BY i-MPACT NEWS CULTURE TEAM
Social misfits such as thieves and sorcerers have been a thorn in the flesh of the society since the days of yore.
A family known to have such people of dubious character was shunned and any form of involvement with them in areas such as friendship and marriage was discouraged.
The evil that such characters like sorcerers can visit upon a community was dreaded and such misfits had to face justice once discovered.
Traditional Taita justice system was very elaborate and almost flawless, and according to one of the Taita elders Mzee Dishon Mwalui, social misfits were carefully tracked and once identified they had to face the full force of the traditional legal system, which was elaborate and thorough.
“There was a council of elders “njama ya waghosi” which dealt with issues to do with justice and retribution” says Mzee Mwalui.
“The elders and seers usually sought to unravel the cause of social ills that befell the society and once the culprit was uncovered, punishment was instantly meted, which at times involved death” the elder explains.
The elder says some strange occurrences such as children death during birth or strange happenings like miscarriage were either because of witchcraft or curses.
In the case of the former the sorcerer had to be carefully tracked.
“There was always a suspect in the ills that befell the community. Most of them were people who descended from family of sorcerers. They were evil and wicked and people shunned them”, he says.
“Witchraft was inherent and this was handed over to future generations” he says.
Once a suspect was put before the council of elders, he had to defend himself.
"One was to either admit wrongdoing or else go through rituals that would expose or absolve them from wrong doing,” Mzee Mwalui goes on to explain.
For instance, a suspected sorcerer would be asked to admit wrongdoing. If he was in denial the justice system would take its course.
In the first instance the suspect would be required to drink a mildly sickening herbal concoction “mwalola” (kulola in kitaita means to find, trace or locate something).
Upon taking mwalola the suspect would go into a state of delirium and would start uttering things.
One might call it obtaining a confession under duress in modern legal parlance, but the elders were very careful to ensure that someone was not victimized for nothing.
In the course of uttering things in a drunken stupor, the suspect would say for instance…"I admit it’s me who bewitched the daughter of so and so…It’s me who stole the goat of so and so"…That was enough to make the elders chart the next course of action.
“Usually the seers would summon strong youths in the dead of the night who dragged the suspect will-nilly to the “execution chambers, ” which were the high rocky cliffs “maghamba”.
The suspect would be sent tumbling down the rocks and would be reduced to a mass of flesh and broken bones” explains elder Mkilo.
He says social misfits were never given a decent burial. They were a pain in the neck of society.
In another case, especially for sorcery suspects, the elders would, if mwalola failed to extract a confession, use another powerful charm known as mghule. A suspect who uttered a false confession after drinking mghule would drop dead on the spot.
“This was the trickiest and most effective system given that in most cases those who were guilty offered to drink mghule and drop dead that suffer the painful death of being hurled down the cliffs” Mkilo explains.
But in some cases a person could be suspected of wrongdoing but prove innocence after going through the rituals .
“In such a case the elders had to cleanse their name by ordering the suspicious person to pay the suspect a bull or seven goats as atonement. The process was called "kuombochua” says the elder.
Such “execution chambers”, namely rocky cliffs, are scattered all over the otherwise picturesque Taita Hills, but those who visit the county to savour the beauty of the land may hardly know that the rocks they love and admire were once the “the hangman’s chambers” in traditional Taita justice system.
To date some broken bones of these victims can be found scattered at the foot of these cliffs but no one cares a hoot who they were from.
These rocky cliffs are found in Sagalla, Lwada falls, Shomoto, Wesu rock, Dembwa falls and Iyale rock.
Mwachora rock in Wundanyi, which derives its name from "mortuary" in local lingo is the most famous.
Mchombololo rock in Mbololo, sticking prominently at the bell of Mbololo hill, was also a major killing point for social misfits. The Mbololo area derives its name from the rock’s name.
Others are Ighamba jha Ndululu in Nyache village where a notorious witch, Ndululu, was executed and Lwala lwa Mwakuza in Choke village, where a thief called Mwakuza was killed.
An elder who requested anonymity said the traditional justice system was better that what we have now especially on dealing with issues of witchraft.
“The laws have no specific charges that can be brought before a suspect of sorcery, and most witches go scot free despite the fact that they are known to cause a lot of harm in the community. Most of them are free because there is hardly any evidence that can be used to charge them,” the elder laments, saying this has forced aggrieved people to lynch the suspects.
“In fact , the advent of Christianity has provided a shield for most witches and sorcerers to hide under a veil of “salvation” and still practice witchraft. Some of the church elders and staunch believers in
Christian religion still practice sorcery under the cover of religion and go scot free. This was not the case in Taita traditional society”
the elder says.