Nakayima: Mythical tree that bears  good tidings

Nakayima Tree in Mubende. Photos/Provia Nangobi.

What you need to know:

  • Sights. Claimed to have been planted by the wife of Ndahura, the Chwezi ruler,Nakayima Tree is a cultural attraction, writes Provia Nangobi.

The spirit of travel lives in me and might be largely attributed to my first degree in tourism and my love to explore and visit places in and outside Uganda. The last few years might have been tough years with several restrictions on travel but that does not stop a Ugandan from exploring motherland.

We have a number of tourist attractions in Uganda that might not make it to the list of most beautiful or attractive, yet they are probably the most visited sites. If you have stayed in Mubende before or stopped there, you must have been told a story about the Nakayima tree. 
The tree located about four kilometres from Mubende Town is more than 650 years old and stands between seedlings that surround it like backup soldiers. Its roots are buttressed in several places forming more than eight apartments of special interest dedicated to people believed to have powers to heal, give life and happiness.

Who is Nakayima?
Nakayima was the wife Ndahura, the last king of the Bachwezi. Ndahura was  the son of Nyinamwiru a daughter of Bukuku from the Batembuzi dynasty. The Batembuzi dynasty were known to have kings that were akin to gods and after serving their purpose, they would disappear underground. Nakayima was known to be a mediator between her husband and the community. Legend has it that she disappeared into that tree gazillion years ago. However, spiritual powers continue to emanate from the tree. The tree is alleged to provide power, fertility, good luck and other things in various life spheres. People continue to consult with her after death like they did when she was alive. 

On our visit, Nakayima tree is abuzz with people.  As you drive in, you can tell a first time from a regular visitor. Regulars are conversant with the dos and don’ts. A guide welcomes guests. Visitors are supposed to pay a token of at least Shs5, 000 and above for visiting the facility. This fee helps in maintenance and management of the facility (the tree and her surroundings). 
As  we look around, there are people in one of the ‘apartments’. Some kneeling in supplication, others seated on the dry mulch sorting certain objects. You cannot miss lined up pots in another apartment. Women are supposed to were long garments but not trousers. For those in trousers are offered lesus.

The apartments are dedicated to famous people in the region, you will find a space dedicated to King Ndahura, Jajja Musoke among others. Ndahura was known as a healer of small pox, therefore praying from his ‘apartment’ will rid one of small pox and related diseases. Other ‘apartments’ have special prayer requests that the guide says are specific for that particular place. The guide says famous people pay homage to the site with their requests.
“In case you would like to sleep over you inform the caretakers in advance,” he quickly emphasises. 
Some of the ‘apartments’ bear a resemblance to the gods they were named after. For example, Nakayima’s section has a figurine of a woman with two breasts, one of the section for the god of wealth and power has a figurine of a spear used for hunting.

The activity
The interesting thing to watch were food and drink sacrifices which were openly left in the various ‘apartments’ for the gods to feast upon. Those that bring the sacrifices usually return to testify to the goodness of gods. I see a dog digging into the food and I ask why it is not sent away. The guide explains that the gods manifested in any form ranging from cats or dogs. The dog is left to eat in peace. Women and men surround the place smoking pipes chanting and invoking gods for blessings, wealth and other requests. 
Smartly dressed people too walk in and wheel-in to pray at Nakayima. This leaves me wondering about the thin line between Christianity and cultural beliefs. These same people will prophesy the goodness and mercy of God in church. However, they also do believe in the power of our forefathers and some balance the boat by visiting the church and going to oracles.

The guide says he has no urge to visit Kampala since ‘Kampala visits him’ every day at the site. Musicians are some of the regular visitors as well as politicians. When your miracle happens, you are expected to return with a sacrifice and thank the specific god in their apartment and share some of the spoils with those at the site.
Most importantly, this rich history needs to be documented so that it is never forgotten. Most of what I have shared was from my interaction with the guide who doubles as the curator of the site. When visiting Mubende, make a date with Nakayima tree to see, and learn for yourself.

Nakayima Tree is located in Mubende which is a three-hour drive from Kampala.  It is on the extreme top of Mubende Hill Town along Kampala- Fort Portal Highway.   From Mubende Town, a boda boda costs Shs3,000 to Nakayima.

Nakayima Tree in Mubende. Photos/Provia Nangobi.