The Mugumo Fig Tree of Kenya

Mugumo is the name of a special sacred tree known to the Kikuyu community and many others in Kenya. Its name was inherited from the ancestors, and the ancestors inherited it from their ancestors.

For some reason, the holiness of this tree has survived the ages. Even a cultural invasion by foreigners -which Mugo Wa Kibiro prophesied about and influenced the dress code of the natives and gave them a foreign language- didn’t destroy the sacredness of the Mugumo tree. Several theories have evolved about this indigenous tree.

Some natives believe that going around this tree seven times would automatically change one’s sex. But no one has ever experienced this transformation. Others believe spirits of the ancestors and the living dead hover around this tree. In fact some have claimed to have heard and recognized voices of departed relatives.

Mugumo is a rare tree found only in big forests like Mount Kenya. The Kikuyu community inhabiting the slopes of mount Kirinyaga, which has since been renamed Mount Kenya, considers this tree their shrine. They use it to commemorate their land’s independence.

All in all, it holds significant memories. Memories acquired by a long life span that has outlived many ancestors. The Mugumo tree, having survived centuries, makes it the only existing tomb for the ancient heroes of this land. Maybe their spirits too are hovering around it giving the tree its sacred importance and hence its special cultural importance.

It’s under this tree that Mugo wa Kibiro prophesied and made his home. He prophesied for many years. He never at any time prophesied that one would suffer poverty if one didn’t pay their tithes, as our now adopted religion professes. Neither did he prophesy riches if you give freely, but he did prophesy about the cultural influences of modernized foreigners that would come to Kenya long after he would be joined with his ancestors.

In a vision, he saw a long snake that was moving from the seacoast toward the land of kirinyaga. At intervals it stopped to vomit and swallow beautiful pale butterflies.
The natives had been fascinated by the butterflies and as they admired them, tried to not only to understand them, but also copy their ways of dressing.

Women saw how they could conceal their bare chests with blouses and replace the lesos wrapped around their waists with skirts. The men wore trousers and shirts. They learned from these butterflies that it was evil to be nude, hence giving them a chance to move onto another stage of development. By the time the people of kirinyaga realized their mistakes of admiring the butterflies it was too late. The larvae had already formed and the number of butterflies increased so much that all they could do was watch. And all that they had inherited from their ancestors disappeared and they were left with nothing. But not completely nothing; they learned and adopted a new language.

Mugo wa Kibiro, despite being a great prophet could not comprehend the vision, but he had one role; to pass it to the people. He rose before the birds started their morning glory and held his horn over his mouth and passed his message to the whole village.

The people of Kirinyaga woke up amazed. They had heard many prophecies but this one was strange and for some reason scary. Yet their prophet could not interpret the vision. They believed him however and they waited and waited even after Mugo wa Kibiro had peacefully joined the ancestors of the land. The prophecy was passed on to their children, who grew up and passed it on to their children, who had also passed it on to their children and on it went.

Decades passed before the butterflies started arriving and lost in confusion the natives did not realize that it was only the beginning of things to come. At first just a few butterflies explored and tried to discover the parts of Kirinyaga, which produced the juiciest flowers.
Then the torch bearers who claimed to have seen the sunlight better than anybody and in fact had a chance to also touch the son of the sun, surprised the natives by their willingness to share their secrets of how to reach the son of the sun which could replace the dim moonlight of the land. For sure the land became brighter. The snake passage was constructed which before long was used for journeys from the seacoast to Kirinyaga and back, while stopping at several stations to vomit its occupants and swallow more as well.

Symbols of his vision: Snake is a train. Torchbearers are Christian missionaries and butterflies are the white foreigners

The natives had been consumed with fear when they realized the honeymoon period was over. A whip was used when anybody tried to go beyond the Mugumo tree, which was out of bounds to him and his likes. Some areas were reserved for the butterflies and for their protection the natives were forbidden access to these places.

It was then that they recalled that their forefathers warned them to be wary of the butterflies. Still they kept waiting for the butterflies without thinking beyond. How naive!

The land of Kirinyaga, which had once been filled with the presence of nature, had undergone a transformation, except the Mugumo tree. Its nature wasn’t altered in any way, perhaps due to the living spirits of the ancestors.

The beautiful thatched huts with bulrushes that were plastered with red and white clay had been replaced with houses built with timber or stones and roofed with iron sheets.
The religion of the natives was to kneel down while facing Mount Kirinyaga where their god Ngai dwelt. Ngai was their provider of rain, food, children and divine health. He would respond to them through thunder, lightening or wind. This religion underwent a metamorphic process. In fact evidence of this religion was completely erased.

The natives would now rise at dawn and holding a cross fixed to a small chain that was donated through the generosity of the holy father, would recite prayers. They of coarse had no knowledge as to why they were holding a cross. Neither did they understand a word they recited for they only followed what they were taught.

Their original lifestyle had not been spared by these changes. The young ones went to school to be taught that it’s evil to steal, cheat, kill, disobey others and that righteousness is to love, to give abundantly, to obey and to respect others.

But did the foreign teachers who taught them these things lead by example?


The picture for this story was used with the courtesy of <a href=””></a>.

September 20th, 2004 by