Amid the dramatic rise and fall of his magical empire at Samunge, a remote village in Ngorongoro district, Arusha region, the retired pastor finally reveals how he has become a millionaire following purported revelation from God of a magic tree whose concoction he claimed cures all diseases, including Aids and cancer, thus attracting millions of people to the tiny village early last year. Nearly a year since his claims rocked the country as well as the East African region.
The Guardian on Sunday, this week revisits the story of a man whose magic cup, apart from attracting millions, made him rich with three vehicles valued at about Sh240 million and a modern house before his fame and cure nosedived suddenly, leaving millions of his patients with a bleak future.
In his heyday Ambilikile Masapila, a retired pastor-turned-traditional healer, served an average of 4000 patients a day as news spread like bush fire about his miracle cup which could heal even hitherto incurable diseases such as Aids and cancer. Today, however, the number has declined to an average of 20 patients, signalling the sudden demise of his fame and belief in the cure.
Just a few months ago millions of patients were waiting in 46-kilometre-long queues to see this man while others died before they had the chance to drink the herbal concoction served in a cup. The elderly cleric is now waiting with baited breath for his second rebound after the crowds melted into thin air.
His optimism proves his faith, which he tried to spread to his patients who flocked to his home in droves last year, though the reality on the ground contradicts his hope for a major rebound.
As I sat down to talk to retired Pastor Masapila last week, he put on a brave. It was obvious that he still has faith in his heavenly communication with the Almighty, but the truth seems to challenge the undying faith. His fame, even in this village, is history akin to a shuttered dream.
Though he insists that his boom days will rebound, the message inscribed on his face casts doubt on whether the millions will again throng his compound seeking his herbal concoction as they did only last year.
Sometimes hours may go by without anyone coming to take miracle drink, an indication that the once famous and authoritative cleric is no longer the former magnet that attracted millions of people of all walks of life, some coming as far away as South Africa and Zimbabwe.
I was both dismayed and surprised to note that there was no one around seeking the cup of the magical herb when I arrived. How things can suddenly change in this world. A man who made headlines locally and globally, and a fortune to boot, only a few months ago was now all alone with no patients to heal.
I had expected that his place would be still filled with thousands who needed his herbal cure he claims was revealed to him by God through a dream. But it turned I couldn’t have been farther from the truth.
I actually found it difficult to believe that this was actually the place which at one time used to accommodate milling crowds of patients seeking the healing powers of the ‘mugamriyaaga’ juice.
Every hour of the travel held a prospect. The anticipation of meeting Pastor Masapila was overwhelming. The days at this moment became completely endless, as curiosity took grip of me. Regardless of my predicament, there was no dispute with the dictates of nature, as the hours slipped by.
Finally it was 4.48 pm when motorcyclist Pius delivers me to the 77-year-old retired pastor. Here I am at Samunge, a sleeping village for years on end until there emerged only last year the magical herb purportedly to cure any ailment on earth, but most specifically those that even defeated experts like Aids and cancer. It is the land of the Sonjo clansmen, highly reputed for their arrow snipping.
The Sonjo tribesmen are said to be no more than 5,000 strong today, and according to informed sources, they are a traditional enemy to their fellow nomadic Maasai taking abode on the slopes of Loliondo, the district headquarters of Ngorongoro in Arusha region. Well, that is part of history.
The unassuming but brisk man, who categorically states that he has no interest in promoting his cure, looks no longer the celebrity he once was. He simply looks like an ordinary peasant. But not quite: the man conjures up some magnetic force. It is all there for you to read in his shy looks, although his eyes are penetrating.
Don’t be deceived. This is the man who kept the world spellbound last year for the most part of three months, beginning from March.
Attestation to this is also the miraculous transformation of the unknown Samunge village into an economic hub of sorts. The indigenous Sonjo tribesmen were at first not in quite good spirits with the arrival of the Nyakyusa.
Samunge residents at first derided the cleric-healer as a strange man who was exported there to bring confusion to their previously quiet and peaceful village, but today the man is their compatriot.
Although I could not confirm it, the villagers told me that upon his arrival in the village there were plans to strangle him so that his influence would not spread. “Today Masapila is their saviour,” says Anderson Karamagi, who has since decided not to get out of Samunge after he was suddenly cured of his health troubles (see separate story).
The village is now alight with solar-powered electricity. Shops are full of affordable merchandise, not forgetting free homes or guest-houses, which were never there before the onset of the wonder drug.
There were more than 500 outlets that were selling food to visitors, allowing local food vendors to make anything from Sh300,000 a day during the peak of the magical herb. Today, you hardly find more than five huts, although there is an envisaged influx of people going there anytime.
This is Samunge, the village that rose from nowhere to global attention, thanks to the retired pastor. Today as it struggles to regain its lost glory, so does Pastor Masapila.
The sudden fall in the popularity of the wonder drug has also impacted thousands of villagers and other people who used to make a fortune during the village’s boom, such as food vendors, guest-house owners and transporters.
