Could it be magic? How Loliondo's miracle cure can drive tourism sky high
A potent herbal brew believed to cure all chronic human ailments that have baffled both science and modern medicine, has reportedly been 'discovered' in a tiny remote Samunge village in Ngorongoro.
There resides Pastor Ambilikile Masapila, a 76-year-old retired cleric who formerly served with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) but is now brewing and serving the herbal cocktail said to heal among other human ailments, Cancer, Diabetes and HIV-Aids.
In 1991, according to his story, the cleric had a dream which directed him to start employing some herbal concoctions that he formerly used to treat his arthritis for curing other people's chronic ailments.
"It was a directive from 'God' himself, in the dream I saw a woman who looked very ill and a voice told me to treat her using the herbal mixture which by then had proven to be quite an effective remedy in treating my own health ailments," says the soft speaking Masapila.
But it wasn't until 2009 about two decades later and prompted with yet another apparition of the sick lady in a recurrent dream that the former cleric decided to take action, rolling out a large cauldron and proceeding to brew what has now become a huge national phenomenon.
Masapila's services began in August 2010 but it wasn't until February this year that the retired cleric started experiencing a major boom as tens of thousands of patients from all over Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and DR Congo flocked into the remote Sonjo plains for their shares of the 'wonder drug.'
For the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority this is yet another potential source of income since some of the traffic would use the NCAA gate on their way to Samunge via Wasso.
Since the NCAA maintains the road passing through its territory the Ngorongoro route has become a favorable alternative to the frequently used but badly maintained Engaruka-Ngaresero-Natron road where a number of vehicles have been facing its wrath by either breaking down or swept by raging currents of rain-flooded rivers.
Ngorongoro normally claim more than 50 percent of the total number of tourists who visit Tanzania annually. Its flagship crater has been attracting over 400,000 visitors every year. The number of tourists visiting the country currently averages at 780,000.
The Tanzania Tourist Board is now working to market the Loliondo 'miracle
cure' abroad, feeling the
new hybrid of cultural and medical tourism sensation could be yet another chance of luring foreigners into
It is also another windfall for the Northern Zone circuit comprising of the Ngorongoro Crater, Mount Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti National Park features that attract over 80 percent of foreign visitors
For the NCAA however the Loliondo 'mad rush' is another way of tapping into domestic tourism because some of the cars, buses and trucks that transport people to Loliondo may use the Conservation Area gate where local tourism charges will apply.
And that should be one huge take; there were times when long queues of people and vehicles stretched to as far as 30 kilometers from Masapila's homestead and patients would camp in open for four days before their turn to drink the elixir.
The pastor has been serving around 10,000 people per day, because his 'magical' drink has very strict conditions including not to be taken out of the area as well as not to be sold commercially. He charges just 500/- per cup.
Before the government intervened and started regulating trips to Samunge, more than 2000 vehicles were at one time piled at the tiny village and the Pastor admitted to have been overwhelmed as close to 50,000 people were lining up in queues and fights would often break out.
The more 'blessed' patients were on the other hand blitzing onto Samunge aboard helicopters and chatter planes and the number of Ministers, government officials, local entertainment stars and media personalities fought over themselves to get a sip of the miracle cure.
A semi-trailer truck, which is suspected to have had some 500 people aboard and which had travelled all the way from Mbeya region, in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania, recently also made scene in Loliondo.
And if people in photos look like they are all Maasais it is because most patients who go to Loliondo cover themselves in the multi-colored sheets either to protect themselves from the winds or to conceal their faces because going to Masapila's clinic has always been associated with HIV and Aids, even though his brew cures other ailments as well.
But does the 'magical' brew work? Former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa, his predecessor, Frederick Sumaye, Tourism Minister Ezekiel Maige, Infrastructure Minister John Magufuli and Opposition Party leader Augustine Mrema and are among dignitaries who openly smiled at the Television Cameras in Loliondo as they gulped Masapila's concoction.
A mug costs only 500 Tanzanian shillings, very cheap by any standard and in fact according to Pastor Masapila that is the whole idea; "God wants everybody to get cured regardless of their financial status,"
The money may be little but the retired cleric again donates most of it to church the rest he uses to pay his assistants. Like the Biblical Prophet Elisha, he refuses all types of gifts and advises the modern day 'Naamans' to take their presents to needy persons once they get back to their homes.
The drink may be cheap but getting to the remote Sonjo plains can cost one an arm and leg, and if this week's experience is anything to go by, then the trip can cost lives. In fact close to 80 people were confirmed dead and they passed away while waiting in line for their turns.
Some patients were taken there while in serious medical conditions, some absconding from their hospital beds, but waiting in queue in open air, without water or proper food turned out to be disastrous.
Even worse, the monsoon rains season is just settling in and heavy rains have been doing overtime onto the multitude waiting outside Pastor Masapila's house.
Motorists have also been enjoying the windfall, charging desperate 'miracle seekers' an average of about 150,000 Tanzanian shillings as their transport fares to Loliondo.
'Babu wa Loliondo,' as Masapila is known nowadays may not be making much money but some 'unofficial' third party players are currently smiling all the way to the bank with bulging purses.
He tried to ward, plead and even threaten the racketeers who try to enrich themselves using this 'miracle from God,' that it was a very bad idea which could cost them in the final run, but many of the enterprising individuals have been calling his bluff.
He thus continues to live in his mud hut at the back of which typical African firewood stoves, boil the barks and roots of the 'Mugariga' tree from which a pale brownish liquid, not unlike the usual black tea, is derived.
The modus for treatment as detailed by pastor Masapile is even more mystifying due to its simplicity, easy of compliance and cheapness on cost.
Even more puzzling is the fact that the main ingredient of the 'wonder medicine' is the alkaloids from a 'antiaris toxicana' tree known locally as 'Mugariga' or 'Lawa,' in Maasai language.
The Northern and Central Diocese of the Lutheran Church, Bishop Thomas Laizer announced during a press conference that a number of church officials who took the Masapila brew got healed from their ailments but did not mention what type of diseases.
The Arusha Regional Medical Officer Dr Salash Toure said though Pastor Masapila has been issuing his magical cure since August 2010, there has been no case of a former HIV-Aids patient turning up at any of the region's health centers wanting to test whether they have been cured or not. He however admitted that upon testing one diabetic patient was found to have been cured but the medical officer hastily added that, it was only that single case.
But out in the streets people continue to preach healing, most being former diabetic persons and have been going further by gulping down soda drinks to prove they were now 'okay.'
The National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) which organized a conference of medical scientists in Arusha recently admitted that the Loliondo phenomenon was a challenge to extended medical research into herbal-based remedies but also a potential area in medical tourism.