BY PASCAL MWANDAMBO
Billows of smoke could be seen wafting out of the imposing Vuria hill as the sounds of Mwazindika drums echoed through the imposing hill and caves.
It was a magical moment, with traditional Taita dancers dancing rhythmically to the enchanted drums.
Mwazindika drums were traditionally used to exorcise evil spirits especially in women.
However, this time round it was not exorcism but a special moment to remember Taita ancestors and the valiant heroes who fought for the liberation of the locals from colonial bondage and more specifically, senior chief Mwangeka wa Malowa, who led a spirited fight against the British rule at the turn of the 20 th century.
The Mwangeka caves in Mwanda village are remembered as the secret rendezvous where Mwangeka and his soldiers usually retreated to plan how to fight the British
who were advancing into Taita land.
Inside the caves are the bunkers which served as armories where the fighters hid their weapons. There is also a separate cave nearby the where the soldiers’ wives slept.
The unique caves are nestled at the belly of Vuria hill which is the highest peak in Coast region at just over, 2,000 metres(about 7,000 feet) above sea level.
“The caves not only serve to remind us of the heroic deeds of chief Mwangeka but are also a prime tourist facility that should be marketed and exposed to the world so that Taita cultures and values can be restored and jealously guarded,” says Nicholas Nyambu from the Ngomenyi- Mwafunja shrine.
The location of the caves in the Vuria hill adds another gem to the invaluable forest which is also endowed with rare plants and animal species not found anywhere else in the world.
These include birds, butterflies, plants and amphibians.
“The government is working around the clock to ensure that Mwangeka caves and similar cultural facilities in Taita-Taveta County are restored, preserved and marketed as prime domestic tourism facilities that could go a long away in generating revenue for the county,” says peace ambassador Annastacia Wakesho.
Wakesho made the remarks during a tour of the caves by a special team of Mijikenda elders as a sign of cultural unity between the Taita and their Coastal neighbours.
Ms Wakesho pointed out that it was high time that the British government returned Mwangeka’s remains so that they can be given a heroic burial by the community.
“In the same way the British paid reparations to the Mau Mau, the same should be done to the Taita people for the sufferings they underwent through the tyrannical British invasion of their land,” said Wakesho.
Mwangeka wa Malowa was a heroic fighter who led the Taita community to resist the British intrusion into Taita land. He is said to have been born around 1840 and died around 1890.He was married to three wives.
In a scenario similar to the Maji Maji rebellion in Tanzania, Mwangeka is believed to have had magical fighting powers in which he could engage his adversaries without being noticed, with powerful charms that could immobilize his adversaries and reduce the power of bullets “to smoke”.
Local legend has it that a man by the name Mbogholi wa Maseghembe from Bura location was bribed by the British to release Mwangeka’s fighting secrets, which he did.
Eventually wa Malowa was gunned down after a powerful engagement with British soldiers at Mrughua village.
After his killing, Mnjala wa Ruma, Mwangeka’s second in command, withdrew his troops and went into hiding in the Mwangeka caves. Here, they mourned for their departed hero and prayed to the gods to spare the remaining fighters so that they could continue with the struggle.
Meanwhile, the British solders went on a destructive spree; burning houses, looting property and raping women; forcing the communities in Bura, Mwanda and Mrughua into submission.
Finally French missionaries brokered peace between the Taita and the British to end the war, with the final peace nail being hammered into the truce at Bura Mission Centre.
Abode of the gods
Caves and rocks occupy a special place in the Taita community. Principally, the caves serve d as the abodes of he gods and ancestors where the remains of elders, namely skulls, were preserved. On regular occasions, seers and living elders would visit the caves to offer sacrifices and pour out libations to appease the gods so as to ward off bad omen and invite blessings to the community.