However, the dramatic fall of his fame didn’t leave the elderly cleric empty-handed. As he ponders his next move, he has built for himself a modern house which, by rural standards, is a mansion, he has also bought a brand new Toyota Landcruiser pick-up, two 7-ton lorries and a fat balance in his bank account. Some say the old man is truly a millionaire.
Though his charge for the herbal concoction was very low, just Sh500 ($0.30cents), the sheer number of patients who flocked to his compound would make him well-to-do even if he had charged a smaller fee.
As we sit down for the exclusive interview, retired Pastor Masapila looks shocked to be visited with a journalist because to him for months now his stories have been reported extensively, but has hardly met the press. He flashes me a smile: “Don’t look that severe.
I cannot blame the press at this juncture because it had no direct touch with me to get the inside truth. Those who thought had a field day to do the talking on my behalf misled it…I was too busy dispensing this drug that you have just taken to have the time for explanations and details, which the press carried.”
There is no more constancy of arrivals. If reports that the old man had served the cup close to 4,000 people a day during the peak of the tasteless brown mixture, whose formula remains his sacred secret because he is yet to be allowed to reveal it, only a handful of new arrivals is noticed presently.
On the second day of my stay there were hardly 20 people holistically drinking from the plastic cups. There were Sudanese, whose tallness and glistering blackness were telling, Kenyans and Tanzanians. They all came from afar. Waiting at Arusha city for tour operators to fill their four-wheel-drive vehicles were also a few Ugandans and Congolese, with anxiety to reach the old healer.
When asked why the sudden turn of events, the retired pastor-cum-healer replied calmly: “You may suppose that many of the sick are now cured of their ailments.
This may be true as so many people flocked here last year upon news of this development. The other explanation is that after negative presentations of the cupful mugamriyaaga, scores of potential drinkers thought against it and kept their distance.”
Until today the retired pastor strongly believes that there is no room for promoting his drug, which he says has been revealed to him by God.
“Through a dream, I was ordered by God to dispense this herb to heal the sick. I am not in a position to tell you how it works, apart from making it clear that it is associated with innermost faith,” he points to the tender mugamriyaaga tree he has planted at his home to show to interested visitors.
He is not pointing accusing fingers at anyone in particular but cautions that through his cure many disciplines had faced some kind of loss. He believes that it is through this result of financial loss that had fuelled biased press reports,
He explains: “Some doctors, civil organizations that depended on donors for financial assistance and institutions that sold medicines, as well some religious leaders who found their flocks rushing to Samunge had syndicated negative information they had clandestinely leaked to unsuspecting newshounds.
“The doctors saw their admittances slipping through hospitals, pharmacies were losing their businesses, non-governmental organizations depending on donors saw suddenly their chances of receiving assistance going to suffer and congregations were cutting back financial contributions in search for my cure. These were sufficient reason to attract retribution,” he scoffs at those alluring trouble.
As if in an afterthought, the ageing but still strong cleric remembers some of the most scathing untruths about him. He looks strangely at me and says:
“Reports were circulated to many parts of the country that I have long died and subsequently there being no reason to come here to seek remedy to their troubled health. That I had vanished into oblivion, a disappearance purportedly to have happened into the forest where I had gone to fetch the roots for this formula! But the most astonishing was a phone call I had received only yesterday from Babati that a heavy fog had descended on Samunge, enveloped me and ascended with me into the skies. That I am no longer alive!”
At this particular juncture I ask him about the service’s time frame, if there are any deadlines or if it is a life-long service, and, may God forbid, what if he dies or is too frail or senile to sustain it.
The old man looks sharply at me before answering. “It is only the almighty God who knows what will be next. I have never asked to be what I am.”
He adds quickly, though: “As the revelation came to me, God must have a plan for this service, but I am completely in the dark as to whom or in whose hands, also at which place on earth, leave alone in the country, this will land. So far as I am concerned, I know of no provision for an inheritor, perhaps in compliance with a pending dream from God.”
He goes further: “I am not a magician or a traditional herbalist. Actually I have no knowledge about herbs. The healing power is not mine but revealed to me, and may I tell you this. There is a word of God in those mugamriyaaga roots but only through that power of God does one get cured. No more no less.”
The old man slightly gets tempted to talk more about the powers behind his mixture but feels he would be out of bounds, and that is when he gestures with concentration. He offers a side look, and intones: “Many people have tried to do what I am doing with those roots but ended in complete disaster. Without that word of God, the herbs turn useless, and can be dangerous.”
Alive and kicking
The world was told of the luxurious house he is supposedly to have built through revenues he accrued from his drug dispensation. This pains him terribly because it is another misrepresentation.
Of course from the small hut he took for a house before he became to fame, he has managed to use the money he got from that fame to build a modest house equally small, but modern. The new house is close to the one he used to call home before he rose suddenly and dramatically to fame.
He tells the story of the financial part as it is. “Every person who uses the cup pays only Sh500 which was not distributed in the manner it was reported. I still do not know how the 2/2/1 ratio distribution was hatched because there was nothing like it. I kept all the money I got for the development of this project.” (It was said that the old man had a share of Sh200 only with the remaining Sh200 going for his helpers and Sh100 for the Lutheran church he was once its pastor at the village.)
