9 April, 2009: At Death’s Door in Ttanda, Uganda
In the beginning, according to the Baganda, there was a single man named Kintu. He roamed the earth with his cow, but he was lonely. When he looked to Ggulu (lit. “the heavens” or Tonda, lit. “Creator”) for help, he noticed that Ggulu had a daughter named Nambi. Nambi watched Kintu do his work from her comfortable home in the heavens. She noticed that he was strong and he did his work well. They eventually fell in love, but this was a forbidden love, as gods cannot marry humans. Kintu knew this; Nambi did too, but it didn’t keep her from approaching her father about it.
Naturally Ggulu resisted Nambi’s pleas to allow her to marry Kintu, but Nambi persisted. One day, Ggulu finally agreed that they could try it, but Kintu would have to perform several tasks to his satisfaction first. Ggulu began assigning these tasks to Kintu with the confidence that Nambi would see him frustrated and give up on her idea. However, Kintu completed each increasingly difficult task with great strength and skill. Even Ggulu was impressed, and so he finally acquiesced and Nambi got her wish.
When it came time for Nambi to leave home, she gathered her things and went to greet her family goodbye. They first went to her father, who warned them to pack lightly and leave quietly so that Nambi’s brother Walumbe would not give them trouble. Walumbe was a troublemaker, and Nambi had never gotten along with him. He also warned that they could never come back for any reason, even if they forgot anything. Kintu, happy to have a wife, agreed to Ggulu’s wishes and thanked him for looking out for them.
Kintu and Nambi set off for earth together, putting Ggulu behind them and Walumbe out of their minds. Halfway through the journey, Nambi panicked. She had forgotten the millet for feeding her chicken. She had to go back and get it. He didn’t like it, but she insisted. She hurried back home and got the beans, but just as she was leaving, Walumbe showed up. “Leaving without saying goodbye to your dear brother?” he asked.
“Walumbe, I’m so glad to see you. You were gone when we were leaving, but I forgot these beans, so I came back,” she explained.
“You avoided me,” he responded. “Why did you avoid me?”
“Let me come with you. I can protect you along the way,” he said.
She could not resist him, and she would now have to bear the look of shame on Kintu’s face when they met him on the road.
Back on earth, life went on though. Kintu soon forgave Nambi because he was no longer lonely. They produced children very quickly, and they lived and worked happily together, Kintu with his cow, Nambi with her chickens and the children. One day, Walumbe came to Kintu to ask his muko (brother-in-law) to send him with one of his sons to help him with the chores around the house. Remembering Ggulu’s warnings about Walumbe, Kintu refused. Walumbe was very angry, and he could not understand Kintu’s refusal of a simple favor. That very night, he went and killed Kintu’s son.
Kintu was outraged. He reported directly to Ggulu, who had little sympathy for a stubborn son-in-law who had ignored his warnings. He pleaded with Ggulu, blaming the whole thing on Nambi for returning to get the millet for her chickens. Reminded of the grief his daughter must have been feeling, Ggulu decided to send one of his other sons, Kayikuuzi, back to earth with Nambi. He instructed Kayikuuzi to persuade Walumbe to return to heaven. If he refused, Ggulu told Kayikuuzi that he would have to bring his brother back by force.
When they returned to earth, Walumbe proved to be stubborn. Kayikuuzi tried and tried to persuade him, but Walumbe turned a deaf ear. “I like it here on earth, and father cannot force me to return home,” he told his brother. Kayikuuzi would have to take him by force. He was the stronger brother, and he nearly overpowered Walumbe. However, at the last second, Walumbe sucker-punched him and disappeared into the ground. Kayikuuzi (literally means digger of holes) went after him, digging huge holes to try to find him. Walumbe kept escaping and hiding in new holes, hoping to tire his brother out.
After several days, Walumbe succeeded; Kayikuuzi was tired of digging. He went to Kintu and Nambi and told them, “I am going to try once more to get Walumbe. You and your family must stay inside. Keep your children well, and don’t let them make any sound if they see Walumbe.” Kintu and Nambi followed their instructions, but one of the children was lost and he remained outside. When Walumbe came close to the house, he ran screaming into the house to meet his family. Kayikuuzi was just behind, but Walumbe had already disappeared into the ground again. Kayikuuzi rebuked Kintu and Nambi sharply, furious that they had ruined his chances of catching Walumbe. “He’s your problem now,” he told Kintu. “I’ve done all I can.”
“You have done more than enough,” he told his loyal muko, embarrassed that his children had fouled things up. “Go back to Ggulu and we shall deal with Walumbe. If he continues to kill our children, we shall simply have more.” And so Kayikuuzi left Kintu and Nambi on earth with Walumbe, the bringer of sickness and death.
There are many versions of this story, but the basic plot is the same. Walumbe is a kind of angel of death for the Baganda. He’s not like Satan, though his rebellion from Heaven seems similar to the Christian stories. He’s more like Death itself, associated with pestilence, disease, and ultimately a trip underground. The holes that Kayikuuzi dug and Walumbe hid in remain at Ttanda in Ssingo county, Uganda.
Amafumu ga Walumbe: Walumbe’s spears
Effumu lya Kayikuuzi: Kayikuuzi’s spear
These remnants of the great fight between Walumbe and Kayikuuzi remain. People bring new spears as offerings and remembrances of the battle. Walumbe’s presence remains, as does Kayikuuzi’s, but the Baganda also remain. “Abaana ba Kintu tebalifa kuggwaawo,” they say, which means that “the children of Kintu will never be destroyed.”
People often bring cloths to cover the holes, a symbolic barrier between human life and inevitable death. Ttanda has become somewhat of a tourist site, but it remains too far off the beaten path to be ruined by things like gift shops. People still come here every Saturday for kusamira, possession rituals. I have yet to be present for one, but perhaps on the next trip…