Kisizi Falls: From the cursed place came a blessing

Before 1954, any girl in Kabale, Rukungiri and Kanungu area who would engage in premarital sex and conceive would be certain of dying the moment her clan and family members learnt of it. There was only one place in the region where such girls would be killed: Eibanga (cliff), the rock on which Kisizi falls descend. The pregnant girl would be thrown into the falls and it became the most feared place in Kigezi. A girl’s clan and family members killed her in that crude way to wash away the abomination she would have committed by having premarital sex.

Monday August 6 2012

Kisizi Falls: From the cursed place came a blessing

Eibanga Kisizi, the falls from which many girls met their death. Photo by Perez Rumanzi. 

By Perez Rumanzi

Before 1954, any girl in Kabale, Rukungiri and Kanungu area who would engage in premarital sex and conceive would be certain of dying the moment her clan and family members learnt of it.

There was only one place in the region where such girls would be killed: Eibanga (cliff), the rock on which Kisizi falls descend. The pregnant girl would be thrown into the falls and it became the most feared place in Kigezi. A girl’s clan and family members killed her in that crude way to wash away the abomination she would have committed by having premarital sex.

According to Paul Ngorogoza, the author of Kigezi and its People book, an estimated 100,000 girls are said to have been killed in that barbaric way till 1954, when the clan leaders met and agreed that it had to end. The resolution came after one girl perished in the falls along with her father and brother who had gone to push her down the falls.

As the ritual stood, all women in the region were expected to marry when they were still virgins which would be noted at the first mating of the couples. The bride’s paternal aunt would visit the bed of the newly married couple to check for a blood stain, which if found would qualify the virginity of the girl.

When the girl’s virginity was confirmed, her family would be rewarded with a goat. Virgin girls would be treated with respect. This culture did not only discourage sex before marriage but also held a death sentence for any girl that became pregnant. The pregnant girl was identified by her family and a report made to the heads of the clan who hatched plans to capture the girl and take her to the falls to throw her down there.

The girl’s father and brother would escort her to the rock cliff, and then tell her: “You made it for your future this is what you deserve.” They would then hold her by either hand and throw her into the falls to die. Most of these girls were between the age of 13 and 17 since many got married at the age of about 15 years.

The strict and inhuman culture went on for over 300 years and it was not until 1954 that it came to a complete stop, but after the unimaginable was done. A girl from Kinkizi (current day Kanungu District) from the Abarihira clan who had been brought by her brother and father pulled them into the falls along with her, when they pushed her, and they all died.

The girl had held onto their arms too firmly and took them along with her to the bottom of the falls. A myth has since stood that there is a season when one hears the three voices calling each other and asking where they have gone. After that incident, brothers and fathers feared to take the girls to the falls.

The clan heads later met, discussed it and resolved to end the culture. It was when religion took root in the area that the barbaric culture begun fading and finally stopped. But the falls still looms large in Kigezi because of their nasty history.

Everyone believed that whoever went there would be killed by the overwhelming numbers of the female ghosts whom the locals claimed they heard crying at night and they said they would see a big blazing fire.

When the Ruanda missionaries came in 1956 looking for a place to establish a hospital, as was the practice in African countries, they were given a place that the locals did not like very much. In this case, the Ruanda missionaries were given a place close to eibanga said to be haunted by ghosts, in the hope that they (the missionaries) would die or give up their work soon.

However in 1958, a hospital was established and named Kisizi Hospital. The Anglican missionaries later took over the management of the hospital.

Looking at falls today one can not easily associate the place with the dark history of deaths, terrified wide eyed girls, screaming and shouting for help.

Today, it’s a tourist attraction and source of hydro electric power that lights up very many homes and runs industries. Its waters flows east wards through the precincts of the hospital. Part of it is channelled through turbines where power is generated, serving the hospital and its neigbourhood.

It’s no wonder that the neighbours of the place have no fear about its dark past, and are only reminded by tourists and writers who ask questions.

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