Uncovering mysteries of life in Traditional Taita society through “wula” divination

By Pascal Mwandambo

The old man sat under the shade of an acacia tree, his head lowered to his knees. A few flies hovered around him. On one side a well fed dog stretched out lazily, fast asleep, seemingly contented and at peace with itself.

A few meters away three elderly men were making a fire and talking on low tones.

A youthful emerged from behind the house pulling a brown goat willy-nilly.

As one of the elders sharpened a knife the other held the goat by the horns while the third one smeared some green twigs on its forehead.

The goat was now subdued and thrown to the ground ready for slaughter. As it let out a shrill scream from the throes of death, the dog immediately awoke from slumber and ran towards the place the goat was being slaughtered.

After the goats innards had been spread out, the three elders lifted them carefully and placed them on an upturned bucked, carefully studying the patterns and marks. One of them shook his head nonchalantly as the others nodded in agreement, exchanging knowing glances.

This was a wula divination ceremony, the only one I have witnessed in my life. Wula is a process of unraveling mysterious issues touching on peoples’ lives such as prolonged diseases in a family, inexplicable deaths and other abnormal happenings.

The cause of calamities such as barrenness, prolonged drought or locust invasions can also be detected through wula.

Experts of this kind of divination largely come from families with the gift of studying a goats intestines to read certain features that can be used to explain why certain things happen the way they do.

The diviners or soothsayers are not necessarily medicine men but work together. The diviners prime role is to uncover the causes of certain problems and after the diagnosis the wula will also prescribe which remedy is to be done and by which type of medicine man.

“My grandparents used to be diviners and I used to accompany them during their work and began learning the craft from a very early age. Divination is a talent that runs in some families and is handed down from generation to generation” says Mzee Hudson Mwachongo (79) when I interviewed him in Mwatate where  I met the old man I have described in the intro to this story.

It’s unfortunate that our  culture is slowly fading away and even my grandchildren might forget it altogether,” says Mzee Mwachongo.

He says diviners are not necessarily medicinemen but work in tandem to address certain issues facing an individual, family or a community at large.

“Things like serial miscarriage, death of newborns, barrenness, incurable illnesses are among problems that drive elders to go for divination to unravel the root cause of these problems” says Mzee Mwachongo.

“These misfortunes can be caused by curses or witchcraft by jealousy relatives and neighbours,” says the elder and diviner, one of the last disappearing vestiges of Taita culture.

Wula divination can be done using either a male or female goat, but for the latter, the goat should not be lactating as the milk will “cloud” the wula patterns which might lead to misdiagnosis.

The person whose cause of  misfortunes is to be uncovered in wula is first given strands of mkengera herbs to partly chew as he silently narrates his woes and then parts of the chewed herbs are fed to the goat. After a while the goat is slaughtered and its intestines spread out, allowed to cool down before analysis.

On close scrutiny the intestines can indicate the patients clan and family history and if such problems run in that particular family. According to Mzee Mwachongo, a person’s family tree can be carefully located and traced in the patterns which he says are different for different victims.

Certain marks can also indicate curses and whether these were uttered by male or female relatives of yore. For instance, according to Mzee Mwachongo,red spots in the family tree indicates one has been bewitched while black spots indicate family medicine portions mikoba which were discarded instead of being handed over to future generations. These are said to cause suffering to future family members.

For the poor old man in the case in point, Mzee Mwachongo( who was accompanied by Mzee Francis Mng’ongo a medicine man from the county),began by pointing out that he had first detected a “female toungue” meaning the curse stalking the old man was from a female parent.

The victim, now 62, has never married, has no children, is a pauper and was living a very miserable life in an abandoned house in the village.

It turned out, from the victims own narration, that his mother had died with a heavy heart after he refused to buy her sugar when he got his first job.

He is also reported to have assaulted his mother with a broom full of red ants, while drunk, an abomination of sorts.

If this story is to be believed then curses and the powers of divination could be real, at least in the years gone by.

As a remedy the poor old man was advised to buy seven pieces of lesso, a kilo of sugar and bottled water(marami) and place them under a certain tree at a time and place the diviner would determine.

Mark you, he was not supposed to beg or borrow the money to buy these items. He was to work and get the money by himself, else the sacrifice would be rejected.

I am not a very strong cultural advocate but this incident that I personally witnessed really amused me and I decided to share it.

After all they say mwacha mila ni mutumwa. Probably that’s why many things are going wrong in our contemporary society, because we have discarded our cultures and living like rudderless vessels in stormy seas.

~ iMpact News 

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