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Mysteries of Coast’s water spirits

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2022 07:24 | By
Mystery of spirits living in the Indian Ocean. PHOTO/COURTESY

Almost every aspect of life at the coast is peppered with many a story, some mysterious and others flat out scary. And as much as the sea brings so much joy for children and adults alike, it has not been spared of stories of mysteries.

One very popular story is that of vitunusi (nixies or water spirits) often blamed for the mysterious disappearance of children and sometimes adults enjoying their time in the water by the seaside. The victims drown or disappear in very unclear circumstances. Consequently, in fear of these beings, parents and the community issue stern warnings to children forbidding them from visiting the beach at certain times of the year.

Winnie Chitsaka, a Mombasa resident, confirms that this is as true. “When I was a child, our parents warned us often about going to the ocean, especially unattended. We were warned of the kitunusi, which, according to them, would take you if they fell in love with you by causing you to drown. We were also warned that people stored their jinis in the ocean; they suck people’s blood that went at sea,” she explains.

But as children, they still loved the beach and wanted to go as much as they could to swim with their friends. This way, their parents had to find solutions. “As a remedy or just in case of these mysterious sea spirits attacking, we were told if you felt a force was pulling you or as if you were going to drown or the currents were against you, we were advised to cut ourselves and let some of our blood drips into the ocean. This would ease things and you can then escape. The water is impure, but blood is not, so if you cut yourself the water sips into your body and disqualifies you as a candidate for the kitunusi. Apparently, they are said to be very picky with their choice of blood,” shares Winnie

Disappearance cases of people at sea are not new. If you go to the deep waters and you are not the best swimmer, of course, you will be overwhelmed. It depends on the seasons and the different areas of the sea.  When the wind is too strong, then the sea is generally harsh for all; children, swimmers and even fishermen. There are also places in the ocean with holes. Here, the currents are heavy and fast and are dangerous even for boats when the tides are high.

While there is this natural occurrence, Mijikenda elder John Baya shares that some disappearances are definitely influenced by water spirits, and no matter how technological and modern the world becomes, this might never change. 

Myths or reality?

“Not all disappearances are the same. Some people disappear at sea mysteriously for five or even 10 years but eventually, come back. They go there to do certain things such as look for powers from the undersea kingdom. So, we don’t term theirs as a disappearance.  It is said that if you come into direct eye contact with a crocodile, it hypnotises you and pulls you to it and it of course eats you,” he says.

For the vitunusi, the elder says, they cause accidents at sea.  “A good example is the case of accidents at the ferry crossing link where vehicles plunged into or people drop and drown—unexplainable accidents. When things get like that, a form of cleansing ritual is done to appease the water spirits,” he shares.

The elder adds that there are many shrines and points where such rituals are done. The sacrifices to appease the water spirits could be the slaughter of a cow or goat and offering food items and incense. No one is supposed to eat any of these sacrifices. They are meant to be taken to the deep waters and left there, and the people who go will return without looking back.

“There are accidents that happen naturally at sea, but for sure, if it is the water spirits then you will not live to tell the story,” shares the Mijikenda Elder.

Fatma Ahmed Mohammed, a religious leader and freelance community worker, acknowledges that these creatures exist. “Water spirits are real. They exist. In fact, it is believed most spirits live in the water,” she adds.

She says while religion does not support such tales, the beliefs are still very alive within the Swahili community in Mombasa.

Know the territories

“In Islam, we are not supposed to believe such things. When it comes to death, it is just the person’s time to die. If it is by water, then it is the water that brings you to your death and your time has come to an end.  But culturally, we were warned about the water spirits too,” shares Fatma.

Pastor T Mwangi, of Life Church Limuru shares, that the marine world is a well-known mystery even in Christian religion and beliefs. “From Genesis, God gave man authority over land, air and fish.  All these territories have their spirits; there are land spirits, air spirits and marine spirits all of which have a powerful influence. Marine powers come from the marine kingdom. People who live near these water bodies have and make invocations connected to these powers. For instance; water rituals that they perform at the sea during a full moon or after a child is born,” shares the pastor.

While these evil spirits have a lot of destructive influence on people, they do not make the whole ocean, especially bad.

“There are certain water areas that are used as a point of power. Of course, as a Christian, you have to understand these spirits trigger a lot of immorality. At the same time, even if you are visiting the coast or living there, avoid the shrines or places that these people use for these kinds of rituals and enchantments. This is their territory. Also, be prayerful and ask God to always protect you and your children when you visit the beach. There is nothing that prayers cannot do,” he advises.