Bung’eda is an African beatification process that helps bee eaters

That was 383 years ago while more than 500 years ago before the coming of Maasai people into Ngorongoro crater, the Datoga people had already started practicing Bung’eda or Bung’eda.

With its roots stretching more than 3,000 years ago when their ancestors migrated to the area around mount Hanang from South Sudan, Bung’eda is a special ritual used by Datoga tribe to look back on the life of an elderly man after his death.

This is a long process which involves both beatification and beautification of an elder after his death which takes about a year and goes along with prayers and minor rituals which are marked by preparation and drinking of Gesuda a popular traditional brew among Datoga or Barabaig tribe.

Gesuda is prepared by using unique herbs collected from Basuto plains where honey hunters walk from one baobab tree to another searching for a bee colony which they can harvest the main and precious ingredient of this drink.

To inexperienced honey collector this may be a daylong activity but for professional harvester this is a simple thing because with the assistance from bee eaters it possible to see bee nestle in the savannah forest.

These are small birds which are easily seen in the savannah because of their bright colours, the Northern Carmine Bee eater is the dominant specie of these birds which dwell in the sacred land of the Datoga people in the savannah forest around mount Hanang the fourth tallest mountain in Tanzania with its peak standing 3,420 meters above sea level.

The main diet of these birds is made by bees which they hunt from a strategic position in the grassland where a prey is picked in mid air while flying from one location to another.

It is a swift attack which the bird use its long beak to target locusts, grasshoppers and other flying insects but its prime food is made by bees which they aim, attack and snatch before going back to their own colonies on the banks of Dongobesh stream.

In this vast plains huge colonies of bee eaters may be seen on the banks of Endalah river inside lake Manyara national park but they are also available on the shores of Lake Basuto which is surrounded by a savannah forest that are used by colonies of these birds during breeding seasons.

Normally bee eaters nest in a very large colony in a cliff or near river banks where they use their long beak to dig horizontally 243.84 centimeters long tunnels which they use for breeding for many years before they decide to shift to another location.

Their long stay in one location depend on different factors but availability of bee colonies in the savannah plains around water bodies in Basuto play an important role, when this happens some bee eaters may refuse to leave and start a remnant colony which grow with not less than hundred breeding birds.

Bee eaters are social birds which gather in large flocks during and after breeding seasons as they scatter into different parts of the vast savannah grasslands, floodplains and plains of different national parks and game reserve around mount Hanang.

Between the month of March and August some species of bee eaters are known to migrate from South Africa to Selous game reserve in Tanzania before going to savannah plains around mount Hanang on their way to equatorial Africa.

Wherever they are, bee eater are clearly seen due to bright colours but the noise which they make during flight is what helps honey hunters from the Datoga or Barabaig tribe to notice and follow them to a nearest bee nestle around savannah plains in and around Hanang District.

As we have seen from the beginning, Datoga people use honey to make Gesuda a local brew which is used by people during the popular ritualized ceremony called Bung’eda which is done to beatification and beautification of an elderly man after his death.

Among different African societies from south, central and north, there are different numbers of rituals which involve special songs, dancing of traditional songs and offering of blood from animals, milk and food to ancestors is common in this continent and other parts of the world.

Some African societies are known of offering milk and local brew but Datoga use Gesuda a local brew which is made from honey and used as special element during Bung’eda or Bung’ed ceremonies.

History shows that at different occurrences there have been clashes between Datoga warriors and wild animals such as elephants, lions, leopards and hyenas but at all the time bee eaters are friends of this pastoralist society only because of Bung’eda ceremonies.

This is a symbiosis relation between human community and avian society around mount Hanang where bee eaters lead honey harvesters to a bee nestle in the middle of savannah forest, at this point the Datoga get honey and the bird eat bee.

Among Barabaig society Bung’eda is the main ceremony which comes after a sequence of different rituals which are meant to beatification and beautification of an elderly man after his death and this organized by his family but controlled by the community.

This is a long process which goes together series of stages including a burial ceremony which is supervised by elders of the society who control rules and regulation which guide and govern the Datoga community.

According to traditional rules before a burial, the body of an elder man is wrapped in a skin of a bull which is killed by suffocation which takes his spirit to join his elders, this is because it must be strong, clean from diseases and capable of mounting cows.

At the same time elders use this ceremony to measure how people adhere to their customs because Bung’eda starts with preparation and building of a burial site which stands in a conical shape with special place that allow the body to be preserved in a sitting position while facing the sun rise on the eastern side the sacred land.

This is very strong structure built according to principal and techniques with roots which goes back about 3,000 years ago when ancestors of Datoga people migrated to Ngorongoro from South Sudan and Ethiopia.

The mound is very strong which is capable to withstand effects from wind and rain while protecting the body from being attacked by scavengers like spotted hyenas at night when most people are sleeping.

The mound is built to be strong and able to stay stable until about a year when it is reopened at the peak of Bung’eda when the procedures of beatification and beautification of an elderly man is done by his age mate.

From many genera tions ago, Bung’eda ritual has been used to evaluate the life of one of its elder male member by his own community, although the ceremony is prepared by his family in order to get good result its supervised by the whole community through a special committee.

This is done by elders of Datoga community to avoid influence from relatives of the dead man who are to influence the procedure and process of beatification for beautification of their brother, father or grandfather.

Among Datoga community, this is done by committee of eight men with dignity who work under a supervision of an elder man in community who is known as Sidabeyoned.

At the highest stage of this ceremony which may last a year after the death, the tomb is reopened at the upper side, where elders look for fresh hair from the dead man’s head if the caucus had stored enough the hair would grow even at the time when corpse is inside the grave.

When this happens, the dead man is declared holy as a sacred tree is planted on the grave site which attracts people to come and pray for assistance and protection from him.

Not all men qualify for this ceremony, among Datoga community, Bung’eda is prepared for good people only.

...The Kilimanjaro Twins, revolutions and Granpa


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