BY PASCAL MWANDAMBO
A story is told of two hunters who had a very close encounter with a rogue rhino. One of the hunters had aimed twice and missed the enraged wild animal with poisoned arrows.
The charging animal was about to gore the hunter to death when his colleague came from behind and fired one arrow that hit the rhino on the neck, throwing it on the ground.
The hunter was shaken. He had escaped death by the whiskers, thanks to his fellow hunter’s valiance.
When they went back home the hunter narrated how his colleague had saved him from the jaws of death.
There was great celebrations between the two families.
Clearly the hunter had proved beyond doubt that he was more of a brother to his colleague whose life he had saved.
After long deliberations, the families decided that the two should be united by blood in a traditional Taita ceremony called mtero.
Mtero was a potent blood brotherhood where two people who went through adversity became united.
This could be famine, war with aggressive neighbours or as in the just narrated case, where one person saved another’s life in very dangerous circumstances.
In fact apart from marriage, mtero was another way of uniting families and thereby broadening family ties for mutual benefit.
It is said that a brother need not necessarily be one from the same womb with you but one who cares and helps you in the moment of need. They say a friend in need is a friend in deed. Nothing can be further from the truth as far as mtero is concerned.
“Mtero was an elaborate ritual where two people who went through difficult circumstances were united in blood. A mtero brother was co-opted into the family and enjoyed all rights of inheritance, including land” says Mzee Dishon Mwalui.
Mzee Mwalui says families who were united in blood brotherhood could not intermarry as it was an abomination to do so.
“There were also serious vows which were made between the two and whoever betrayed the mtero would face dire consequences including death or incurable diseases,” the elder told The e-nformer during an interview.
The mtero was undertaken after serious deliberations between families.
Usually two people who felt strongly that they wanted to cement their relationship informed their respective families on the desire to do so.
A council of elders would be informed and would map the way forward for the two.
First divination had to be done to notify the ancestors of the impending friendship.
This was necessary to ensure that discordant relationships were not endorsed by the seers.
This was, for instance, where one was from a family of sorcerers or thieves, a caliber of people who were treated as social misfits and the epitome of evil.
“After divination the two were taken to the isae shrines where they partook of the mtero rituals” says Mzee Mwalui.
Usually a black sheep was slaughtered and the blood allowed to drained out for the Taita ancestral spirits to sip and gain the strength to protect and cement the mtero relation ship.
After that the two took vows to protect the relationship and safeguard each others wellbeing.
This went something like this:“I so-and – so, do hereby vow by the blood of this sheep, and in the presence of my ancestors, that I will keep the vows I make today, to protect the interests of so-and-so, in the face of adversity and even death. If I betray so-and-so in any way, may I suffer the same fate as this sheep by whose blood I vow to protect this union”.
The other party would do the same .After that one cut the index finger with a sharp knife, the one used to slaughter the sheep, and allowed part of the blood to drain to the ground. After that each sucked the others blood before they partook of the meat from the sheep.
Afterwards great celebrations followed between the two families, where a white goat was now slaughtered for all to feast as well as imbibing a local brew m’bangara, in union with the Taita ancestors, who were supposed to be the custodians of mtero.
Recently, close friends of the first family led by Kanja wa Gitau visited the Kenyatta caves in Mbale village, Taita at the behest of the Njavungo Council of elders.
One of the notable things that the founding father of the nation Mzee Jomo Kenyatta did at the historic caves was entering into mtero blood brotherhood with Taita elders including Mzee Zephania Mwakio on whose land the caves stand.
During the recent visit, a white goat was slaughtered in solidarity with Taita ancestors and remembrance of the mtero vows Jomo Kenyatta made with the Taita.
Jomo had a close relationship with the Taita leaders of those days including the first senator Woresha Mengo, Mzee Edward Musamuli Lenjo and later on the late Dr Eric Mngola who was Jomo’s personal physician until the time of his death in 1978.
Mngola was a keen Taita cultural enthusiast and was the founder of Taita Council of elders Waghosi wa Isanga.