Hope Mafaranga and Rogers Sunday
This is part I of Saturday Vision's project aimed at sensitising people about the strange phenomenon of cannibalism.
It may not be physically proved as existing but its impact is beyond something you can ignore. People are killed, evicted and looted at a mere allegation and civil authorities are at a loss on how they can handle the situation. For a whole month, we shall bring you a series of what is happening in seven districts.
You may brush it off as an old silly talk to scare crying babies, but cannibalism today is ranking up there among rural evils threatening village cohesion, harmony and fuelling mob justice.
Allegations, reprisals, evictions, police cases and public confessions of cannibals abound in many societies of Uganda.
Saturday Vision visited the districts of Kyenjojo, Kabalore, Hoima, Masindi, Isingiro, Mbale and Buikwe to establish first hand, the possible existence of cannibalism in modern day. These stories will run every Saturday for the next month.
On May 25, a two year old child, Juliet Giramyu, passed away. She was the fourth to die of unclear causes in Kamandindi village in Ngwedo sub-county, Buliisa district.
According to the district crime intelligence officer, Deo Zakumumpa, the relatives of the four deceased people met and agreed to contribute money and hire a witch doctor to explain their problems.
“A witchdoctor called Salume from Pakwach in Nebbi told them a woman called Asinati Malenia, 50, was the one killing and eating them,” Zakumumpa narrated.
“They wanted to storm her house but as Police, we advised to leave it to us. On September 5, we searched Malenia’s house and found a smoked human foot in a bucket believed to belong to the late Giramyu. We arrested Malenia, who confessed to being a cannibal. She said she was not born a cannibal but became one three years ago. But she could not tell how she became one.”
Zakumumpa disclosed that they also arrested Annet Anirwoth, 30, and Gladys Arombo, 19, because they were Malenia’s colleagues who were found with her at the time of arrest to help them with investigations. Anirwoth and Arombo have denied being cannibals.
“We are considering DNA tests for the smoked foot and blood sample of Giramyu’s mother, Jessica Akumu to ascertain whether it belonged to the deceased baby. We shall also visit the grave to ascertain whether the body is there or not. We are still expecting a police surgeon from Kampala,” he said.
The CID boss warned residents not to tamper with the grave to distort evidence.
Residents say such cases are rife in Sonsyo and Walukuba sub-counties.
Residents of Karambi sub-county evicted Tereza and destroyed her gardens in February, after accusing her of cannibalism. It was said Tereza had previously been evicted from Kooki and Kyaggwe
Ugandans eating people
In Kyenjojo, there areas like Kyarusozi, Kisenyi and Katooke said to have been notoriously dangerous until recently when the religion of Owobusobozi Bisaaka launched a war on cannibalism.
In Kabalore, places like Kabusoke, Kagore, Nyabwina and Kanyasi were visited and the habit still goes on. In Isingiro, Katoma, Nyamarungo, Endizi, Mbare, Kyanyanda, Rwangabo, Kihanda, Rugaaga and Bukanga were mentioned. In Masindi, Kilannyi, Kisabagwa and Kisanja were visited.
In Buganda, Kyaggwe (Buikwe, Mukono) is largely believed to be the home of night dancing and the Butiko clan, patrons of a dance in Kabaka’s court known as Amaggunju, is pointed at as the originators of night dancing.
However, night dancing of a cannibalistic nature is more reported in Buluuli county where, people are still warned never to walk alone after night fall.
In Uganda, the Lord's Resistance Army are also accused of routine ritual or magical cannibalism. Children returning from the LRA rebel camps told how they were forced at gunpoint to drink the blood of murdered victims.
The cannibalism book
In October 2011, Prof Heike Behrend and others published a shocking book on cannibalism in Uganda based on a long and intensive ﬁeldwork in Toro area. The book, Resurrecting Cannibals; The Catholic Church, Witch-Hunts and the Production of Pagans in Western Uganda, offers first hand incidents of crusades, exorcisms, cleansing and the afterlives of ex cannibals, uses the African spiritual relationship between body, food and society to reconstruct a pre-colonial cosmology of consumption and digestion.
