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Yellala Falls

Yellala Falls on Congo
Yellala Falls on Congo. / Élisee Reclus, Wikimedia Commons / public domain

WorldBlue  In short

The last major rapids on the Congo River are Yellala Falls. The approximately 1 km wide river falls some 10-14 m over a distance of some 2.5 km.

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GPS coordinates
5.7204 S 13.5484 E
Location, address
Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kongo-Central, on Congo River some 15 km before Matadi
Rapides de Yellala
Yellala Rapids, Yalala Falls, Yelala Falls, Ielala Falls
10-14 m
Around 1,000 m
Congo

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WorldYellow In detail

Yellala Falls – the keeper of the African secrets

The central part of Africa was one of the last places explored by the Europeans, even if it is closer to Europe than, for example, Australia, Peru, or Canada.

Europeans definitely tried to reach this part of the world since the times of Ancient Romans and before. One of the potential ways to the center of the continent seems to be a giant river – Congo.

Inscription left by Diogo Cão on a stone near Yellala Falls in 1485
Inscription left by Diogo Cão on a stone near Yellala Falls in 1485. / Victorcouto, Wikimedia Commons / public domain

Thus, in 1480ies Portugal restarted its ambitious program for the exploration of African coasts. The expedition led by Diogo Cão in August 1482 reached the estuary of the Congo. Portuguese ships entered the river several times until in October or November 1485 they reached very powerful rapids that could not be crossed by ships – Yellala Falls. The expedition left an inscription on the stone below the falls (image). This stone – the Stone of Yellala – was rediscovered in 1910.

The sequence of the rapids on the Congo River efficiently stopped further European exploration in this area. Only in 1876-1877, the expedition of Henry Morton Stanley managed to cross the central part of Africa but further exploration and mapping lasted well into the 20th century.

A railway line between Matadi and Kinshasa was built in 1898 to bypass the rapids.

Part of Livingstone Falls

Yellala Falls is the last major fall in the sequence of the world’s most powerful rapids named Livingstone Falls. These are not real waterfalls where the whole river abruptly falls down: Livingstone Falls are spread over a distance of some 350 km and the Congo River falls there for 270 m.

Livingstone Falls have formed on Crystal Mountains: the last major obstacle before the Atlantic Ocean. This is a low, eroded mountain chain where extremely old rocks of Archaean Eon are exposed. The mighty river there is forced to meander through the hard igneous rocks, such as granite, and gneiss.

In total in the Livingstone Falls can be singled out 32 separate rapids and falls. The first in this sequence are Kintambo Rapids at Kinshasa and Brazzaville cities. The most magnificent could be the Inga Falls, the last major rapids before the Yellala Falls.

The power of Yellala Falls is hard to describe. Images show a torrential river, but few realize the scale of this torrent. The standing waves sometimes are higher than the trees near them!

Unique ecosystem

In this part of the Congo River live some 300 species of fish, many of them endemic – found only there. This diversity is even more amazing if we look into some details:

  • In this extremely deep river live unique deep-water fishes, such as the unique Lamprologus lethops that lives only in the Livingstone Falls area of the river. Extreme depth has been measured in the Livingstone Falls section, f.e. near Kiakongo the river is more than 160 m deep and there have been found places where the depth reaches 220 m (but there still is a chance to find even deeper places!). And there, in the complete darkness of the bottom layers live eyeless fishes. Occasionally these fishes are brought upwards by the violent rapids and then they die because of the decompression.
  • People see only the power of the stream on the surface. But the stream deep in the river is not less powerful, in some places near the bottom the water slides 4 m per second! The fish that lives on one coast of the Livingstone Falls never meets the fish at the other bank. Thus, in every section and every abyss on this river might be living unique fish species!
References
  1. Richard F. Burton, Two Trips to Gorilla Land and the Cataracts of the Congo, 1876. Accessed on December 26, 2010.
  2. Mindy Weisberger, Dying Fish Revealed Congo Is World’s Deepest River, LiveScience, August 2020. Accessed on December 27, 2010.

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