Muda Mrefu

Looking for Likitiri

Since I was younger my uncle, Zio Dado, has told stories of his hunting trips beyond the Blue Mountains and down into the Maasai land, the Maasaini. The stories told of the Dorobo guide that they would go meet, an “older man” called Likitiri. Dorobo is a generic term, not a very flattering one, that the Maasai use for the other tribes that live in the Maasaini.

Zio Dado at Lemeleko, 1963

Zio Dado at Lemeleko, 1963

The Dorobo are hunter gatherers, as opposed to the cattle herding Maasai, which is where the disdain comes from I guess. Anyway, Likitiri used to use powerful bush magic when he was out with my uncle and father. The example that I always remembered was that once my uncle shot something for Likitiri to take back to his camp. He told my uncle that he would go back to his camp and get his wives (7), tell them where the animal was, and they would come and get it. First though, he braided the mane of the antelope, and threw a few handfuls of sand on it whilst uttering some words. My uncle asked him what he was doing, and Likitiri replied that he was making it invisible so that the hyenas and lions would not disturb it. I told my watchmen this story, and he excitedly told me a few other similar tricks that the Dorobo use. There is a great faith in the “magic” that people who know everything there is to know about the bush are able to do.

I was talking to my uncle when I was in Italy last Christmas, and he told me about Likitiri again. I have never tired of the stories, and I asked Zio Dado where Likitiri had lived. Zio began to describe how to get there from Moshi. I asked him to draw a map. He scribbled out a small map, and told me that if I went there now, there would probably still be very few people living out there. After all, Likitiri had survived on game meat and wild honey, and he got his water from a small spring that came up at Lemeleko, the huge rock formation where he lived. I tucked the map away, and when i got back to Tanzania I asked my friend Mike if we could go looking for Lemeleko. Mike loves stuff like this. His company is called Dorobo Safaris. We began to plan the trip.

Zio Dado's map

Zio Dado's map

We asked a couple of other good friends, Kyle and Charles, to come along. Mike loaded up one of the Dorobo Land Rovers, and open top pick up that we could lower the windscreen on. We left quite early in the morning. By 7:00 mike had picked everybody up and we were on our way down the Old Moshi Road, heading towards Boma Ngombe, where we would turn off and head South into Maasailand.

On the way to Moshi Kilimanjaro was standing out to our left, massive and crystal clear. We had no real idea of how far we would be driving, we just knew that by 2 p.m. the next day we had to be back in Arusha. I knew from the map that it was not as far as Naberera, and Mike knows the area down by Naberera well, because he did some work there in the ’80’s. Still, Mike didn’t know what the roads would be like, what we would see, where we would want to stop, nor how hard it would be to find any of the landmarks that my uncle had drawn on his map.

When we reached Boma Ngombe we headed south, and soon came to Maji ya Moto (hot water in Kiswahili). It is a small spring that wells up quite powerfully into a little pool of crystal clear water, I guess called Maji ya Moto because the water is quite warm…in the sense that it is not freezing. It is certainly not a hot springs sort of place. It is really quite beautiful, an overgrown patch of forest in the dryness, fed by the constant water supply. The huge trees shading the springs were alive with monkeys, and the water was perfectly refreshing and cleansing. It was only nine o’clock in the morning, but it was hot and dusty already. I guess if you’re in an open Land Rover with the windshield down you are asking for things to get hot and dusty. Mike told us that a few years ago a scuba team came to Maji ya Moto and dove under the lip that the water wells up from, and there is a cavern under there. They found the skeletal remains of a hippopotamus under there.

After paying the villagers for the pleasure of swimming in their spring, we headed off in earnest. We drove over and around the Blue Mountains. Zio Dado has referred to them as the Blue Mountains for years, and they do look blue in the haze. Their name in Kiswahili is Lelatema. Every so often we came across a Maasai boma, and asked directions towards Oldoinyo Losoido, our next landmark. There were a good number of people around, by Tanzanian bush standards. We were still to get to any sort of remote area. Zio Dado’s main question as we talked about the trip was if there would be many people out there now, as 40 years ago there had been very few people at all. “There is nothing out there,” he told me.”Likitiri and his people could live because there was water on Lemeleko. All they lived on was wild honey and game meat. You can’t have many people living on land like that.”

Stretching our legs

Stretching our legs

According to the map Oldoinyo Losoido (the Maasai we talked to called it Losoito) would be on the left, and Bird Hill would be on the right, just before it. Bird Hill was an outcrop that my dad and Zio Dado had named that way because there were always lots of game birds there. Sure enough, on the left as we headed south, was a pointed outcrop. Soon after that we arrived at Losoito, confirmed by a lone elmorani (Maasai warrior) who we found wandering through the bush. We stopped nearby for lunch. The track had started to narrow and wind and became more challenging to drive. The bush lacked any big acacias, which had all been cut for charcoal over the last thirty years. What had been left behind was a scrubby landscape of different kinds of smaller acacias. Every now and then we came across a large black patch near the road, where a charcoaling team had slow cooked some trees to make charcoal.

