Oddly enough, thoughts about the Tanda pits still make me quiver up to now. Insensibly, there’s that sinister feeling that grows stronger and stronger, each time I flip through my camera roll — the feeling that some inexplicably powerful black magic hostilely hovers by. The journey I undertook, gingerly walking about the compound allegedly inhabited by the god of death himself – that, my dear, is what I hadn’t the faintest idea what I’d signed up for. Look, I hardly fancy group trips to be sure, and this is mainly because, as a solo traveler, indecisiveness is never my problem. This time around I was less hesitant due to popular demand by my peers. After a thorough two-day training held by UTA to equip her guides, operators, hotel owners and other tourism stakeholders with digital marketing skills, the committee reached a decision of a little retreat for a handful of the delegates. As the odds are never against me, I was chosen to represent my company during this adventure, just a few miles away out of Kampala.
I saw a world that made my head become too big for the things I’d already known. The journey started at about 9am, almost an hour after stipulated departure time. Complaining about my late coming colleagues is something I will refrain from doing today, for I know I could beat them hands down in that department any time. Our two coasters wended their way out of the Wednesday traffic through Wandegeya and finally to Mityana. With a pair of sunglasses perched upon the bridge of my nose, and earphones glued in my ears, the one-hour drive to the Tanda Archeological Site couldn’t be more interesting, and thus begins the adventure.
One thing I must stress here if you must disagree; the dead are still alive, and so is the first man to ever live on earth, Kintu. An attack of goosebumps frequents me each time I recall this place, which, I think you should know, also doubles as a fully-fledged shrine and one of those places in Uganda that trigger every atom of fear in any human being. Slowly by slowly, I followed my peers closely as we walked into a fenced, well-maintained piece of vast land. The dread on my face was unmistakable as my eyes scanned the entire place which was formidably dotted with several dark pits. I couldn’t help but notice a crown of spears abutting a few of the shrine huts. There was a cold fireplace too, would this make me feel any better? The entire place, to say the least, looked like a scene in a horror movie.
Before long, we were heartily welcomed by a middle-aged man who went by the name Sendaula. Avoiding to say much, he emphasized that we be respectful, for several people, that is, politicians, business men and women, local celebrities and pastors, flock this place to not only appease the gods but also seek divine intervention, prosperity, longer and healthier life. Whom from? I should wonder if you guessed – from Walumbe, the reigning god of death. He urged us not to give suspicious looks if we recognized anybody we knew. I thought I was imagining most of it, but hey, I was living it; witchcraft is not a hoax after all. Ssendaula gathered us for a brief historical narration of this site, although I had heard the stories way back in Primary School. I had also heard several watered down versions of the same myth from different people, but it felt totally different listening to the story outside a classroom block, especially now from a place where it all happened.
A long time ago, the earth was home to only one man, Kintu. He lived on it with his cow that he loved so dearly, which he took care of, and to reciprocate the affection, gave him milk. Up in the clouds lived the god of heaven “Gulu”, who had two sons and a daughter. The two brothers, Walumbe and Kayikuzi, made it an occasional habit of descending to the earth to play together with their sister, Nambi. On one lucky day as Nambi was wandering on the faces of this beautiful earth, she came across Kintu who was grazing his cow. The encounter bore a love affair between the two. Nambi, who was so smitten, decided to cancel her return trip back to heaven and preferred to immerse herself in this new found feeling with the apple of her eye, Kintu. At the back of her mind, she knew she needed to go back home and make this affair official to her father. And so, as the relationship continued to grow, she decided to take Kintu to heaven to meet her father Gulu, and to also ask for his blessing in her marriage. Filled with rage and disappointment, Gulu rejected the plea, as he loved his daughter so much, a thing that only caused sheer sadness to Nambi. It broke Gulu’s heart to see his only daughter in despair, and so he was prompted to accept the union. He then ordered that they leave heaven and go start their new life on earth.
As the couple set off, Gulu cautioned them against his bipolar son Walumbe whom he believed was the bearer of bad luck and misery. This meant that whatever their plan was, it was to be held in secret lest Walumbe finds out. And so they did leave, not forgetting the presents the father had given them to start their new life as man and wife, until, along the way, Nambi, like any other forgetful woman, recalled she hadn’t carried millet grains to feed their chicken. Contrary to her husband’s instructions, she decided to go back and fetch the grains. Whatever else Walumbe is, he is not stupid. Even when everyone was playing smart and dumb, Nambi’s actions aroused suspicion. Toe-to-toe he followed, Nambi still clueless, and that’s how finally Walumbe, the author of all misery and misfortune, made it to earth with a wide smile on his face.
It is believed that sickness, misery and death were all brought on earth by Walumbe, as he occasionally killed his sisters’ children, one by one. Gulu learned of this reprehensible behavior, thus instructing Kayikuzi to go to earth and collect his troublesome brother, Walumbe. It was, indeed, a tug of war, and the current Tanda site bore witness to the uproarious struggle between the two brothers. The cunning Walumbe would dig up pits and disappear into them, frustrating all his brother’s efforts to find him. That wasn’t enough for naughty Walumbe; he would dig more underground tunnels, making it difficult to guess which exact hole he was to emerge from. That explains how the several pits came to existence. Some are shallow, but others reveal an ominous darkness that creates an impression of a bottomless pit! Walumbe, it is widely believed, still lives here, and sometimes he manifests himself to his staunch believers, and he still kills us, Kintu’s children. That, my friends, is why we die. It is because Walumbe robs us of our lives. If only Kayikuzi had caught him, hundreds of billions of us would roam this earth without any worry of dying.
After the narration, we closed in to follow him for a brief tour around. He removed his shoes and nudged us to do the same. There had been a heavy downpour, so the place was muddy and slippery, but that was no excuse for Senduala to let us in with our shoes. Also following the Buganda tradition, ladies wrapped themselves around with a lesu, especially those in shorts and trousers. We were then showed around, carefully looking out in order not to slip and fall into the dark pits. There are over two hundred cylindrical pits in Tanda, he narrated, all interconnected by underground tunnels. Most of the pits are now shrines associated with different deities.
We moved around and into the different shrines that were believed to be solutions to different human problems. There was the shrine that gave life, the shrine for people seeking wealth, and one for those seeking to bear children and twins in particular. There were several other shrines that only the strong-hearted could face; if you sought revenge, this was the place to consult. Outside lay a heap of spears in different shapes and designs. I kid you not, I could feel some dark powers at work. That vibe only got stronger as I caught the smell of freshly slaughtered animals and locally fermented brew gush through my nostrils.
After about an hour we retreated to our coaster and made way out of the shrine. Now whether all this is true or not, it feels safer to have that one being that will act as a scapegoat for all the misery we face. According to language experts, the name Walumbe has different connotations which all approximate a common meaning – a sickness that results in death. The noun olumbe is normally used when referring to an untreatable disease that is oftentimes witchcraft-begotten. The verb kulumba means to attack, and so when one says olumbe lunumbye which actually means I have been attacked by an unidentifiable disease, it means that chances for that person to survive are very minimal. And, again, who is responsible? Yes, you guessed it right – Walumbe, the god of Death.