Behrend, the professor of Anthropology and African Studies at the University of Cologne, Germany, also explains how cannibalism draws on both pre-Christian ideas and church dogma of the bodily resurrection and the ritual of Holy Communion. His co-author, James Currey, is also the author of Alice Lakwena and the Holy Spirits (1999), and co-editor of Spirit Possession, Modernity and Power in Africa (1999)
According to the book, Toro cannibals are witches: they bewitch people who die only to be resurrected and eaten. The cannibals are however being diminished by a lay movement of the Catholic Church, the Uganda Martyrs Guild (UMG), which organizes witch-hunts to cleanse the country. Other forces in the fight are Owobusobozi Bisaka, the Seventh Day Adventists and the many Pentecostal churches.
A visit to a suspected cannibal
It is 8: 30am. I arrived at Rwimi town council offices and inquired from the secretary if I could see the LC III chairman. She asked why and I told her I was pursuing a cannibalism story.
One of the women who was waiting for Abel Ngomayondi, the Rwimi town council chairman, exclaimed in bewilderment: “Are you sure you want to meet cannibals? Be careful, you may end up in their bellies. In fact in my village Nyabwina there is a man called Africano Katwigi. That man has really eaten people in this area!” She said.
Katwigi denied the allegations before sending away Saturday Vision reporters
The woman, whose name is Annette Kabasinguzi, continued to narrate how, in May this year, Katwigi ate one of her neighbour’s child and the residents rose up, attacked his family and chopped his daughter, Angela Mary Arinaitwe, to near-death.
“If you insist on going there, make sure you don’t enter his house. If you do, sit near the door and make sure you change the chair from its original location. That is a tip for your safety.”
Kabasinguzi also advised me not to go alone. “Your family may never see you again. In fact New Vision will come here to write about you when you go missing. If I was your parent, I would not allow you to go there alone,” she pleaded.
That is why I called my colleague, Rogers Sunday, to accompany me.
Before we left, Kabasinguzi gave us a brief. Cannibals, she explained, do not eat a live person. “They use witchcraft to ‘kill’ their targeted victims. The victim’s dead body remains sweating and soft and you can see clearly that the dead body is active but the hospital will insist that the victim is dead.”
She also advised us not to eat anything they give us. “For us, even if someone dies in that family, we just go and burry but we do not eat or drink anything from there. And even when they greet us we don’t respond,” she said.
Ngomayondi, the LC III Rwimi town council added that in May 2006 when he first came to Rwimi, cannibalism was so rampant and common.
“It has not really stopped despite the prayers and sensitization of the communities,” he said. “My first shock was when we buried one of the residents and in the following morning the grave had sank in. I stopped being the doubting Thomas.”
Ngomayondi also knew about Africano, whom the residents were accusing of being a cannibal. He said he has ever taken a Charismatic group from Virika and Yerya parishes to pray for Africano’s family so that they can stop eating people.
“The Charismatic people prayed and cast out the demon of eating people from Africano’s family. It was not easy. I had police to keep law and order because I knew people would turn violent and kill the whole family,” he added.
“We even carried out an operation in Kabusoke, Kagore, Nyabwina and Kanyasi, and discovered human bones and fresh human meat from some homes,” he said. “We burnt them and arrested the culprits. Can you imagine you die and people follow you into your grave and eat your fresh?” he asked.
Ngomoyondi said that originally, the habit was extremely common among the Bakonzo but now the Bakiga have been recruited into the practice and are becoming the masters instead.
William Kenya showing one of the houses that was demolished after residents suspected the owner of cannibalism.
William Kenya, the LC 1 chairman of Kagore said that, recently, one of the girls he did not want to name, went crazy and started shouting: “They are going to eat me! They are going to eat me!” Locals suspected one of the old woman identified as Gladys to be behind the girl’s madness.
They arrested and forced Gladys to touch the girl. She got healed instantly.
“That was proof she was a cannibal. Gladys was chased from the village and her house was demolished.”
