Just a few feet off the road between Njombe and Iringa, Tanzania, only a mile or two from the Isimila Stone Age site, lies a gravesite with supernatural powers known to all in the region.
When Country Director Peter Mwakabwale first told us the story, we couldn’t wait to see the visible proof he promised was just miles away. If you look closely enough, behind the grave are two power poles taking the electric lines across the road. Another half-mile down the road, the powerlines again cross the road, reconnecting the broken line that zigs and zags to avoid the grave of Martin Kiyeyeu, a former resident of Isimila village some mysteriously hint was a sort of medicine man or witch doctor.
In the 1990s, when the powerlines were being built, villagers warned the engineers to not string the wires over the area, advising that the current would stop when it crossed the graves of Kiyeyeu and his family. Dismissing the warnings as hokum, they strung the wires as planned. When they tested the line at the other end of the grave, there was no power. Before the grave, it was still live; they restrung the wire and retested, all with the same result. The engineers finally had no choice but to reroute the lines across the road and around the graves, where they remain today.
Turns out, a similar phenomenon happened in the 1970s when the road was first built, according to Daniel Msakwa, our guide at the Stone Age site and the grandson of Martin Kiyeyeu. Many other graves were moved to make way for the paved road, but when the giant Caterpillar unearthing the graves got close to Kiyeyeu’s, the engine quit. Our guide demonstrated the effect on some tall grass along the path at the park, stopping at the grass and backing up. When the tractor approached the grave, the engine quit. When the Caterpillar went into reverse, the engine fired up again, but abruptly quit before it could move forward to do its work. The grave was left untouched, just a few feet from the pavement.
“People always ask me why,” Msakwa said. “I tell them why it happened I do not know.”
Msakwa says the fight is not yet over, as the village has received another request to move the graves to widen the road.