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The mystical River Mayanja

By Vision Reporter

Added 9th June 2013 05:43 PM

Legend has it that River Mayanja was born of a Muganda woman called Nalongo. Questions abound whether the river is really supernatural, as there are claims that it has healing powers? Elvis Basudde explores the myths behind its formation.

The mystical River Mayanja

Legend has it that River Mayanja was born of a Muganda woman called Nalongo. Questions abound whether the river is really supernatural, as there are claims that it has healing powers? Elvis Basudde explores the myths behind its formation.

 

SUNDAY VISION

Legend has it that River Mayanja was born of a Muganda woman called Nalongo. Questions abound whether the river is really supernatural, as there are claims that it has healing powers? Elvis Basudde explores the myths behind its formation.

River Mayanja is still known as the magic river in Buganda. It is found at Wamiko near Busunju trading centre in Kiboga district, 56km on the Kampala-Hoima Road. The river traverses the borders of Wakiso, Mpigi, Kyankwanzi and Nakaseke districts.

The torrent, which suddenly cut a deep division between the big counties of Busiro and Singo, is believed to have been born of a Muganda woman called Nalongo. There are many people who believe that the river is supernatural and “feeds” on human beings.

To be truthful, heavy floods must have been the cause of what happened at Wamiko in December 1967. People from all over the country still visit the place to stare in wonderment. They offer money, goats and chicken, among other gifts.

Those who visit the river drink the water and say they feel better afterwards. In what seems to be a sign of superstition, some Baganda say “the river shares our grief.”

THE BIRTH OF MAYANJA

Shrines along River Mayanaja.

Narrating the myth surrounding River Mayanja’s formation, Mzee Dereva Masaka, 85, claims that when Nalongo’s time to deliver was due, she happened to be at Wamiko, where the bridge lies today. She knelt and gave birth to twins, who immediately turned into twin rivers — River Mayanja (Wasswa) and River Nasabye (Kato). Locals refer to Masaka as one of the most effective traditional medicine men in Uganda. He was born in Rwanda in 1928 and his father was a great healer who initiated him into local herbal treatment.

Masaka left Rwanda when he was 29 years old because of political reasons. He fi rst went to Tanzania in 1957, and later came to Uganda in 1960. He has since lived here. He has four children in Tanzania, three in Rwanda and three in Uganda, with a number of grandchildren. “There was a time when Nalongo came during the floods and said: ‘Nze maama wamwe Nalongo, njagala kuyitawo’ (I am your mother and I want to pass),” Masaka says, adding that immediately the waters would give way, and the woman would pass.

“After that, it flooded again,” he says. After Nalongo disappeared, Masaka claims to have seen a crocodile and a python. He, however, cannot tell where the woman came from or where she disappeared to. Up to now, Nalongo’s whereabouts are not known.

Yet again, Masaka, who has lived in the area for over 50 years, switches to an account that seems more realistic. He says he witnessed what took place during the formation of the river. He notes that on December 16, 1967, at about midday, water came pouring from Mayanja River, somewhere around

Nateete in Kyadondo county and settled on the Kampala-Hoima Road, adding that it fl owed higher than the electricity poles.

The water surged on the road for five days before subsiding. It left behind  papyrus, fi sh, small animals and furniture it had carried along,” Masaka narrates. He says while it flowed, the river swept away coffee factory machinery, which were found later in the village of Kabula Muliro, two-and-a-half miles away. Masaka says it took the public works department, now Ministry of Works, over fi ve months to clear the road. And then it took a whole month, working day and night, to construct a temporary bridge around the place.

Most people believed that it was impossible to build a permanent bridge across the river. They argued that the newly constructed bridge would be easily swept away by the full might of the river. “The water will return and sweep the bridge away,” they would say. Masaka explains that passengers along this road had to get out of the buses and cross the bridge on foot. Lorries also had to be offloaded and the merchandise carried across the bridge, although there was an alternative route to Hoima via  Mityana.

THE RIVER THAT SWALLOWS?

The nightmare that engulfed the country following a tragedy on River Mayanja is still fresh in the minds of many people. Four doctors of Mulago Hospital and a senior nurse drowned in the river on March 29, 1998, when the car they were travelling in plunged into it. The bridge crossing the river had been swept away by the floods. That was the time when Uganda was experiencing the torrential El-Nino rains that destroyed bridges across the country.

The four doctors who were coming from an introduction ceremony of their colleague in Hoima, were Dr. Michael Ssempa and his wife Dr. Catherine Ssempa, Dr. Francis Xavier Mubiru and Dr. James Nalumenya. Although the court ruled that the doctors perished due to the negligence of the Police who did not warn motorists or block the road and divert travellers, Masaka relates their death to the mysterious ‘swallowing’ river. “Omuga guno gumira bumizi,” (This river simply swallows). He says the day the bridge was swept away, it had not rained, but the ‘angry’ water flooded from nowhere and destroyed the bridge. He claims to have retrieved many bodies of people who drowned in the river, including the five medical workers.

“Whenever Nalongo, the mother to the river, gets annoyed, the river swells abnormally and causes destruction, suffering and death. Doctors were not the first to drown, people have been dying in the river, although many times, the cases are not reported in the papers,” Masaka says.

The bridge defies popular belief

The bridge at River Mayanja where the doctors died

Although the residents had predicted that the current bridge would not last for a week, it has remained intact ever since it was constructed. There are no economic activities that take place around the river like fishing or transport because it has been eaten up by papyrus and other shrubs.

The source of the river near the bridge continues to be a centre of attraction. There are two shrines along the bridge and lots of people still visit the source to drink water under the belief that they will be healed of their ailments and cleansed. “Businessmen and barren couples throng the river source to solve their problems. They come and make sacrifices and ask for whatever they want. But before you come, you must have got obubaka (message) from the ancestors. When you come, I lead you to the place,” Masaka says.

 

The mystical River Mayanja

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