This past weekend I met up with a few friends for an unconventional adventure, even by African standards: a hike to an ancient witch tree! We had read about it only briefly, but decided not knowing what to expect would make it all the more exciting. A matatu ride in a new direction brought us to Mubende town where we snacked on some gonja (roasted plantain) and proceeded to look very lost. Along the way, we must have asked a dozen people to point us in the right direction, and every single one was appalled that we were not taking a vehicle or motorcycle: “Eh! But it is very far. You take boda boda.” Eventually we would convince them that our little mzungu legs could indeed carry us 4 km – Yes, even uphill. Yes, even in the dry season. – and they would send us on our merry way.
It was a hot one, but we were distracted by the dramatic views down into the valley and across the rolling hills. Since we really had no idea where we were going or even what we were looking for, we would turn a corner and someone would joke that we were standing in front of the tree. We weren’t sure we would even know when we arrived – but we definitely did. The tree was at the tippy top of the mountain and was massive, with wise folds in its trunk and enormous buttress roots crawling with worshippers.
A woman dressed in black robes showed us around the site and explained the legend of the tree. Basically, it is believed to hold the spirit of the powerful goddess Nakayima. We weren’t too impressed with the backstory, but it was obvious that the place is a big deal; a pilgrimage site of sorts. There were people sleeping in concentric circles around the base, doing their washing off to the side, cooking for their families, appearing very much settled there. They stay for as little as one night and as long as a year, advised accordingly by the goddess in their dreams. We even saw one Jajja laying on a mat connected to an IV drip. Mixing modern medicine and witchcraft – gotta love it!
When you pray to the goddess, for health, safety, stability, etc., of course you must also present an offering. We didn’t witness an animal sacrifice but saw goat skins drying in the sun and a cow head plopped in the field, so we’re thinking that’s a pretty typical thing. We settled instead for leaving coffee beans in a basket and making a wish…
We ended the day by watching the Uganda/Angola World Cup qualifier with a bunch of locals. Our Cranes scored twice in the last ten minutes to win and there was much hugging and dancing in the streets : )
The Earth is the mother of all.
[African Proverb – Nigeria]