Travellers' Impressions
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by Lupicine Kahunduka


NKUMBA VANA is a local name for ROCKS FOR KILLING NEWBORNS that existed in the whole land of the “pare” tribe of the Bantu people of East and Central Africa. The pare live in the North Eastern region of the slopes of the famous Mt Kilimanjaro. Newborns were killed in a magic manner as the pare were accustomed to this inhuman act. However this was when certain defects were found in the newborn child, so as to remove possible misfortunes that would befall the society if the child was left to live. The rock consumed the child magically.

Story (life not fiction)

In the districts of Mwanza and some of the famous Kilimanjaro region are special rocks, like sea cliffs of nearly 50m deep or more in which special spirits of the pare reside. As any other Tanzanian tribe they had their traditions one of which was a belief that a child born with defects always brought misfortunes in the society.

This commenced when a woman gave birth and the newborn was found with first teeth from the upper jaw, spotted skin, appearance of legs first during birth or a child born before the appearance of the “crescent moon”, just to mention a few, as I have forgotten some as told by my father Samuel Justine. In my own village – KILOMENI are special rocks set forth for this very purpose as my father explained once “You want to eat a toad you look for fat and juicy one” and so the biggest rock with height of nearly 50m or so was all important to do this inhuman act.

My clan head who is my grandfather Mr Ibrahim once was given the task of assessing the newborns. He told me he had grown his nails for detecting the first teeth of the young. He further explains that he got the reports from the midwives in case the legs appeared first when a woman gave birth, so that the punishment could take its course. Mr. Ibrahim who is in his late 90s told me that if all these facts were observed before the first cock crow it was the proper time to take the child to the rock “NKUMBA VANA”.

The famous saying – “The fox must be chased away first and the hen might be warned against wandering into the bush” – was fulfilled when the child was taken to this merciless rock to die and a woman cleansed on account of giving birth to such a lame child. Before cock crow the two old women selected and the mother of the child concerned took with them a pot of pounded yams mixed with beans, a mat for lying the child on spread at the rock edges and a Y-shaped stick to support the neck of the pot containing food for the young one despite her/his inability to eat – only the spirits would eat.

Since there is the fact that anger against a brother is felt in the flesh and not in the bone the woman was not blamed much by clan members because of giving birth to such a child, but the women made short prayers facing westwards to cast away the curse that would be brought about by the child with defects. The child was left lying on the mat and at about sundown the spirit caused the mat on which the child lay to move about, ending by dropping down at the foot of the rock and with this the child's life came to an end.

Before dawn in the following day two elder men were sent to confirm that they would only see a skull, portraying that the curse that would have befallen the society had disappeared. One may ask questions such as “Where could the rest of the body (trunk) be?” The answer could be that the spirit had made it a bite. “Could not the hyenas and foxes have eaten it?” I asked them, and they simply answered me “These animals never existed in this area, but even if they were present (though they were not) they could not climb such a big rock from any side.” I happened to prove that, the slopes are sharp.

It was not until the mid 1900s that Fr. Conrad came to my village and his work with the gospel changed people's attitude and brought this inhuman act to an end. However to this day skulls are seen and people from nearby villages and abroad come to see the fascinating rock that used to eat people.

Copyright © Lupicine Kahunduka 2004