Tales about animals of African savannah


HISTORY shows that before the coming of colonialists in Kilimanjaro, the Chagga were well organised under small chiefdoms ruled by local ruler called Mangi or Wamangi. These chiefs ruled their subject using forces which were blessed by history, culture and traditional believes whereby the African leopard was regarded as spiritual symbol of the ruling class.

It said the pre-colonial traditional way of life in many parts of Tanzania including Kilimanjaro rain forests was a favourite home to big mammals of the savannah including African leopards which wander freely around villages in the whole area.

Different factors contributed to conservation of wild animals including the flourishing of the African leopard inside forest around Mount Kilimanjaro which was enabled by customary laws and traditional beliefs protected these big cats.

In Kilimanjaro those days, the leopards thrived in tropical rainforest which stand from 2,800 to 1,300 meters above the sea level through the Agro forest which today is found between 1,600 to 1,200 meters above the sea to the savannah forest which is on 1,600 to 700 meters above sea level.

It’s also said that due to the public support, during those days leopards of Mount Kilimanjaro were big but not dangerous although it is believed sometime they were able to break into a house to snatch a sheep or goat.

In those days the number of African Leopards grew bigger in the forest around mount Kilimanjaro because rules of pre-colonial Chagga did not allow anyone to hurt the spotted cat because it was regarded as sacred animal of the land.

In those good old days it was common to see a leopard during day time, not only that the big cat was allowed to wander into a house whenever it feels threatened by uncouth people.

From Machame, Rombo, Kibosho and Marangu it is believed that every clan had its own spiritual leopard which is believed to be responsible to protect members of the whole family at night.

It is believed that this big cat could escort its client from one point to another while offering protection against other leopards, to get the service of the sacred cat, one was required to be free from evil thing such as killing of others or witchcraft.

It was believed that the two sins may cause two leopards from two different clans to fight for a bad member as one cat wants to punish him while another wants to offer protection.

Regardless of what they did, after the arrival of colonialists in Kilimanjaro the African leopard lost its supremacy and found itself on the losing side which forced it to evolve into a small sized body which is able to hide into the caves on the banks of major rivers and streams in Kilimanjaro.

Scientists say to avoid death and fall into extinction, these leopards evolved into small sized bodies which need small amount of food and capable to live by hunting small preys available in their limited surroundings.

Not only that, limitation of resources forced these small sized leopards to develop special interest on crabs which are fished out of water at night. These leopard’s habitual changes did not only affect their morphology, but also social status as they were pushed away from a sacred and royal symbol to a shy animal which is mocked by people.

Today these cats are what many people in different parts of Chaggaland call Iparangala, in other way the leopards of Kilimanjaro have changed into crab’s crackers.

In Bukoba, things were a little different because the region is full of water bodies including rivers, swamps and lakes including Ikimba which has an exceptional feature because of one but very interesting story about its creation.

Like many other water bodies in the tropical savannah, Lake Ikimba harbours different spices of aquatic insects and birds including the Marabou Stock which is feared by some people who treat it ugly, unattractive and mysterious.

In Bukona, people who dwell on the shores of lake Ikimba don’t only fear this large bird but also attach it with the emerging of this water body in the area about six or seven hundred years ago.

The story tells that once upon a time there was a lazy man who got married to a beautiful young girl, to make the ends meet the husband depended on his mother to bring food and other important supplies into the house.

Days passed and life moved on, but due to Haya customs a newly wedded wife or Mgole is supposed to stay away from the public for thirty days where she is taken care with her husband.

As the beautiful girl tried to make herself more attractive the lazy man could not move his eyes out of the wife forcing his mother to go out to fetch firewood and food for the Mgole and the whole family.

Meanwhile fish are very important for people who live around lakes in Bukoba, to satisfy the needs of the Mgole the mother-in-law was forced to apply magical power to get two or three tilapias for the family everyday for not less than thirty days.

The Bride is said to see her mother-in-law going into one of the rooms of the house and come out with a fresh fish in her hand while looking anxiously, then she would ask her not to open the door or going into the room.

The young woman kept asking herself some questions like what was inside the room, where the fresh fish were coming from and why she was not allowed into the room but not her husband or the mother -inlaw revealed the secret inside the room to her.

Days passed as the old woman kept doing the same thing and the common food would be prepared while eating the old mama would still insist the restrictions into the room and its door until one day when the daughter inlaw decided to break the law and walked into the room.

The bride looked around the sacred room and saw it had nothing special but suddenly she realised that her feet was in a small pool of water which its level was increasing very fast.

Quickly Mgole was on her feet running to the farm while calling mama in loud voice who heard the cry and came with a wood to control water flowing out from the house. Fearing that the water would kill all people in the whole village the old woman started to dig a canal to direct the water into a safe area while singing in vernacular ‘Kahiga Ka ikimba ita ahkahro, osige akandi.’

But with all her efforts she could not stop the water from coming out or getting the water far from the area until she got tired and could not do anything more as the water from the house kept on coming and surrounded her as the whole body was swallowed by a lake leaving the wood part of the hoe submerged.

It is believed that the mother-in-law turned into a Marabou Stock which is roaming around the lake Ikimba now days carrying a bucket to put fish for Mgole who is still trapped inside the lake.

While the above stories come from Bukoba and Kilimanjaro, through this animistic belief, a Cape eland has a lot to do with people of southern Tanzania. Many people in Masasi believed that it’s very tricky to hunt and kill the Cape eland which they use the word Mbunju a vernacular name to define the largest antelope of African jungle.

From time in history it is believed that it is not possible to hunt cape eland even when a huge herd of more than 15 animals are standing at your disposal for a shoot and kill it’s almost impossible to hunt an eland.

According to traditional law before going into the bush to hunt an eland, the hunter is required to seek ancestral permission. This is done through a special ritual which involves mentioning names of respected traditional leaders who led their people through different wars and natural calamities such as drought and hunger.

In Musoma the Ikizu also believe ancestral permission is required before someone is allowed to kill an eland.

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