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Tanda Pits: Holding the legend of death in Buganda

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One of the 240 Tanda pits in which Walumbe used to hide. Below, Prince Petero Kimbugwe, the site’s caretaker praying to one of the gods. PHOTO by Martin Ssebuyira 



Posted  Friday, December 13  2013 at  02:00

In Summary

Many peple have different myths about the origin of death. The Tanda pits also have a story of their own about mankind’s oldest mystery.

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The story of Kintu, Nambi and Walumbe has been retold over and over again in Primary Three Social Studies classes in Uganda, but the mystery behind the story is yet to be discoverd. Pits believed to harbour Walumbe, the brother of Nambi, who was wife of Kintu, the first Muganda, are still feared by many thinking they could easily die upon visiting the site because of the mythical stories that link Walumbe to suffering and death.

On arrival at the mysterious archaeological site in Mityana, one finds a white gate behind which a seemingly dark forested area having more than 240 circular deep pits that brings questions of who could have spared the time to dig all these pits.
Entering the forest through a five-metre path leads you to an entrance of two shrines enclosed in a reed fence. The caretaker Prince Petero Kimbugwe, always clad in a black tunic, and smoking a pipe, hurriedly warns you not to enter the site with shoes because it is a holy ground.

“They [visitors] always wear black tunics because Walumbe always appears to them in black tunic,” says Kimbugwe.
Inside the second entrance are spears, shields, calabashes, and fire places that are named after different gods, including Kibuuka, Mukasa, Musoke and Ddungu. At these fire places, people with different problems gather together to get blessings.

Another huge fire place having a heap of barkcloth grabs your attention. This is the site were people worship Walumbe who believers call Jaaja Bulamu literally meaning the god of life.
“People come saying they get nightmares of Jaaja Bulamu asking them to come and offer sacrifices or cover him with bark cloth at this site,” Kimbugwe says, adding: “They worship it and go back to live happily. Jaaja Bulamu is offended when you call him Walumbe because he is no longer responsible for the death of people.”

The sacred corner
One of the two shrine enclosures is the most high worship place that has very many bulbs around. Here, people go to meditate and get prophesies from the most high priest. About 50 metres from Tanda is Nambi Rock, where Nambi used to live. This place is a curved rock with a natural source of water that people drink to get blessings. However, Nambi like Tanda pits, is also being managed by traditional worshippers, who get blessings from Nambi or Walumbe. Prince Kimbugwe says they normally receive school children who visit the site and people who go there to worship.

About 50 school going children visit the site to see the beautiful scenery at these pits while over 150 worshippers go to the shrines to get blessings.
The pits according to Kimbuge, are said to have been created as Walumbe kept escaping from a brother (Kayikuzi), who had come to return him to heaven.

According to the legend, Kintu was the first person on earth and father of all people. Kintu was the only person on earth, living with his cow. Ggulu, the creator of all things lived up in heaven with his children, who occasionally came down to earth to play.

On one such occasion, Ggulu’s daughter Nambi and some of her brothers encountered Kintu and his cow in Buganda. Nambi instantly took a liking to Kintu and decided to stay and marry him. After her brothers pleaded with her, she returned to heaven with Kintu to ask for her father’s permission to get married. Ggulu was not pleased, but blessed the marriage after Nambi persuaded him to accept her relationship with Kintu.

Ggulu advised Kintu and Nambi to leave heaven secretly so that Walumbe, would not find out about the marriage until they had left. It was feared that Walumbe would insist on going with them and bring them misery. Kintu and Nambi set out for earth the next morning, taking with them the few things that Nambi packed, and her chicken. While they were descending, Nambi remembered that she had forgotten to bring the millet that her chicken would feed on.

Kintu tried to persuade her not to return to fetch the millet in vain. On her way back from fetching the millet, she met Walumbe. She did not tell him where she was going, but filled with curiosity, Walumbe insisted on going with her. Kintu and Nambi were, therefore, forced to go to earth together with Walumbe.

Walumbe’s presence on earth caused suffering and conflicts. That, according to the legend, is how sickness and death started to afflict people on earth. Tanda Pits according to the legend is the place where Walumbe is traditionally thought to have fallen on earth and to have hidden from Ggulu.

Another side of the myth
In another school of thought, the legend has it that Walumbe, claimed one of Kintu’s children as his own. However, Kintu refused to let him have the child.
Walumbe continued to do so throughout the years. Frustrated, he began to kill a single child every day. After a chat with Ggulu, Kaikuzi, Nambi’s brother was sent to help Kintu send Walumbe back to heaven.

Walumbe fought with Kaikuzi until he retreated by digging and hiding within the ground. Kaikuzi gave up pursuing Walumbe and asked all mankind to be silent for two days to lure Walumbe out. When Walumbe finally emerged, children cried out at the sight of him and he again retreated into the pits.
Walumbe’s legend is still a mystery that only his believers claim to understand.

mssebuyira@ug.nationmedia.com