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Wajinaj Sacred Hill

Even if Uganda is the country where about one hundred years ago a group of young men were killed for not denouncing their Christian faith and later declared saints by the Christian Churches, there are still very many Ugandans that have stuck to their traditional religious beliefs and are determined never to abandon them. Take an example of Iseri Nabayunga, the self-styled priestess who lives close to Wajjinja, the hill of stone in Ndagwe Sub-county, Lwengo District.

According to her, all the harsh climatic changes that we are witnessing these days-the floods, the extreme humidity, and the prolonged droughts are upon us because we have annoyed the spirits of our ancestors by abandoning our traditional ways of worship and accepted those from foreign lands.

Wajinja Hill – Kabona Ssekitoleko

She also claims all the incurable diseases like HIV/Aids are killing us because we have annoyed our ancestors by desecrating “holy”

Places like Wajjinja, which she claims has been allocated to her by the ancestors to guard and sustain.

“They come from all over the country and misbehave on the hill,” she says.

“They drink European beer and other types of European alcoholic drinks. They smoke cigarettes and many of them even make love up there. They don’t understand that we have rules governing the holy place. But what is so unfair is that the ancestors come to me and beat me up in the night blaming me for not stopping those evil people from desecrating the holy place.”

She says nobody must go up the hill without her knowledge or permission and everybody going there must walk on barefoot because the place is holy.

Everybody should pay a tithe of some sort to her depending on their financial status but the “rich people from Kampala” must not pay anything less than Shs20,000. This last requirement made things a little difficult for me because she seemed to believe that everybody employed by Daily Monitor is from Kampala.

I had to remove my shoes in obedience, but I had not walked barefoot in the bush for decades and I was not particularly comfortable when as we walked through the preliminary grass that surrounds the huge rock. A few black snakes kept on crossing our path from time to time. To my surprise, she and her guard, Majidu Kasenja, merely pleaded with them referring to them as our ancestors and telling them not to worry about the visitor from newspapers that was visiting them to make them well known in the whole world.

Soon after we got to the rock itself, I noticed small calabashes and clay pots in what looked like a cave. This was the seat of Kagolo ka Kyomya, where it is said you may go to pray and make offerings if you want to become rich or get rid of misfortunes in trade. She said a few prayers to the spirits of the cave and we moved on. Not far from the cave, are small holes curved out on the huge black rock.

The Baganda and some other African tribes use such holes to play a game of patience called mweso (board game). Not far from where the mweso game holes are, is a flat piece of rock that looks like a bed. “Here is where the ancestors used to lie and relax after playing mweso,” Nabayunga told me.

Our next destination was the seat of the goddess Nabiryo. If you belong to the Lugave clan and you have problems like barrenness or sickness or, it is claimed that this place can be the remedy.

It is between two gigantic rocks shaped like the buttocks of a woman.

Underneath the rocks is a fire place and calabashes. Here too, Nabayunga recites implorations. Someone had defecated not far from the stones and she asked the goddess Nabiryo to proclaim justice upon whoever had done such an abomination in the holy place.

It is well known that some non-believers throng the place to marvel at the wonders of nature found there but there are also some others that go to steal the sacrifices, like money, beer left in calabashes, and any other valuables donated to the spirits and abandoned in the shrines.

No woman in her periods is allowed to ascend the holy stone and no love acts are allowed there.

Nabayunga showed me a rock inside which a young man and a girl had been locked by the ancestors never to get out because they had disobeyed the law and made love on the hill.

There are several other shrines in the many caves of the hill, including those of Ndawula and Kawesi. At a certain point, one can see human footprints believed to have been made there when a man stepped on the rock when it was perhaps still soft and wet.

“This is exactly why nobody must come here wearing shoes,” Nabayunga explained. “Those foot marks there are of the first king, Kintu himself. He used to come here and this was his seat.” She then points at a rock that has the shape of a chair.

“The other seat opposite which is smaller was the seat of Nambi, his wife.” As she talked a huge snake ( the colour of the rock) ,emerged from under Kintu’s seat and went down the slope too fast to be successfully photographed. It was probably a python, but it is one of the ancestors who reign over the massive rock of Wajjinja, according to Nabayunga. She apologised to the monstrous snake for taking a visitor to the holy place without prior warning.

Kintu’s piano
Not far from Kintu’s seat, is a set of stones that make a different sound like the keys of a piano whenever struck. Nabayunga explains that these were used by Kintu’s musicians whenever he sat in court at Wajjinja.

At her age, (about 75), she is at this stage too tired to walk down the slope again to show me one of the nine water wells which we had forgotten to visit before coming this far. So Kasenja offered to take me to the well which is said to be one of the nine others that are described as inaccessible due to the thicket hiding them. It is possible they are not even there but nobody is expected to express any doubt. According to Kasenja, water in this well (Nalongo) is medicinal and holy.

The slope to the next destination where the footprints of goats are said to be was so steep that I feared I would slide and fall, perhaps losing or damaging my camera and laptop. We finally wound up at ancestor Kiwanuka’s shrine where Nabayunga actually burst into tears because there were some beer bottle tops and pineapple peelings littered in the place.

Only traditional beer is supposed to be drunk there but someone had drunk beer in what she calls a holy place. She was later to report the crime to the ancestors in her personal shrine when we returned to her home down the slope.

Wajjinja derives its name from Jinja which means stone in Luganda.