As far back as you can go, cultures around the world have traditionally believed in some sort of life after death. Often, there are two possible ends, and where you wind up is determined by your actions on Earth.

The Greeks imagined the souls of their heroes enduring forever in the paradisiacal Elysian Fields, while the rest of their dead would have their souls ferried across the river Styx to the underworld, a place living mortals could descend to from earth (with permission, of course). Vikings who died in battle would gain passage to Valhalla, while unfortunate souls might wind up in Hel (guarded over by the goddess…Hel).

The Chagga of Tanzania also imagine two realms for the dead, marked by two gates located “where sky and earth join.” One gate will lead you to a heavenly paradise, the other “to the ghosts.”

Though some legends say that you’ll know the ghost gate by the ring of blazing fire you’ll see through it, others imply the underworld is reached through a cave or a hole in the ground. And watch out: according to some versions of the tale, these portals between this world and the next are found on Kilimanjaro.



“Gustave Dore Inferno1”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –


The physical proximity of the underworld to our own (the Chagga call Kilimanjaro’s foothills home) might explain the close relationship the Chagga have to their ghosts. Ghosts regularly visit their relatives in dreams, where they can briefly carry them to the spirit world, and some stories tell of grieving parents and lovers who begged the king of ghosts so poetically to restore the lives of their loved ones that he eventually consented.

Even more strangely, the Chagga believe not only that ghosts can influence events on earth, but that events on earth reverberate through the spirit world. Major upheavals in our world are felt in the underworld, too. When colonial powers first penetrated East Africa, for example, the Chagga maintained that the ghosts were also growing thin and ragged under the heavy burden of colonialism, and, like their living counterparts, were being forced to pay taxes to the colonists.

Perhaps “50,000 people annually tramping up and down a sacred mountain filled with mystical creatures and which serves as a gateway between this world and the next” would qualify as just this sort of upheaval?

Just to be safe, make sure to stick to the trails on Kilimanjaro, and listen to your (earthly) guides—you don’t want to stumble, especially between this world and the next!