May 1, 2017
SHEEMA, UGANDA — Tucked away in the secluded Sheema district in western Uganda, the twin hot springs of Mulago and Ekyomugabe (locally referred to as Mugabe), draw mammoth crowds. Here, people with a variety of health complaints come to soak in the springs, believing the natural waters are healing.
The Mulago and Mugabe hot springs, called kitagata, which means warm water in the Runyankole language, lie side by side, separated by a single road. The most popular hot spring is Mulago, not just for its healing powers, but also because it has moderate temperature levels that are body-friendly. In contrast, the waters of Mugabe are steaming hot.
“It would peel off our skins if we went in it,” one patient says. The people who come to soak in the hot springs refer to themselves as patients, although there is no doctor to diagnose the nature of their diseases — only one witchdoctor, who has a stall next to the water area.
Edna Namara, GPJ Uganda
Two Hot Springs, Three Theories
Three theories are given by the local authorities regarding the formation of the hot springs. The first belief is that this place simply happened as a creation of God. He willed the creation of the hot springs in order to cure various ailments of the people of western Uganda.
The second theory is that the earliest settlers of this place were the Bachwezi. The Bachwezi were semi-Gods and possessed mysterious powers slightly above the average human being. They lived for a while on Earth and later decided to leave the way they had come, without a trace of their previous or next destination. The Bachwezi, however, left marks on the earth that continue to baffle people. One amazing spot is found in the earth around Kitagata, in the shape of a footmark believed to have been made by the Bachwezi dynasty prime minister, Kallisa. When the spot is half full of water it turns into a heart shape, and when it is viewed from another angle, it takes the shape of the map of Africa. Kallisa is believed to have lived a symmetrical life, with one side of his body visible to the world and the other side visible to the spiritual world. This is why only one footprint appears in the ground, as only one side of his body was visible on Earth.
The third theory for the formation of the hot springs is a geographical one, which explains how hot magma forms in the mantle of the Earth. A line of weakness formed in the Earth’s crust and forced its way out, spilling hot magma onto the Earth’s surface, which later cooled and formed the stones that Kitagata patients now anchor themselves to in the hot springs. As a result of the hot magma the outlet continues to issue hot water, connecting the Earth’s crust to the world above.
Edna Namara, GPJ Uganda
A Place for Healing
The Kitagata waters are enjoyed by many of the indigenous tribes of Banyankole, Batooro and Bakiga. There is no age limitation and the patients say everybody is entitled to the free healing powers, or the medication, of the waters. There is no case discrimination. Whatever illness one has, they all meet and mix in the same water for as long as they want.
Mulago shares a name with Mulago National Referral Hospital in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala. Similar to the hospital, the pool welcomes many patients from different corners of the country. Mugabe, which has the hottest waters, was named so because the Omugabe of Nkore, John Patrick Barigye, the former king of Ankole, would often use the pool. Today, most people choose to soak in the waters of Mulago.
The patients are charged a small maintenance fee of 1000 shillings (28 cents) for as long as they want to use the water. The price for tourists and researchers who visit the hot springs vary, and depend on the group size.
At Kitagata, the characteristic behavior is to strip off one’s clothing and get into the water. Here, the shy do not get healed. The rich minerals cleanse one’s body, as the waters are rich in a number of minerals, including calcium sulfate.
Many patients do not care about the chemical composition of the water. What matters to them is they feel a lot better after soaking in the hot springs. Some stay for days, enjoying the hot waters in both morning and evening hours. The hot steam rises to the sky before sunrise and slowly fades as the tempo of the sun gains momentum, later to show up again after sunset.
Visit Kitagata Hot Springs
Take a bus from Kampala city to the town of Ishaka, where there are options for overnight accommodation. The drive to Kitagata is about 20 kilometers (about 12 miles), by way of Ntungamo – Katunguru Rd.