10 Things You Didn't Know About Kenya

Publish On: 10 months ago

There are strange places in Kenya most travel itineraries never showcase. Some are only heard of in local folklore. Places of deep mystery that hitherto, continue to puzzle the few who chance upon them. In this article, I share ten that will astound you. They may probably even ignite your fire of off-the-beaten-path adventure.

1. The Archaeoastronomical Site of Namoratunga

The Nasura Pillar Site, registered as GcJh3 and also known as Namoratunga II, is an archaeological site on the west side of Lake Turkana in Kenya dating to the Pastoral Neolithic. Namoratunga means "people of stone" in the Turkana language. Just like the Stonehenge, in the UK, it is as mystrious as its origin.

Namoratunga, which dates back to 300 BC, is also believed to be an archaeoastronomical site because of the way the 19 pillars found here, lean in different directions aligned with the 7 star systems of Triangulum, Pleiades, Bellatrix, Aldebaran, Central Orion, Saiph and Sirius. The pillars are surrounded by an equally mystical ring of stones numbering over 20,000.

Initially, it was thought Namoratunga could be a burial site because at Namoratunga II the upright stones, like those in Namoratunga I, encircled an ancient grave. Further investigation at Namoratunga II indicated the pillars here were arranged in an unusual pattern unconnected with any other burials.

But in 1978 when Mark Lynch suggested to the world that the 19 megaliths were aligned to the 7 cosmic constellations, Namoratunga took a whole new significance. He even suggested they may correspond to a 12-month 354-day lunar calendar known to have been in use among the Cushitic speakers of southern Ethiopia, hence the reason, he felt, the pillars may have been a form of a calendar. 

2. The Haunted Pillar of Mbaraki

Standing almost 50 FT tall and considered the second oldest monument after Fort Jesus, the 300-year-old Mbaraki Pillar is one of the most controversial sites on the Kenya Coast. Historians and archaeologists have never been able to agree on what purpose it served in the ancient world. Some say it may have been an early form of the lighthouse while others insist it may have been used for other purposes.

Local folklore tells of an Arab spirit that resides within its walls. The spirit possesses powerful magical healing abilities. Women are known to travel from far to perform fertility rituals at the base of the pillar in the hope of bearing children. The sick also leave offerings here in the belief they will get cured. Truly one of the strange places in Kenya

3. The Shape-shifting Swamp of Ondiri

Ondiri Wetland or Ondiri Swamp is a protected wetland and peatbog that is the source of the Nairobi River near Kikuyu, Kenya in Kiambu County.  

Nothing prepares you for the experience you get at Ondiri. The swamp has been considered a wonder of nature by many who have visited. The area around the swamp has this wobbly feel to it that gives you the sensation of sinking into the bosom of mother earth as you walk around. It is such a surreal yet eerie experience you are very likely never going to forget any time soon!

Ondiri Swamp qualifies as one of those strange places in Kenya deeply shrouded in myth and mystery. Listening to locals speak, it is difficult to tell reality from fiction. There have been strange stories of people sinking into the swamp and their bones found either in Mombasa, Naivasha or Nakuru – but then those are just stories you say.

Ondiri is the only quaking bog in the country and the second deepest wetland in Africa after Doula in Cameroon. Why it is not yet a listed wonder of national importance is a puzzle.

4. The Indestructible Koma Rock

Travelling eastwards of Nairobi gave way to loneliness and unspoilt views of Ukambani. The sun bathing the plains with a warm radiance creats elusive mirages, further and further ahead until you hit the sleepy town of Koma.

At the famous Koma Rock, considered a shrine by many since time immemorial, Kamba elders journeyed from far to offer sacrifices to their gods at a designated shrine known locally as Ithembo. There, they would also pray for rain and for protection from plagues.

Engineers, in 1970, constructing the Kangundo-Nairobi highway, wanted to move the shrine so that the road could pass through the hill. This sparked a furious protest from the Kamba elders. After an appeasement sacrifice comprising of a bag of sugar and two goats, the elders finally agreed to move the shrine to another part of the hill.

That did not work. After a long and hard struggle to put up the road, the engineers finally had to abandon the route. It seemed a strange unknown power prevented the blasting of the rock.

Today, the abandoned murram road is still visible from the top of the hill as it meanders through the Koma rock plains towards the city. Nowadays, the shrine belongs to the Catholic Church, which has turned it into a site for pilgrimages.

5. The Cryptic Writings of Matsigulu Rock

Matsigulu is a locality in Kenya and has an elevation of 1,670 metres. Matsigulu is situated northwest of Gisambai, and west of Kibagara in Vihiga County.

6. The Terrible Fly of Ukasi Rock

Ukasi Rock, a towering rock boulder rising about 20-25 M in height, might not be much of a tourist attraction until you pair it with a very rare breed of wingless fly only endemic to these parts known as the Frightful Hairy Fly (Mormotomyia hirsuta).

