Elders guard oral history of Makiungu

tanzania_makiungu_100years_wheelchairIn 1954 the first Medical Missionaries of Mary arrived at Makiungu with a mandate to develop health services in the parish. This first mission of what would later become Singida Diocese had its early foundation in 1908. The first small dispensary at Makiungu was replaced by the hospital, which has grown to be very well known, with 150 beds. The routine inpatient and outpatient services in medicine, surgery, maternity and child care are augmented by specialist services provided by the Flying Doctors.

Here is how the elders tell the story of the arrival of the first missionaries in Makiungu.

In 1908, two priests of the Missionaries of Africa, Father William Schregel and Father Bernard Mengarduque, together with Brother Ernest, were sent by their bishop from Tabora to open a mission among the Wanyaturu people. They followed the road that was used to transport slaves till they arrived at a place known today as Kimbwi. In this village there was a very rich man known as Kisuda. Every year Kisuda went to seek advice from a famous traditional healer named Suku.

For three consecutive years, at each visit, Kisuda was told by Suku, "Very gentle and kind visitors will be coming to you. Never send them away." On the third occasion, a few days after he got back to his home from visiting Suku, the prophecy came true. It happened like this:

tanzania_makiungu_100years_offertory_lambWhen it was morning, Kisuda and his family were very surprised to find tents pitched at their compound, near to where the cattle were kept. Very strange people appeared, their skin white, a colour they had never seen in their lives. They thought they were gods.

Since Kisuda had already been told by Suku about these visitors, he went to the house and brought butter to anoint them as a sign of reconciliation and peace between them. Some servants who accompanied the visitors appeared and among them was a man of their own tribe, who had gone to Tabora to escape famine and came to know the missionaries. Speaking their own language, he told Kisuda not to anoint them, but instead to give them sheep to use for food. There was a very big welcome.

The missionaries remained there for one year, and then told Kisuda they would like to build. He consulted Suku, asking him to send away the visitors as he feared losing the land he needed to graze his cattle. Suku gave him medicine, instructed Kisuda to put it on the branch of a tree and drag it to a rock known as "Ng'ongo ama Yiungu", a place where a terrible massacre had taken place. The missionaries were not able to pronounce this the way the local people did. Instead they pronounced it "Makiungu", the name which has remained to this day.

tanzania_makiungu_100years_dancing1This remote village lies some twenty-five kilometres from the town of Singida, in the very centre of what is now called Tanzania. The missionaries planted a row of eucalyptus trees in the sandy soil of this semi-desert area, and set about planting the seed of faith among the people. It took much patience because the chiefs and people, while friendly, were slow to accept the new teaching. As if to remind us that the seed must go into the ground and die, on 1 September 1909, Brother Ernest died from an infection following tonsillitis.

A short time after arriving in Makiungu, the missionaries opened a dispensary. The parish register for 1909-1910 showed the fruit of their work. Thirteen people were following instruction; three were baptized before death; there were six Christian families that had been rescued as slaves and followed the missionaries to Makiungu. There had been one church wedding and 678 patients had been treated at the dispensary.

In 1954 the Medical Missionaries of Mary were invited to develop the dispensary into a hospital.

On 17 August 2008, the celebration of one hundred years of faith in Singida Diocese was an impressive event. Bishop Desiderius Rwoma of Singida was joined by the Indian-born Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Joseph Chennoth, by Cardinal Polycarp Pengo from Dar es Salaam, and eighteen of the country's twenty-three bishops, all Tanzanian. There are fifty-nine priests in Singida Diocese today, all Tanzanian with the exception of a handful of white-haired missionaries.

A special highlight was the processional dance to the altar bearing the Word of God. Women balancing bowls of flaming oil on their heads led the procession through the vast crowd and up the steps to the altar. The dance of the fire symbolized the fact that the Word of God is alive and active, a burning flame that warms us into action. Then came the Bible, decked with flowers and carried aloft. This was followed by male dancers bearing traditional spears and bows and arrows. This dance symbolized the precious gift that they wish to protect and their willingness to defend their faith.

The song they sang indicated they have been entrusted with the Word of God. They would only offer it to those who are ready to receive it. "Are you ready?" In their song and dance they asked the Cardinal and the Bishops, "Are you ready?" they asked the priests and the people. When a positive answer was received, the Bible was handed over to the Master of Ceremonies and proclaimed to the waiting multitude.

tanzania_mary_swaby_bishop_desiderus_rwuomaMissionaries who had served in the diocese through the years were warmly thanked. After the exchange of gifts, more than three thousand people were served a hot meal under the trees.

As the sinking sun turned the sky red we headed home along the bumpy road to Makiungu. Next morning the small plane of the Flying Doctors would be landing on our airstrip, bringing a specialist orthopaedic team from the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre. Forty patients were on the list for surgery. All hands would be needed on deck!



Sister Marian Scena from Denver is the MMM Doctor on the Faraja Team

Volunteer Connie O'Halloran and Grace Shao, both members of the Faraja Team

As well as the work at Makiungu Hospital, founded in 1954, MMMs today run the Faraja Centre in Singida town. It takes its name from the Swahili word for compassion. People who are worried about HIV and its devastating effects can avail of a range of services provided by the seventeen-person team. The Faraja Homecare Team goes out three times a week to the poorest of dwellings to follow up those too ill to come to the Centre. There is also an extensive orphan support programme.