ‘Nyanza,’ (with its other variations like Enyancha, Nyanja, Inyanza, Nyanda, Enyanza and Mwanza)

River Nile exits Victoria (Nyanza) near Jinja, in Uganda, making the lake the principal source of the longest branch of the Nile.

So, what should Lake Victoria be called now that people would rather shed off colonial titles? The debate rages on…

You might also like

Comments are closed.