Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

19 November 2012

Tanzania: Ghosts of 'Oldonyo L'engai's Abyss

The last time 'God' spoke to the residents of Enkaresero and surrounding villages, was back in 2008; since then the 'almighty' has been rather quiet.

Which is also good, because when 'God' speaks in the vicinity, his thunderous voice results into earth tremors. Also, flowing from the seat of the deity, is massive river of boiling hot red liquid which, in some places, it may even be called 'lava!'

And lava it is, because what the residents of Enkaresero Village refers to as 'God's voice,' is essentially rumbling volcano emanating from the belly of Tanzania's third highest Mountain (After Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru), the 'Oldonyo L'engai!' 'Oldonyo,' is a maasai term meaning 'Mountain,' while the moniker, 'L'engai,' means 'God,' in the same language and together they form the East Africa's only active volcano's identity;

'The Mountain of God!' Dating back to the early 1910s, the barren-brown, single-peaked Oldonyo L'engai has been erupting into red-hot rivers of scorching lava accompanied by deafening 'thunders' originating from its abyss of molten rocks. Whenever the mountain rumbles the mostly Maasai residents in the vicinity conclude that their 'God,' who lives in (or on) the mountain is speaking;

telling them something or in some cases, demanding sacrifice. And when 'God' becomes angrier, he let fire and brimstone flow from the mountain and onto the surrounding villages, in form of steaming-hot, red rivers of lava that during such occurrences, would reduce local livestock to ashes.

To appease the angry deity, the local elders would then take a consignment of offerings consisting of live goats, slaughtered lambs, a pot of honey and occasionally jugs of traditionally brewed beer. The offerings are usually placed at the foot of the mountain at sunset and left there for the entire night. By sunrise, the following day, all the animals of sacrifice, beer and other items would be gone.

The Maasai would thus celebrate in conclusion that 'God' has accepted and actually 'eaten,' the ransom. 'Oldonyo L'engai,' being located on the leeward side of the giant Ngorongoro Crater walls, is usually frequented by variety of wild animals including leopards but mostly hyenas and rational observers suspect that the beasts could be behind the disappeared offerings.

Even more logical spectator would dismiss what is regarded by locals as 'God's voices as sheer rumbling of the mountain's active volcano, while the resulting red-hot river which kills cattle will be explained as molten rock (lava) flow. The last term a serious eruption took place at L'engai was in March 2006.

The volcanic activity happened to be the mountain's most ferocious to be recorded since 1966 and the former caused mass exodus of people fleeing from the catastrophe. Oldonyo L'engai, according to experts, is the only volcano in the world that spews out Natro-carbonatite, highly fluid lava, containing almost no silicon.

When it erupts rocks weighing over a ton, gets catapulted from the mountain's belly to a distance of between 100 and 200 kilometers in either direction. About 15 tremors rocked the area in mid- 2007 and out of those 13 were minor quakes and two major ones, the latter destroyed houses, killed cattle and left one human victim minus his lower limbs.

Acting from past experiences and warning by some local geological experts, the local authorities ordered the residents of Enkaresero and other villages around Oldonyo L'engai to vacate and stay clear from the mountain, lest the 'God' or 'Ghosts' of the Mountain choose to unleash their fury again.

The other villages surrounding both the 'Mountain of god' and its corresponding Lake Natron include; Nayobi, Magadini, Engaruka, Malambo, Ngaresero, Gelai-bomba and Kitumbeine. All of these however have official registrations and their residents don't seem to be in any hurry to vacate.

The central 'Enkaresero' Ward with an area of 104,550 hectares is made up of Enkaresero, Leparkash and Monic sections and serves as hub for all activities in the area. It is quite busy, especially during the ongoing tourism season as a number of visitors flock there to climb the now calm L'engai peak.

The village earns US $15,000 a year in terms of land lease fees raised from camping activities in the area. Enkaresero also gets a cut of 20 percent from gate collections imposed at its entrance by the Ngorongoro District authorities.

With such 'lucrative' earnings, it seems the locals won't be in a hurry to leave, even if 'God' tells them off. Besides, after the 2007 catastrophe, the 'Oldonyo Lengai' has been rather quiet and calm or in the local residents' perspective; God has not spoken and as far as the people there are concerned; maybe the almighty should be better off 'shutting up!' for good.

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