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Giant serpent from Lake Victoria that birthed Mumbo cult

 Vision of the giant snake in 1913 marked the beginning of Mumboism which spread fast in parts of Nyanza and Kisii. [iStockphoto]

It started like a joke when the apparition of a giant serpent slithering out of Lake Victoria revealed itself to Onyango Donde. Mumbo, for that, is what the serpent's name pronounced.

"Those whom I choose personally, and also those who acknowledge me, will live forever in plenty. Their crops will grow of themselves and there will be no more need to work."

Further, the snake proclaimed, "I will cause cattle to come up out of the lake in great numbers to those who believe in me ... All Europeans are your enemies, butthe time is shortly coming when they will all disappear from our country..."

According to Mumbo's gospel, as unveiled to Donde, all the faithful were to immediately slaughter all their cattle, sheep and goats so that they could then be provided with fresh stock.

This vision of the giant snake in 1913, marked the beginning of a new movement (Mumboism) which spread fast in parts of Nyanza and Kisii and would obscure the colonial government's plans and vision for 20 years.

A scholar, Brett L Shadle, writes in his book, Patronage, Millennialism and the Serpent God Mumbo in South West Kenya, 1912-1934, despite the government's strong-arm tactics, the cult still spread to different parts of the region.

Donde was accorded maximum respect by his coverts who visited him for guidance, offering gifts such as goats or oxen.

The adherents were easily recognisable for they wore a special cloak while others preferred an insignia. To encourage more followers to join their sect, the patrons and adherents mobilised their resources and by November 1918, government records show new converts had been gifted with 155 goats and 100 sheep.

Mumbo was becoming alarmingly popular in Kisii to the point where Getutu chief, Onsongo arrested 85 adherents and took them to the DC, Campbell requesting that they be dealt with under the Witchcraft Ordinance.

The DC stripped the worshipers, burnt their clothing and forced them to work on government projects without pay. Their leaders were deported to Mombasa where they were subjected to forced labour. Some Seventh Day Adventists in Karachuonyo led by Okelo Oyugi armed themselves with whips in 1915 and flogged Mumbo followers whom they later handed to the government to work without pay.

But the adherents invoked the spirit of Sakawa, a prophet and evangelised the Mumbo cult to a point where one of their leaders, Bonairiri had a cult-like following and had to be exiled for the government to reclaim the whole of Getutu.

It is more than 110 years since the Mumbo sect started and the spirit it inspired in freeing the country from colonialism still lives on.

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