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The Mysterious Menengai Crater

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The Mysterious Menengai Crater
The East African Standard (Nairobi)
December 13, 2006
Posted to the web December 13, 2006

By Alex Kiprotich

Despite the serene and breathtaking marvel that is the Menengai Crater, locals believe that evil spirits haunt it. Boys living around the Menengai Crater go on hunting expeditions despite the risks. They claim that the evil spirits capture human beings and confuse them while touring the crater with beautiful walls.
People have lost their lives while others have disappeared never to be seen again. Some have died through accidents and others have committed suicide.

However, the crater continues to attract hundreds of people curious to explore the mystery cave. Guides who earn a living by escorting the visitors tell of strange happenings that leave visitors shocked. The stories are perplexing as they are scary with strange things happening inside the cave.
People have strayed and lost direction in the cave only for them to be found hours later unable to explain how they lost their way.

"So many strange things happen here even though people do not seem to believe them," says Paul Ndung'u. The locals have named the place "kirima kia ngoma" (Devil's place) as they claim it is under the control of evil spirits.
No one knows how the crater came to be called Menengai but the locals say the name is a Maasai word meaning a place of corpses.

"It is believed the name means the place of the dead in the Maasai because many of them died here in the 19th century when they fought among themselves," says Daniel Kanyingi. He said that it is alleged that one of the battles took place at the crater and morans, from one of the warring clans were thrown in the calderas. The second meaning, "devils residence" relates to a story that mysterious people once lived in the crater.

"The sound of the crater sometimes gives the impression of cow bells. And because of the hot spots in the crater, they said the inhabitants must be devils because animals cannot kindle fire," adds Ndung'u. Recently, a woman slipped and fell into the crater as she tried to rescue her son. Magdalene Waithera was in a group that had gone to rescue her son, 12, who had been trapped in the ravine. Mr Johnstone Kamau, a witness, said the woman was trying to look into the crater after she called her son and he responded.
"When she heard him respond, she moved forward and attempted to look inside, but she slipped and fell," he said. The child was, however, rescued later alive by the police. Last year, a man who had gone to graze his animals in the crater failed to find his way out despite knowing the area for a long time.

John Kirutu, 12, is rescued days after he plunged into the crater while playing with friends. A search was mounted and two days later, he was found wandering deep into the crater. Kanyingi says a young boy also went missing in the crater and was found after seven days in the crater staring at birds but he was in good health. "Some do not find their way for days but when they are found they do not show signs of fatigue or hunger," he says.

He says that the boy told the search party that he had been watching a beautiful vision without realising the passage of time. Despite the dreadful tales, peace and tranquility inside the crater provides Christians visiting the area a conducive environment to pray and fast. But there are claims that some of them have committed suicide, like the two catholic priests who jump to their deaths into the dormant volcano.

Ndung'u says the incident happened in November last year, when a catholic priest plunged his vehicle into the 900-metre crater. "He drove straight to the view point without breaking and in a matter of seconds what remained was a mangled wreck of the twisted metal and his lifeless body," he says.

But pilgrims still flock the site to pray. Recently, The Standard met Mr Paul Walingo from Kakamega, who has spent almost two weeks in the cave praying and fasting. He says the place is perfect to drown life's hostilities and get in touch with one's inner soul. Relatives and friends could not hold their tears back after they received information of the death of Magdaline Waithera, who died while attempting to save her son. Pictures by Lucas Thuo

"I feel very close to God whenever I come to pray here. It is a perfect place to reflect on one's life," he says. He dismisses the tales of ghosts as rich imaginations. "I usually pray till late in the evening and have never seen what the locals are talking about," he says.

But Mr Simon Kamenju, 69, says the existence of demons is real. He says during the planting season, they plough the land towards the southern end of the crater and plant wheat and maize, which are soon harvested by the ghosts. "Things happen so fast. You will see some crops, people harvesting and before long, the flurry of activities are over and the land would revert back to its former state of grassland and the people would also disappear," he says.

Kamenju recalls that in the 1960s, ghosts used to practice agriculture on the floor of the crater in large scale. "What we are seeing is small scale farming by the ghosts who reside in the floor of the crater unlike 40 years ago," he alleges. He says these ghosts are responsible for capturing human beings and hiding them in the underworld. However, the spirits capture only those who attempt to destroy the fauna in the crater.

"Some of those who wander, do so after harvesting firewood inside the cave. But as soon as they drop the firewood, they find their way back," he says.
Although the volcano is dormant, residents say that the crater has some hot spots where steam jets fill it with vapour at times. The latest mystery about the crater is a "flying umbrella" that appears whenever it rains. But no one knows where the umbrella goes after the rains. "When it rains, there is a huge formation of what looks like an umbrella that seem to shield the crater from the rain but disappears as soon as the rain subsides," says Kamenju.

As the site puzzles the visitors, residents fear for their children. The cliff is not fenced off and hence poses danger to children playing around the area. "We fear for our children's safety, especially when there is no one to watch over them," says Mrs Sarah Maina.

Copyright © 2006 The East African Standard. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).
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