Ultimate tourist attraction: The breasts of a princess

Sunday November 27 2011

Inside of the caves of Nyina Mwiru with the breast-like stalactites on the right

Inside of the caves of Nyina Mwiru with the breast-like stalactites on the right 

By Edgar Batte

Hidden away in the heart of the Toro kingdom in western Uganda are the Amabeere Ga Nyina Mwiru caves. Directly translated, Amabeere Ga Nyina Mwiru means the “breasts of Nyina Mwiru.”

Toro folklore has it that the caves acquired the name after King Bukuku of the Toro chopped off the breasts of his daughter Nyina Mwiru and had them thrown inside these caves, following a prophecy that the daughter would one day get married and have a son, Ndahura, who would kill the king and take over his throne.

Bukuku sub-county, where the caves are located, is seven and half hours’ drive from Kampala, and I chose not to book this safari through a tour firm because I knew I would get a better deal from public transport and the friendly local people. I arrived in Fort Portal in the evening and I decided to have a good night’s rest before making the journey to the caves in the morning.

After my midmorning breakfast I stood outside the coffee shop marvelling at two imposing hills, one on which the King of Toro, Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru’s palace sits, and the other a misty mass that, I later learn, is not a mere hill but the Rwenzori Mountains.

It was time to set off for my journey to the legendary “breasts.”

I settled for a cheap, a boda boda motorcycle ride for the seven and half bumpy kilometres to Amabeere Ga Nyina Mwiru.

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As we rode the dusty road, the mooing of cows in paddocks was all we could hear until we reached the caves, where I was received by Yosam Rubombora, one of the traditional overseers of the historical caves.

New world

The journey down into the caves is a walk into a jungle, literally. It is very slippery, through thickets of bamboo and shrubbery.

On this particular day, there were several groups of visitors to the caves and we needed a bit of team work during the descent into the caves.

Wilson Isingoma is my guide and I envy his ability to effortlessly and fearlessly weave his way through the wet and slippery thicket.

The mini-forest walk was an adventure alright, but what took that will take your breath away were the fine white waterfalls from the rocks above the caves.

It is cold inside the caves, with hardly any sunshine filtering through the rocks and thick vegetation.

The source of the waterfall, Isingoma said, is the Rwenzori Mountains and it flows into the Kamutebe wetland and then drains into a number of rivers such as the Nyakaswa, which drains into River Mpanga near Fort Portal town. From there it flows to Kamwenge district, where it connects to Kasese through Lake George.

But my curiosity was piqued by the “breasts” that hang from the roof of the cave. On closer inspection, sure enough they seem to produce a greyish, milk-like substance.

The scientific explanation from geologists of course is that these rocks are made up of calcium carbonate which, when mixed with water, drips down the breast-like stalactites needless to say, the local people call it “breast milk.”

Isingoma explains: “When the water seeps through the rocks, it carries with it calcium bi-carbonate and as the solution descends through the rocks from the top of the caves, carbon-dioxide is set free leaving behind calcium carbonate, which contributes to the formation of the stalactites.”

Sharing the history and folklore of Amabeere is Isingoma’s passion-cum-job.

“The ‘breasts’ you see here grew from those cut off a princess called Nyina Mwiru,” he explains.

This explanation triggers memories from my primary school social studies class where we were told the story of King Bukuku, his daughter Nyina Mwiru and her son Ndahura.

Bukuku, to stop a prophecy from coming true, secluded Nyina Mwiru from public life but she fell in love with one of the palace porters and married him in a secret ceremony. When the king learnt of it, he cut off his daughter’s breasts, which he ordered thrown into the caves.

Years later, Nyina Mwiru conceived and gave birth to Ndahura, who killed Bukuku and took over his throne, fulfilling the prophesy.

“You are not allowed to touch the breasts,” the guide warns me.

“When these drip onto the rock floor, they thus form stalagmites. When stalactites and stalagmites start joining, they form pillar-like protrusions over the years,” he shares.

All visitors to the caves are advised to bring their cameras with them to capture the beautiful sight. According to the guide, each stalactite grows an inch every year. The milky drippings are what the local people call milk and believe it comes from the chopped “breasts.”