At first, Joyce Mbabazi, 30, did not want to tell me her story. Later she opened up and narrated, in between tearful break downs, how her three children collapsed and died suddenly in less than 10 minutes. It was in 2003. She believes her children were eaten by the cannibals.
“I was in the kitchen,” she said. “A strong wind with a lot of dust blew and covered my kids. I rushed to rescue them but by the time the dust settled, the kids started dropping off to death one after the other. Blood was oozing from both their nose and mouth.
"I wailed and my neighbours came. We rushed them to a nearby clinic where they were all pronounced dead. The doctor said all the hearts of the three children were not beating,” she said.
For three days, neighbours were arguing over whether the kids should be buried or not.
“They did not look like dead people. They looked fresh throughout and would sometimes sweat. I insisted on not burying them until, without cause, I dropped unconscious. When I gained my senses, burial preparations had begun. To my surprise, one day after the burial, the soil of all the three graves had sank in. The coffin had been removed. I now know that we live in a dirty environment,” she says.
Monday Simpiriyo said his was a lucky survival. His wife kept dreaming about Veneranda, Africano’s wife and Angela Mary Arinaitwe, Africano’s daughter.
“I married her in April 2007 but we could not get peace. My wife was changing into something strange. She kept on shouting that Veneranda and Arinaitwe were calling her,” he said.
"My family lost four people and their bodies were removed from the grave. Africano must have eaten them. When Africano’s family was attached, Veneranda confessed that she trained her children in eating people. We found in his house clothes that my uncle, who died during that time, was buried in! What more evidence do you need?”
Face to face with Africano
When we arrived at Africano’s home in Nyabwina, he was milking his cows. Arinaitwe, the daughter who was beaten to near death when his home was attacked, was seated on the veranda with other relatives. His wife, Veneranda, invited us to enter the house but we refused. We had been advised not to.
Arinaitwe's arm was broken and her left thumb chopped off
Africano was restless and looked scared. We introduced ourselves to him saying we had come to verify allegations that his family was accused of cannibalism. He denied.
“I have lived here since 1972. These people saying I eat their dead relatives just don’t like me! I have a big land and cows …,”
We asked him about how he feels as an innocent victim of mob justice with no civil authority ready to protect or assist him but before he could finish his statement, a boy who looked about 10 years showed up with an urgent argument question for her aunt: “Aunt!” He inquired loudly, “is it true that human flesh is best with sweet potatoes?”
He was chased away by one of the women who were seated with Arinaitwe.
Africano kept quiet for a while before resuming his denial of being the cannibal. When we asked what the boy’s question meant, he asked us to leave and if we had any more questions, take them to police.
Eriya Elepot, the office in charge of Rwimi police station, said they get two cases of cannibalism every month but they have learnt not to follow them up because it wastes time.
“It is hard to get evidence for such cases because the law is silence about witchcraft and cannibals,” he said.
Businge Rusoke Victoria, MP, Kabarole District
I condemn cannibalism but I also equally condemn mob justice. The last allegation of cannibalism in my constituency was four months ago.
Unfortunately, I was at parliament. But I was told some people accused others of cannibalism and without a trial, the suspects were evicted, property destroyed, houses erased and animals killed. There is a group of people who call themselves Abasabi, they pray for people complaining of strange illnesses.
They sometimes point out to ‘cannibals’ and the community, without investigation, acts on the suspects without proof. What hurts me is that the entire family suffers whether true or false. I want to thank the Isaazi Ly’abakuru elders who acted early and saved the suspects this last time.
The problem of cannibalism needs the collective efforts of leaders like religious leaders, the media, and masses because it is not only happening in Kabarole alone. It exists even in other parts of the country.
Abel Ngomayondi, the LC III Rwimi town council chairman
Cannibals use salt, water, food and visit people in their dreams recruiting them into the practice. They pound human fresh and mix it with salt, water and food and give it to their unsuspecting neighbours.
They then follow them with herbs to make them start dreaming and getting appetite for human fresh. I am told they do this mostly at parties or funerals. The more they are, the safer their group will be. So to get large numbers into the practice, they target parties or funerals.