Monday, 5 November 2012
Ol Doinyo Ilgoon –the Unique Breast Mountain (Mount Elgon)
During our adventures on Mount Elgon as Kitale Museum staff, we decided to visit Mt. Elgon National Park and the caves like Makingeny, Chepnyalil, Ngwarisha and Kitum around the mountain. We were more interested in the Kitum cave because of the elephant story and the deadly Ebola Fever although the park has quite a number of caves. A guide took us through the park for educational purpose and for enjoyment.
He explained to us that, Mt. Elgon National Park is one of the protected areas managed by Kenya Wildlife Service, KWS which was established in 1990 to protect, maintain, and develop Kenya’s Natural Resources for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations of Kenyans and the people of the world. The Park is one of the National Parks in the Western Conservation Area and was named after Mount Elgon, an extinct shield volcano on the border of Uganda and Kenya.
Mt. Elgon was known as "Ol Doinyo Ilgoon" (Breast Mountain) by the Maasai and as "Masaba" on the Ugandan side. Mount Elgon was a mountain that remained the mountain of Wele Khakaba ‘Almighty God’ just like Mount Zion to the Jews. Mount Elgon was considered a shrine to Dini Musambwa followers and other shrines were in caves. ‘Dini ya Musambwa’ Religion of evil spirits whose founder was Elijah Masinde wa Nameme and his followers worshipped facing this mountain and offered sacrifices by slaughtering bulls, sheep and goats. This mountain was one of the shrines and sacred places that Masinde restored as a sacred site among his followers from the Abaluhyia (Ababukusu), Pokot, Iteso, Sabawaot, Nandi and Abagishu.
Traditionally, the Abagisu in Uganda, also known as the BaMasaba, consider Mount Elgon to be the embodiment of their founding father Masaba, and sometimes call the mountain by this name. Local people have long depended on forest produce and have made agreements with the park to continue to harvest resources such as bamboo poles and bamboo shoots a local delicacy called maleya or kamaleya among the Bamasaba people.
Mt. Elgon National Park is a trans-boundary natural resource shared between Kenya and Uganda. Being an ancient massif, early geological history of Mt. Elgon is as mysterious as its mist-shrouded peaks. Elgon's is one of the largest intact calderas in the world. Like other mountains in Eastern Africa, Mt. Elgon is part of the African Rift Valley, and pre-Cambrian bedrock of Trans Nzoia Plateau. The mountain is estimated to be over 14 million years old, even older than Mount Kilimanjaro. Over the years, the mountain lava has weathered at different rate forming a series of complete cliffs, caves, valleys, and jagged peaks. Layers of fertile soil due to weathering have supported different ethnic population from as early as middle stone age. The area has experienced waves of migratory population forming a cosmopolitan culture of nearly all ethnic groups found in Kenya.
The National Park was established around Mount Elgon to conserve the mountains resource in their natural state and thus preserve a globally unique area for the enjoyment of people of the world. Due to the variety of some of the species found on Mt. Elgon, its bio-diversity also warranted national and world protection. Mount Elgon is recognized for its importance as a water tower for Lake Victoria, Lake Turkana, River Nile, and habitats. Mount Elgon is traditionally important to the people living around it who harvest forest products and medicine herbs. One of the floras of Mt. Elgon National Park is Afro-alpine giant and shivering bamboo forest. Mt. Elgon National Park being a forested ecosystem that does not host a huge population and diversity of animals compared to many savannah habitats.
However, a number of animals do abound and some are even endangered and rare, including Maathai’s Longleg an endangered dragonfly that was discovered there in 2000 and named after Nobel Prize winner Wangari Mathaai, Black and White Colobus (Colobus guereza) and Blue Monkey (Cercopithecus mitis elgonis), the endangered Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus) and African Goshawk (Accipiter tachiro)
While we were approaching the Kitum cave, which lies on the slopes of Mt. Elgon, we were so frightened but eager to learn about the elephants and the salt story. Kitum Cave is well known because this is the only place in the world where elephants go underground into the caves at night to scrap the cave walls with their tusks and eat salts the rocks contain. The vegetation in the forest is low in sodium so they come there to satisfy their salt need.
Other animals including bushbuck, buffalo and hyenas come to kitum cave to consume salt left by the elephants. The cave is well known when it was featured in the book ‘The Hot Zone’ of Marburg Hemorrhagic Fever. This is a close cousin to Ebola Fever being contracted there. It is believed in the 1980s, visitors contracted Marburg virus and even some got sick and died after visiting the cave. Although causes have been minimal but mortality rate of anyone catching it has been 100 percent.
Compiled by Kitale Museum Librarian