Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Butiama Bed & Breakfast

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Culture and tradition: Muhunda makes an appearance again

Last month, a few days after the burial of my cousin at Butiama, a large baboon was sighted.

I first learnt about the baboon when I walked into the kitchen at home and someone asked, “Did you see Muhunda?”
“Yes, he has just paid us a visit.”

While he spoke the dogs were howling like wolves, continuously.

There are only two Muhunda’s of significance. One is my uncle, Joseph Muhunda. And the other is the guardian spirit of the Zanaki ethnic group, a mystical entity that is believed to reside in the Muhunda ancestral forest at the enclave of Mwitongo, where my grandfather’s household (manyata to the Masai) was located. Entry into the forest is restricted. The area is under the guardianship of the wanyikura, members of the council of elders. Tree cutting is not permitted although picking dead branches from the forest floor is allowed.

A retired teacher, Jack Nyamwaga, recalls how when he was a child a large baboon showed up the homestead of my grandfather, Chief Nyerere Burito, and my grandfather prevented children from chasing the baboon, while it ate some cassava which had been set out to dry under the sun.

It is believed that the spirit appears in many forms: a cheetah, a snake, a goat or a baboon. Baboon sightings are rare at Butiama, and although I have sighted baboons on hills that overlook Butiama, several kilometres from Butiama, they rarely cross the valley through residential areas to Butiama. It is only the second time in the past 11 years that a baboon has shown up.

Those who believe in Muhunda have suggested that Muhunda has returned to Butiama to mourn the loss of a member of the clan, my late cousin. In fact, witnesses report that the baboon emerged from a northerly direction, crossed a residential area while ignoring the children who tried to scare it away by pelting it with stones, and reached my cousin’s fresh grave and sat nearby for a few minutes and then proceeded towards Mwitongo.
At the my cousin Mazembe's funeral.
Not only were the dogs howling, but even the numerous velvet monkeys became overly excited and reportedly disappeared when the baboon showed up.
A velvet monkeys peeks into a room. Part of the valley across where baboons are sometimes sighted is seen at the left side of the photo.
With such sightings in the past the wanyikura would convene and send a party to a soothsayer near the mouth of the Mara River to find out from the soothsayer the significance of the sighting. If Muhunda was upset by a certain event in the community, the elders would communicate the information back to the community and a cleansing ceremony would take place to appease Muhunda.

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