Most of us might think a rainbow is a wonderful and beautiful thing. But not so with the Makonde according to an interview with Saidi Chilumba our museum manager who is Makonde and grew up in a Makonde village in the Mtwara district of Tandahimba near the Ruvuma River. To these Makonde a rainbow is actually a giant and angry snake that will eat anyone it encounters. So, it is best to head the other direction if a rainbow is spotted. It is said that this mad and mighty serpent seeks our water that occasionally collects in the exposed roots of certain trees during a rain. Such pools are great finds for any Makonde – as the water is clean and easy to retrieve. Now, when a rainbow snake it spotted, it is believed that its head is at one such pool of water. It is also believed that when the rainbow disappears the snake has entered the pool, and can attack at any time, ever if the rain has passed. The only people that can safely collect this water without risk of being consumed by a rainbow snake attack are the elected clan “Babu” (male) and “Bibi” (female). Though babu and bibi generally refers to a grandfather or grandmother or an old person in Swahili, in the case of a clans, these Babu and Bibi are elected by the community for their cleverness or diplomacy skills, and can be of any age. Only the Babu and Bibi can petition to the deceased ancestors to protect them from the snake when they collect the water. As there are rumors of persons who did not have such protections and where eaten by the snake when they went to collect water, non-protected people do not try.
So, the next time you see a rainbow, don’t assume that everyone thinks its wonderful.
Thank you – Asante Sana – Ashe oleng
Douglas – Kupikita – Oloikurrkurr
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