Why villagers believe the sinkhole on Luucho Hills is Lake Victoria’s ‘nose’

Lake Victoris nose: Luucho hills at Kabuchai in Bungoma County on Feb, 17, 2021. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Located in a town that may not be your average tourist town, Luucho hills has a sinkhole on top of it with folklore that whoever fell in the sinkhole would have his or her body retrieved in Lake Victoria.

It takes courage for one to scale the hills in Kabuchai constituency, Bungoma County, an area that lacks the glamour and luxury associated with most tourist spots.

A mention of the hills, with an elevation of 1, 542 metres above sea level excites residents who believe the hills are a special gift from God.

“Our forefathers used to climb to the hilltop to make sacrifices to appease ancestors so that they can bring rains. A ram would be slaughtered and offered as a sacrifice. The elders ate the meat and then stepped on the animal’s rumen overnight,” said Hillary Barasa, a Bukusu elder.

Barasa says strong winds would start blowing from the West to the East towards Lake Victoria, clouds would form and within five days, the rains could be experienced.

"That showed the ancestors had approved of the sacrifice, locals would plant their crops and that way, we averted hunger," he told The Standard.

As we made our way through the dusty and lonely path, leading to the hills, we could spot monkeys and squirrels engaging in hide-and-seek games.

It is a rocky-forested area surrounded by indigenous trees and the ambience is cool. There are many footpaths around the hills with a basin-like hilltop that has a sinkhole full of muddy water.

A hawk-eyed young man, wearing a torn blue shirt with a bamboo stick in his left hand came running.  He identifies himself as Hesbon Wanjala and offers to help us climb the hills but after paying him Sh300.

Isaac Misigo (centre) and residents on the top of Luucho hills at Kabuchai in Bungoma county on Feb 17, 2021. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

“I have been a tour guide for the last two years. Visitors pay Sh500 to scale the hills but each one of you will pay less Sh200,” said Wanjala as curious villagers started milling around the hills thinking we were tourists.

“No one is allowed to climb to the top of the hill free-of-charge, the hills are our treasurer and inheritance from our forefathers, we feel obligated to guard it jealously,” an elderly woman shouts as she approaches.

“You cannot come here without advance booking. We must be notified of anyone intending to visit for prior planning so that we can get the guides to take him to the top of the hills. It’s dangerous to climb the hill without a tour guide," insists the woman.

The villagers allow us to go about our business after learning we are journalists on a mission to interrogate the mystery behind the hills.

The treacherous journey to the hilltop takes over 30 minutes, from the top of the hills, the scenic aerial view of Bungoma town is clearer.

IN place are concrete dykes  that have been constructed at the edges of the rocks.

“These dykes were constructed by the colonialists in the 1950s since on top of the hills; it’s a flat surface and could collect a lot of rainwater. The dykes helped in harvesting the water which was stored at the feet of the hill and used during dry seasons,” said Maurice Wafula,60.

He went on: “When the colonialists left, human activities around the hill led to the destruction of underground reservoir tanks they (colonialists) had constructed at the feet of the hill.”

According to Wafula, the locals have converted the hill into a source of income and anyone who comes visiting must be ready to part with a fee to be allowed to explore the historic hills.

Wafula said at night, the hilltop is very cold and the community uses it for the weather forecasts.

Whenever there is a drop in temperatures to negative five or less, locals start preparing for the rainy season.

“We use the hill to determine when the rains will come and start preparing our land for planting,” said Barasa.

The sinkhole on the top of Luucho hills at Kabuchai in Bungoma county on Feb 17, 2021. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Isaac Misiko, a director at the Indigenous and Scientific Collaboration Research Association (ISCRA) and one of the revered Bukusu elders told The Standard that Luucho hills are the ‘nose’ of Lake Victoria, saying the lake breathes at the top of the hill.

“When you accidentally drop into the sinkhole that is at the top of the hill, your body will be retrieved at Sio Port in Lake Victoria. It’s not a myth we are trying to advance, this thing happened in the past,” said Misiko.

He added: “People used to climb the mountain but would not descend back and when we came to look for them, they were nowhere to be found. One day, a man fell into the water at the top of the hill and after five days, his decomposing body was retrieved at Sio Port in Busia County."

According to Misiko, the water seen at the hills emanates from river Sio whose source is in the slopes of Mt Elgon.

“River Sio flows underground from Mt Elgon and enters into the lake at Sio Port and a small fraction of it is what is on the surface of the hills. The river lies south-west of Bungoma Town and flows to the lake through Matayos, Nambale and Funyula Sub-counties in Busia,” he said.

According to him, after mixing with water from River Sio, the Lake forms underground backflow but stones prevent it from coming out.

“At Luucho hills, we have noses that enable the lake to breathe and release the pressure a process that controls flooding," he said.

Misiko further argued that River Sio is also the source of the White Nile, one of the two main tributaries of the River Nile. White Nile refers to the colouring due to clay carried in the water.

However, Sam Too, the Western Regional Geologist says the assertions of the elders from Luucho could only amount to myths.

"The elders could be just advancing the myth passed on from generations in order to attract attention," said Too.

"If there was any connection between the hill and Lake Victoria, the water would have flowed to the lake due to the force of gravity. Water will always flow to the lowest point," said Mr Too.