Stories of the Wakonyingo have been passed down through the generations as part of Chagga legend
No bigger than children, they live high atop the mountain, surprising unsuspecting travelers, granting magical gifts to those that please them…and punishing those that don’t.
It may sound like something out of a Grimm brothers fairy tale, but these sprites don’t hail from the Black Forest: they’re the Wakonyingo (also called the Wadarimba), and according to legends of the Chagga people, they make their homes in caves and tunnels beneath the slopes of Kilimanjaro.
According to legends, the Wakonyingo are an ancient race of dwarves with extremely large heads and magical abilities. Apparently their heads are so out of proportion to their bodies that they must sleep sitting up, since if they were to lie down, they wouldn’t be able to lift themselves off the ground. They reputedly all carried a horn for just this eventuality; if they did fall down, they would blow on it, and their brethren would come to lift them off the ground.
The entrances to these caves can only be reached by a series of ladders, which extend upwards all the way into the heavens.
While they don’t seek out human interaction, the Wakonyingo are thought of as friendly and helpful, though not to everyone. Poor people, or those in distress, were likely to be treated better, and often returned from a visit to the Wakonyingo bearing generous gifts. The rich, on the other hand, particularly if they were greedy, would be driven away empty-handed, and possibly the worse for the experience.
One folktale from the Chagga demonstrates the point through the experiences of two brothers. The first came upon an old woman who asked him to clean her eyes. He refused and walked on until he found a circle of the Wakonyingo, but not understanding who they were, he referred to them as children, asking when their fathers would be home. They told him to wait, as their fathers would return soon, and every time he renewed his question, they told him the same thing. Finally when night fell, he gave up, and and had to stumble home hungry in the dark. His brother went the same way some time later, and helped the old woman, who out of gratitude told him not to insult the Wakonyingo by calling them children. When he came upon their circle, he spoke to them as venerated elders, relating his family’s troubles with their cattle, and asking their chief for his advice. In return, he was rewarded with food, drink, and sent home with a full herd of cattle from the tribe.
While it all sounds very mystical, the tales of the Wakonyingo likely have a basis in fact; the Chagga are believed to have arrived in the region between 250 and 400 years ago, and they almost certainly weren’t the first to plant roots there. Though there’s no solid proof, some postulate that the myths of the Wakonyingo are based on a pygmy tribe that lived on Kilimanjaro at that time.
Either way, better safe than sorry; if you meet a small, large-headed man on your trek up the mountain, be nice…and you may wind up bringing something special back down with you!