December 6, 2022

Back in time needs to be preserved in Tana River

Former MP Danson Mungtana listening to a relative of the centenarian Mumba Bajila, 109 flanked by another family member in a white cap. Photo by Courtesy


On Thursday, July 8, 2021 after court, I had a most amazing visit to our oldest lady, mkuu jwa mabongolo, in Garsen.

Her name is Mumba Bajila and relatives say she is about 109 years old. Though old, her memory is still good and intact to tell me of the days of yore before Christianity and Islam came to our land.

She said that the land was good, so beautiful and productive. People were not many and even angels used to visit humans once in a while.

She personally encountered a tall, brown and very handsome mature man, big like a giant but not threatening as she was digging. She asked his name and he disappeared. She went back to village and told everyone about it. People told her it was an angel.

According to her there was no sima (maize meal) or ninko (bananas) or mafuha (cooking oi) but instead there was makolo (water lilies), kala or nkaa (its flowers) and maduga (its roots).

“These were bitter so you had to mix with crushed nisu (local fish) to get to eat it. It was delicious,” she reminisces.

Former Garsen MP and assistant minister Danson Mungatana enjoy light moments and living history with Mama Mumba Bajila believed to be 109 years old reminiscing the coming of Arabs and Islam in Tana River County. Photo by Courtesy


Then, deep from her heart she sang songs rich in history and culture for us about some old Hayes (leaders) called Nifwe of Baomo village, another Gayoye of Mnazini village and Barisa Dhidha of Kitere also known as Nkozi village. She remembered others like Komora Chalalu.

She told us if someone stole your crop, you report to the Haye and punishment would be severe. There was even death punishment for severe crimes such as murder.

“You could be killed by being tired with ropes and thrown into River Tana where its roughest (kumijwa/kumiywa ne Kijo) and you were deemed to have been swallowed by the Kijo.”

She said that Kijo and Wagangana were the feared people who used to punish bad behaviour but Kijo was also a leader.

They would go dancing in the forest on alternate occasions and come before the Gasa with any information or decision. They used to follow the Ngaji (talking drums).

The ‘living library’ says when the Arabs came, they shaved her hair and told her to say shahada (confession of the Muslim faith) and she was told that she had become a Muslim.


After that many people became Muslims and the Arabs said that Ngaji and all the things they did was haram (wrong) and slowly their old way of life disappeared. 

To get married, the boy must get uki (honey) and make fermented drink which he would take to the in laws as dowry. It was a joyous occasion where people danced the whole night.

Fights between Pokomo villages were settled under a tree with the slaughter of an animal and people sharing the meat as a sign of peace. However, these were not as serious as the fighting between the Karaji and Pokomo.

The mentally ill were treated without mercy or empathy. They would be given some herbs and some drums beaten to a certain rhythm which is believed would turn them into Ngojama (some mysterious creatures) and they would be taken to the forest to die there.

In death you would be washed then buried. The Pokomo did not burn their dead like Indians or throw them into the river. There would be a short, sombre ceremony sending the dead with greetings to our forefathers and the ‘living dead’ before them.

I believe that I may have missed many other things but if a project is well funded to collect and preserve the history of all the communities and clans of Tana River County, it would be great for us and the generations to come.

We should have a proper County museum to preserve our history and artifacts. This museum will charge a reasonable gate fee for sustaining its activities. Thus, the Swahili saying, muacha mila ni mtumwa.

(Edited by Mwakera Mwajefa)

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