After lunch we headed south again, now looking for a “massive granite outcrop” that Zio Dado called Losogonoi. In the far distance were huge outcrops all across the horizon. Mike thought that he recognized one of them as being Langenai, but soon we came across more Maasai. We asked them for Losogonoi, the rock with the chem chem (spring) on top. Zio Dado had told me about the spring, and when one of the elmorani spontaneously mentioned that there was water up there, I knew that we were on track. He called it Losokonoi. Close enough. We drove on. The map told us to get to Losogonoi, and then turn right and head towards Likitiri’s rock, called Lemeleko.



By now it was about three o’clock in the afternoon, and I was beginning to wilt in the blazing sun. We could not make any sense of the map, nor could we found a road thta headed west, which was where we needed to go, it seemed. I was also beginning to feel as if the other guys might want to get out of the car soon, so I felt like maybe we had looked far enough. Then Mike said, “Listen, we’ve come this far. We have to find Likitiri’s place, it must be right under our noses. Then we saw two Maasai ladies with babies strapped to their backs. We raced up to them and asked them if they knew where Lemeleko was. The looked back at us and replied in unison, “Lemelepo?”, and pointed off through the bush towards a smallish rock outcrop a couple of kilometers away. Mike threw the Land Rover in gear, found a bike track that headed into the dense acacias, and we tore off.

Ten minutes later we were at the foot of Lemelepo. We were here. It was a beautiful place, but all a little underwhelming, really. I didn’t have the energy to go looking for Likitiri’s relatives, anyway. Zio Dado had told me that they had numbered only 17 back in the late 1950’s. But I had forgotten that one thing about the Maasai is that you don’t have to go find them. They always find you. Sure enough, within half an hour four young Maasai men and an older man ambled up to our camp, and we all began to chat. After a few minutes Mike carefully asked them if there were and Dorobo left in the area. He told them that he knew that once there had been some in this area. They all looked at each other, smiling. Then the mzee, the older man, said that they were Dorobo, but that the Maasai had ‘eaten up’ all of the Dorobo. His name was Kapunuwa. I asked him if he had grown up here at Lemeleko, and he said yes. I asked him if he knew about a man called Likitiri who had lived here. He said the name out loud a couple of times. The he answered “Yes, I remember Likitiri well, kabisa”. Then he went on to say that Likitiri used to bring white men here to camp and to hunt. That would be my dad and Zio Dado. Mike asked Kapunuwa if he was related to Likitiri, and after some calculations, we settled on the fact that Likitiri had been Kapunuwa’s baba mdogo, or uncle. We had found Likitiri’s hill. I looked around and wondered if Zio Dado and Papa’ had ever camped in this spot.

Kapunuwa and I

Kapunuwa and I


March 3, 2010 - Posted by | porini, safari, tunaenda safari, Zamani


  1. fantastico! chissa’ quanto avrai sballato! E’ stato così anche per i tuoi compagni di viaggio? Credo che anche loro si siano imedesimati nell’avventura. Hai avvisato lo zio Dado? Bacioni

    Comment by haldo | March 5, 2010 | Reply

  2. Hi Marcello-
    Every now and then I check your blog to see if you’ve posted anything – although with the 2 young ones, I don’t really expect much these days! This post was quite a surprise. What an amazing story – wow! I had (sort of) a similar experience a few years ago when I was performing in Potsdam and got to see exactly where my dad played for Truman, Stalin, and Churchill. It’s kind of like going back in time, no?
    Love to your family,

    Comment by Rachel | March 6, 2010 | Reply

  3. Great story!

    Comment by Gianmarco | March 29, 2010 | Reply

  4. Ciao Marcello,

    You have described the whole place just like I remember it back in the 60s, I can still mentally draw a map of the whole area. I still remember a safari in 1963 with Costas Emanuel and his son Gregory. We left Mkufi late so we arrived around Lemeleko late afternoon, in those days it was low going because the tracks were not as commonly used as they are today aa there was no population past Boma la Ngombe. Papa’ and Costas decided to keep going and we eventually reached a large rock outcrop they called Kichua kubwa (big head). Once we found a suitable camping spot Papa’ took off to try and bring home something to eat. We were left behind to set up the tent in the howling wind, we did but inside out, so we had to start again and by the time we finished it was dark. I seem to recall Papa’ came back with an Impala, there is a whole story about how he managed to shout it in the dying light. We cooked the meat on the open fire and I drank my first beer, a can of Amstel, I was complete drunk for the rest of the evening and hardly remember going to bed. I do remember is waking up in the night with the wind coming through like a series of freight trains at regular intervals. The wind also brought through distant sounds of wild animals and at 13 I was pretty scared.

    Comment by Giorgio | April 3, 2010 | Reply

  5. Hi Marcello
    I just read you tracking your family with great interest – im greek italian and went back to italy and greece to do this when i was 19. I was also excited when i realised your wife and you are based in arusha. Ive just moved here and would love to meet fellow greeks/italians in the neighbourhood. If your wife and you would like to reminise nonna and nonno stories some time please drop me a line


    Comment by kat | November 22, 2010 | Reply

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