In the heart of Ukambani is a sacred
shrine, home to powerful forces that stopped Government engineers from constructing a road, writes Allan Olingo.
There is no better time to take a new ride for a test drive than a Sunday morning. And which better route than Machakos through to Kangundo and drive back to Nairobi using Mombasa Road.
My friend Eddy Mulinge had bought a new car and wanted to try it out. Honestly, I’m always excited at the prospects of a road trip whether the car is a rickety jalopy or a modern machine. The promise of sampling the virgin beauty of Ukambani was too much to resist.
Driving east of the city on the Nairobi-Kangundo Highway, the expansive Ukambani plains roll out before one’s eyes, beckoning like a seductress. Approaching Tala town, a rocky outcrop that was but a speck earlier on comes to view. This is the famous Komarock, considered a shrine by many. The hill, we are told, is a sacred place. A sculpture of Jesus held by his mother Mary at the Komarock Shrine along Kangundo road.
A sculpture of Jesus held by his mother Mary at the Komarock Shrine along Kangundo road.
Pasted in extreme beauty with a serene surrounding, its superior imposing rocky houses and excellent location makes it stand out in this neighbourhood. Komarock Shrine is a marvellous piece of art, nature’s gift to the locals.
The shrine has no fence, guardrails or blockades, making it accessible to all and sundry. The rocks have no writings, as you may find in other places. One is allowed to take as many pictures as one can without limitations. Being a Sunday, there were a few worshippers here who warmly invited us.
I’m not a keen churchgoer and being here was a little bit awkward but it was never too late to make amends with one’s maker. Birds were chirping in the background and the women sang softly. The atmosphere was completely divine and joining the rest, we trudged along towards the shrine.
The only features on the rocks were taps to help weary souls cool. There were also engraved images of Mary on the walls and a sculpture of a pilgrim kneeling in prayers.
Once atop the shrine, I noticed many worshippers looking up at the cross and then write prayer items. We followed suit. According to Mzee Mutusi Kalya, a local we found at the shrine, the old folk believe a strange and powerful force resides here. A big fig tree still stands on the spot where the sacrifices were offered.
The eye cannot miss its location as it stands on a rocky way leading to the entrance.
Kamba elders used to journey from all over Ukambani region to the rock to offer sacrifices to their gods at a designated shrine known locally as Ithembo. This was a holy place and once here, they would also pray for rain and protection from plagues.
Mzee Kalya says that stories are told of how visions of old men would appear at the shrine in the evenings and then disappear after a while.
In the 1970’s, road engineers constructing the Kangundo-Nairobi Highway wanted to move the shrine so that a road could pass through the hill but this sparked a furious protest from Kamba elders. They later agreed to have the shrine moved to another part of the hill after a bag of sugar and two goats were offered to them as sacrifices. Unbelievable but true!
"Despite the sacrifices, the blasting of rocks was very difficult with the machinery constantly breaking down," notes Mzee Kalya.
He further claims the engineers abandoned the route after realising that there was an unknown power preventing the rock from breaking. Today, the abandoned murram road is still visible from the top of the hill as it meanders through the Komarock plains towards the city.
Another local, Mzee Mwithi Musau, believed to be in his 80s was among those who offered sacrifices at the shrine, accompanying famous Kamba rainmakers and prophets. He believes the place has supernatural powers.
Komarock is a place where traditional believers used to offer sacrifices in the past, but now it has been turned into the shrine of our Lady.
Given its background and current religious activities, the Komarock shrine is still a place of mystery for many.
Today, the shrine has been taken over by the Catholic Church, which has turned it into a site for pilgrimages. These days, it is often the scene of processions, singing of hymns, recital of prayers and fasting.
A worshipper, who only introduced herself as Malinda, says the church chose it as a place where faithful could spend time in prayer and meditation away from other distractions.
It reminds one of the days of the medieval Church when people spontaneously travelled to Bethlehem and Jerusalem to the tombs of the apostles and martyrs at Rome.
At the top of the Komarock shrine is an imposing 70-foot sculpture of Jesus Christ in the arms of his mother Mary after the body was lowered from the cross.
Through a descriptive way to the cross, one walks round the church up the rocky surface all through to the shrine while saying prayers. What a way to reconnect with the lord!
Despite the soaring temperatures, those who come here for the all important pilgrimage and connection with their inner self seem not to notice this.
We then took the photos after the mass while the majority of the pilgrims were either eating lunch at picnic tables or heading out of the shrine to Tala town or back to Nairobi.
From the shrine we headed to Machakos town through Mitamboni for lunch then drove to Wote, the administrative headquarters of Makueni District.
The Ukambani landscape is a whole different ballgame. There are a few animals and the roads are long, and lonely with meandering stretches between the rocks and escarpments, a great sight to behold too.
The public transportation system leaves much to be desired and getting caught in the vast and unpopulated landscape after nightfall is not appealing for those not accustomed to the terrain and the sharp corners.
There are few factors in life that lead a man to push himself to the limit of his endurance other than the love of a woman or devotion to a saint but the latter is the only motivation which will bring me back to the Komarock Shrine to meditate.