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Cave offers a peek into Maasai, Nandi battle

By Michael Chepkwony

It may be centuries old, but residents of Nandi still revere the sacred and secret cave in Tinderet District.

They believe some of the footprints in the cave named Ngabunat belonged to the gods, who their forefathers often sacrificed to to ask for mercy and protection.

To add to the tale of reverence and sanctity of the grounds, residents still hold onto the belief that water from one of the rocks heals. 

The word Ngabunat is Maasai and means sacred and secret.

About three hundred metres away from the large cave are hints to life decades ago. Fossils of elephant tusks and skeletons are found stuck to rocky surface.

Oral history has it there are mysterious powers in the cave.  One of the tea firms has taken upon itself to protect the grounds. Eastern Produce of Kenya says that the place has a rich history of migration and traditions, thus the need to protect it.

The tale of the elephant bones and tusks is often told to add to the mystery of the cave.

According to former Eastern Produce of Kenya Manager, Joseph Lagat Manjoy, folklore has it that the elephants were heading to a stream flowing from the cave where salty water springs. However, the jumbos could not manoeuvre away from the stream near the sacred cave.

“The elephants made rounds around the sacred cave and many died from thirst. They decomposed and we have some fossils lying here on the surface,” Manjoy explains.

War fortress

According to Kipchoge arap Chomu, a grandson of the legendary Koitalel Samoei, the cave offered protection to the Nandi community in two major historical phases.

First, around the 18th century, Maasai and Nandi scrambled for the sacred cave until when Maasai migrated. During the struggle, the Maasai hid their livestock in the cave before the Nandi overpowered them.

“Maasai used the cave as a fort, but later the Nandi took over and began hiding their animals especially during cultural cattle raiding,” Chomu explains.

Down the steep slope, one enjoys the scenery of beautiful landscape of hilly terrain covered by trees and bush.  A miscalculation can send one rolling to the feared huge gully lying below the cave.

Manjoy explains: “You cannot walk directly to the bottom because you can roll over to the bottom, which is dangerous since it is inhabited by snakes and other unknown wild animals.”

Down the rocky terrain, one gets to experience a cold breeze that carries the scent of flowers from indigenous trees and flower plants.

“Visitors come here to break away from the monotony of their environment. You get fresh air here and enjoy sounds from different birds and the spectacular flight of butterflies,” says Manjoy.

Above the entry to cave, there is an appealing waterfall of salty water that animals drink.

Chomu explains that the water from the roof of the cave have healing powers to livestock, wild animals and even people.

“Our grandfathers drove their cows to the water point if they suspected they were sick or wanted to keep them healthy.  People around this place still believe in the healing powers and bathe or drink the water from time to time,” Chomu says.

In addition, the cave has salt licks that provided livestock with adequate minerals.

The second phase of history, Chomu explains, was during the Nandi resistance against colonial rule. The residents in 1890 attacked the British soldiers and hid in the cave with their animals. Considering the terrain of the land, it was hard for the British soldiers to navigate.

“The Nandi were familiar with the place and applied guerrilla tactics to subdue their enemies,” explains Chomu.

Holy grounds

The Nandi warriors were buoyed by the spiritual and medical healing from the cave, he says.

“When a warrior sustained injuries, he drank the water and healed fast. The Nandi believed that the place was guarded by spirits of our gods,” he says.

Warriors and other Nandi people conducted worship rituals at the cave to appease the gods.

“The warriors faced numerous challenges and when they felt discouraged, they conducted rituals to re-energise themselves,” says Chomu.

The place is also covered with natural herbs that are used in treating various diseases and wounds.

“Herbs are readily available. It was significant during the resistance because injured warriors could treat themselves,” he says.

There are also wild fruits that include Takaimamik, Lamaonik and Chachonik among several other fruits.

Manjoy laments that the touristic site has not been fully utilised despite being accessible.

“This is a good place to relax. Resorts can be built and income generated. It can also be a good place for education on environmental conservation to prove that nature and people can exist well,” he said.

Additionally, Manjoy says, the waterfall can be tapped to generate electricity that can be used to serve residents and even beyond.