Riding the Ungo

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
there are times when it it is best to look and listen and not to have an opinion.

Submitted: August 29, 2016

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Submitted: August 29, 2016



Back in the day, when I worked in the mountains carrying out animal control work or building camps of the hunters, there was a random variety of books to read, which filled in the evenings. I read a series of books by Lobsang Rampa who controversially claimed to be a Tibetan Lama. But controversy or not, those books taught me a lesson or two about life, the main one being that ‘everyone is entitled to their own personal belief as long as it does not harm others and nobody has the right to impose their belief onto anyone else.’ I found value in looking, listening and learning, keeping my own brand of logic to myself…. 

Now then, an Ungo is an open basket used for winnowing but not so often taking advantage the wind as to clear husks from seeds such as rice, more often it is used to hold grains before they are cooked. In the harvesting process small stones find their way into rice, beans and maize as well some a damaged, infected or there are weevils,  so there is an amount of culling before cooking them. It is an art to use them correctly, tossing the seed into the air so hopefully the stones sit on top and can be picked off.

There is something else about the Ungo. Jini(s) ride them! What’s a Jini? With Swahili, you don’t just add an s to make a plural. Well a Jini is an evil spirit that has taken over the body of a person, and the Ungo is often said to be their mode of travel. I can’t explain it any better, that’s the jist of it, but they don't always travel on the Ungo and are often spotted in trees!

The first time I heard of their existence was when young Nai told us about having seen a Jini and she described him. I gave the understanding smile because she was but seven years and don’t kids have stories and see things? But she was adamant that she had seen the Jini up a tree beside the river. So I listened.

There was a double wire crossing the river and some of the children used the wire to cross every day on their way to and from school. I did not actually see how the wires were set up but the description Nai gave was that there were two wires; one to walk on and one to hold on to.

The next day, the one of the wires broke as children were crossing and two of them died! This I was emphatically told, was the work of the Jini!

Sometime later, I heard a report over the local radio station during their news bulletin.

A man driving a new Toyota double cabin stopped to pick up (give a lift to) a beautiful girl signalling she needed a lift. Once in the car and along the road a little, the beautiful girl turned into a leopard! The man stopped the car in panic and ran off. The beautiful girl drove off in the car.

I read a report of a stoning in the very reputable Arusha Times newspaper and how the man died from his injuries. It was reported that a Jini had arrived in an Arusha town suburb having flown from the town of Moshi, some fifty miles away. Flown in on an Ungo! The fearful locals handled the situation to protect their families. He apparently just stood there while the men hurled stones at him.

Mama Baraka went to the funeral of her friend's sister at the village of Ngaremtoni. Three days after the funeral, the close friends gathered as part of the wake to sit together to honour the deceased. Three women were preparing food for the wake when suddenly they became aware of an old man - mzee - sitting on a jiko, which is a small, encased cooking fire/charcoal burner! The fire was burning and he was eating charcoal, some of it still glowing hot! The women tried to speak to him, but he refused to answer, so they called some of the men to help but he remained silent. The men began to beat him with their fimbo(s) - sticks - drawing blood but still the man said nothing. He began to lick at his own blood! The men then took him, tied his hands together and bent him forward to secure the rope around his neck. During this time of tying, he told the men that he had come from Moshi. They then tied him to a tree. At midnight, some of the men went out to check on him. Mysteriously, he had disappeared yet the rope was still knotted and was uncut!

This is the way Mama Baraka related the event to me about what she had witnessed, so I asked her what she thought of it 'Sijui.' I don't know.’ She replied.

'A Jini?' I asked.


I have resolved never to laugh at another culture's food or beliefs, and I stick to that. The stories fascinate me and there are many. As I find them in my diaries I will write them up.



© Copyright 2018 moa rider. All rights reserved.

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