First described by entomologist E.E. Austen in 1936, the Frightful Hairy Fly, also commonly called the Terrible Hairy Fly, is considered the rarest known fly in the world so that just spotting one is considered a lifetime achievement!

While a spotting is rare enough, taking a photo of the Frightful Hairy Fly is considered the stuff of legend – even we do not have a photo of one. In fact the one on this article has been used with permission from the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.

The best time to visit and raise chances of a sighting, going by the timings of all expeditions made to the site so far, seems to be during the rainy season. The fly is a remarkable sight to see.

Its unusual features, including its reduced eyes and fore-wings and enormously long legs covered in immensely long hairs that it uses as a parachute to drift down from the roof of crevices at Ukasi Rock, make it an entomological treasure.

The long legs also allow the fly to move in quick, spider-like movements over the thick bat guano accumulations. There is fear that the Frightful Hairy Fly may be facing possible extinction.

This is why, through the efforts of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) and the National Museums of Kenya, the area around Ukasi Rock was recently declared a protected site and a national monument.

While at Ukasi, you can get the extra bonus of spotting bats in the crevices. Some of the crevices are large enough to be small caves. Grab the opportunity as well to take in great views of the surrounding scenery from the top of Ukasi Hill.

When the Frightful Hairy Fly was first discovered at Ukasi Rock in 1933 by Major H.B. Sharpe, then District Commissioner of the larger Garissa district, he talked of seeing the flies ‘floating’ from above like feathers in a spiral pattern.

Since then numerous expeditions have set-off for the rock and only 2 have succeeded in spotting the fly in its typical locality in a bat roost wedged into a split boulder at the top of the rock.

The first visit since Sharpe’s discovery was on November 30th. A second expedition was made to the site in February 8-9 2010 to gather rock samples for geological characterisation of the Ukasi Rock boulder and to explore within the large cleft.

A third expedition was conducted in April 21st 2011, when the long rains would normally have begun. Ukasi nowadays has many other issues to grapple with besides the mystical fly, including insecurity from Somali banditry but it still remains a fascinating place you can visit. You never know, your proverbial 5 minutes of glory may be waiting for you.

7. The Haunted Crater of Menengai

Menengai Crater is not only the largest caldera in Kenya it is also the biggest in the world. An extinct volcano, it offers striking views of Lake Nakuru and Lake Bogoria. At the crater, a controversial cave draws tourists by stories of strange happenings. Many are convinced that this is a haunted place.

A number of strange things supposedly happen in the crater. One of them is the mysterious disappearance of people. Another is people losing direction for hours or even days. When their relatives find them, they appear to be in a trance.

Historians say Menengai Crater was once the scene of violent battles between the Laikipia and the Ilpurko Maasai. The Laikipia Maasai did not recognise the authority of the Laibon, the spiritual leader of the Maasai. In one battle, the Ilpurko threw the latter into the caldera. Perhaps it is the souls of these unfortunate warriors that haunts visitors.

8. The Skull Caves of Taita

The Taita Skull Caves showcase the spectacular outcome of a strange, ancient burial culture practised among the Wasagalla, Wadawida and Wakasigau people. These communities inhabited Taita Hills for centuries before Christianity arrived.

Important people underwent normal burials – but only for a year. Afterwards, it would get strange. The community would exhume their bodies and sever their skulls from the rest of the body. They would take them to a sacred cave to bury them ‘properly’ among the ancestors. You will not find this practice going on today but the caves still exist to date and considered sacred.

Unlike the Romans who buried their dead in whole in catacombs, the Taita only buried skulls in caves. Historians believe this practice went on until the beginning of the 20th century. Then early Christian missionaries began to arrive in Kenya. The caves along with their ancient assets remain a highly revered symbol of the Taita culture.

9. The Milky Curse of Marafa Depression

Marafa Depression also goes by the name the Devil’s Kitchen or Nyari, which means ‘The Place Broken by Itself’. An outstanding site of stalactites and stalagmites formed on limestone rock due to internal geological forces of denudation. This unique ridge of amazing gorges and gullies provides a beautiful landscape to behold. Some compare it to Bison and Arizona’s grand canyon in the United States. Local folklore tells of a family destroyed by God for their extravagant lifestyle. At the expense of their poor neighbours, the family would bathe with the surplus milk they produced. This they did while their neighbours watched in desperation. So God sent an earthquake that swallowed them. That is why the stones of Nyari spot a flamboyant milky white colour.

10. The Death Rock of Shomoto

The Taita excelled at the art of inflicting maximum pain to wayward members of the community. At the cliffs of Shomoto Hill, for instance, suspected thieves would plunge to their deaths, aided by family members, as a last act of punishment. Sometimes they would have their fingers pounded to a pulp, tied to a tree on the cliff’s edge and left for dead. A similar thing would happen at Mwachora but specifically for suspected sorcerers.

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