Stories about girls changing to the opposite sex after going round the outcrop seven times draws curious tourists to this amazing site
Charles Muasya @PeopleDailyKe
About eight kilometres from Kitui town along the dusty Kitui-Mutito road near Nzambani market, a small signpost reads ‘Nzambani Rock’. And a short distance through a narrow access road leads to a fascinating out-crop which stands tall near a desolate village whose unique features and history draws domestic and international tourists.
A few hundred metres from the basement of the rock is a structure that serves as the office, with instructions for visitors and a list of fees charged to guests to explore the facility.
Foreign visitors are charged Sh1,000, residents Sh200 while children pay Sh100. And just to be told the myths about the origins of this rock, visitors have to part with an additional Sh200.
Although we insisted we were print and TV journalists out for a story to promote tourism, the caretaker, Kimanzi Mutunga, was adamant that everybody must pay, grumbling that ‘too many people walk around with cameras these days’.
Welcome to Nzambani rock, which geologists say is similar to the Mozambique belt formed 950 million years ago and also a geo-tourism feature like those found in Great Rift Valley and Mount Kenya. In the olden days, elders from the nearby Kamba community would offer burnt sacrifices on the slopes of this odd rock.
“In addition to the mythic history of the rock, it is mainly a high-grade metamorphic and attractive rock for both geo-tourism and ordinary tourism that the county government should preserve,’’ says South Eastern Kenya University (Seku) head of School for Earth Sciences Professor, Eliud Mathu.
“Although there are so many myths concerning it that have been attracting guests, the out crop is no different from geo-tourism features found in other parts of the country,” he says. However, the rocks’ caretaker says more than 80 per cent of the visitors frequenting the place want to attest to the myth that when one goes round the rock seven times, he or she will change to the opposite sex.
“This is a tale that has been told by our forefathers but no one has tried and succeeded, though some have tried but given up,” notes 75 year-old Mutunga. Visitors just enjoy climbing the rock through a fixed metallic ladder to get a view of Kitui town and the surrounding districts from atop the rock, estimated at 200 metres high. It occupies five acres at the basement and three acres at the rooftop.
Mutunga says once upon a time, seven girls from Aoini clan in Kitui were collecting firewood where the rock stands today. One of them stumbled on a traditional tobacco pouch wrapped in a dry banana fibre, which she hid it in her skin clothes near her breasts to take to her mother.
Unfortunately, the girl fell sick as the others left for home. When villagers learnt that the girl was missing, they mobilised all the able-bodied villagers to go out and look for her. By the time they found her, the breast nearest the tobacco pouch had swollen alarmingly.
“Suddenly, the girl changed into a small stone, which then swelled to become the big rock, with the breast protruding from the chest. This is why the stone has that portion that looks like woman’s breast,” explains Mutunga, pointing.
Daring the myth
Another myth, according to an elder Muasya Mwakuthu, is that during the colonial period, seven girls refused advances of some white askaris (soldiers) and hid in the basement of the rock, prompting the soldiers to chase them.
As the girls run around the rock, they met an old woman who advised them that if they went round the rock seven times, they would change into men and the soldiers would ignore them. “Since that time, the myth still stands.
Coupled with kithitu (witchcraft) associated with some Kamba communities, Nzamba is feared, given that it was also a sacrificial monument where the community used to offer rituals to appease demons,” asserts Mzee Mwakuthu.
A visitors book at the caretaker’s office shows that about 100 visitors check in every month, 80 per cent being local tourists from outside Kitui county and the rest being foreign tourists. And being a clever man, Mutunga knows the sex change myth sells better.
“The first thing they ask is the sex-change myth,” he says. Since he became the caretaker four years ago, only one woman dared to put the myth to test. After gathering details about the myth, she came back the following morning. She walked once around the rock but gave up, promising to come back when better prepared, but never did.
Unfortunately, a row has erupted between the Kitui county government and a Kyale Mwendwa Foundation, which leased the site from defunct Kitui Municipal council for 99 years and put up the metallic ladder. The county assembly has since revoked the deal for non-performance.