“Let me assure you that I have enough money to do whatever that is being directed to me by God. I have built the house that you have seen. Here is a brand new Land Cruiser pick-up vehicle and also have a look at that seven-tonner Isuzu truck I bought second-hand. Coming soon is also a new tipper. This should indicate that I’m financially alive, stable and kicking, although the money is not mine,” he gives me a stern look, stressing that there is enough to sustain the plan he says was directed to him by God through five dreams so far. The man uses the Isuzu truck to carry firewood to boil the herbs for the impending unprecedented comeback soon.
Deaths after drinking mugamriyaaga
Many patients who fled hospital beds to seek his concoctions had come to health although there were those who died after gulping the juice. What has he to say?
“Death comes in many ways. This cupful of the herb does not prevent one from dying but only healing or curing the ailment. They discontinued modern medication on their own and, believe me; I have never stood to promote this drug by way of advertising.
“When the revelation was made to me, it was about healing the sick. Here, at this very particular village and in my church, I always told people to take the mixture as time would come when they would fail to reach me because of the magnitude that would flock the place. I was never heard of, and many people had ignored that message.”
Naomi Rambani, born at Digodigo village which is about 4km away from Samunge, verified later about the doubting Thomases.
She says: “I am among those who could not take seriously on the appeals from the pastor to take his medicine. But one day I went to Wasso (near Loliondo township) and a friend I well know approached me, asking about the healing power of the retired pastor. She was suffering from HIV/Aids and so she asked me to take her to the old man.
“Well, I had nothing to lose although I categorically told her that there was no proof of the potency of the drug. After taking his cup, oh, my God, the sick woman healed so fast I couldn’t believe it. Look, this is not an exaggeration,” adds Naomi who was one of the main beneficiaries in food vending when the going was good.
The medication is anchored in faith, says the old man, who does not also want to factor into the Christian-based curative process, the faith of Muslims, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist patients, as well as heathens and adherents of funny sects such as the followers of ancient Congo’s Simon Kimbangu.
(Kimbanguism is a branch of Christianity founded by Simon Kimbangu in what was then the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). The church's name is the Kimbanguist Church (fully Église de Jésus Christ sur la Terre par son envoyé spécial Simon Kimbangu, or The Church of Christ on Earth by His Special Envoy Simon Kimbangu), and is a large, independent African Initiated Church with an estimated 5.5 million believers. (In April 1921, Kimbangu, a Baptist mission catechist, inaugurated a mass movement through his supposed miraculous healings and biblical teaching. The Belgian authorities treated the faith with suspicion and imprisoned Simon Kimbangu for most of his life (he died while in prison). The church was formally recognised by the Belgian colonial authorities in 1959.)
He does not square with encouragement to Christians or appreciative cured patients to make any offerings to God for his divinity.
A bit of spying established that many ex-patients were truly cured, although some fell victim to initial presumed healing but relapsed to their original state of sickness. What is the explanation?
The retired pastor says: “The day you take the cup you must not take anything alcoholic. Never drink alcohol on that day, although from the second day you can continue with your drink. That is the rule. But if you are a witch, of course the witchcraft is immediately neutralized upon taking the drug, You must not go back to witchcraft again, otherwise the consequences would be telling. You are liable to invite an early death!”
After many senior Christian clerics, especially those of his faith, were amongst those who testified to the healing miracle last year, the old man is not even vying to be promoted to a honorary bishop in acknowledgement of his spiritual service, its herbal elements not withstanding.
Already clearance of a huge chunk of land is in progress between Samunge and Digodigo to pave room for the anticipated influx of health seekers due to happen any time after he was directed more than five times in dreams stretching from late last year to this year.
“More than treble the daily number of people that visited Samunge during the peak last year will come here soon. It is not my making,” smiles the old man, showing the new site for the expected influx.
Already more than 20 acres have been cleared of bush and trees have been felled. The man pays his people who are doing that work.
His appeal centres on all those who have taken his drug to come out in the open and say the truth of the potency or impotence of the ‘kikombe’ that he believes rids of evils.
Masapila is a retired Lutheran pastor who lives in Samunge village in Loliondo, near Ngorongoro. Masapila had a vision in which God instructed him to make the medicine. He said he received a vision of a tree he can use to make such a medicine and that many people will flock to him to get it and be healed. After waking up, he said he met a woman who had AIDS and she told him that she came for medicine. Masapila followed instruction of making the medicine and gave to the woman who is said to have healed of her diseases.
The woman who claimed to be healed miraculously by Maasapila passed information to her former boss who had earlier fired her due to her sickness. The boss had a sick child suffering from brain damage. The boss was of Indian origin, and it is said he took his child to Masapila and the child was miraculous healed. After this event, thousand of people bagan to visit Masapila at an average of 4,000 people a day since early 2011.
The government had ordered Masapila to stop issuing his medications but due to big public demand the government had to revise the order and provided Maasapila with support for sanitation.
The main illnesses that Mwasapila claimed to cure were Aids, diabetes, stroke, high and low blood pressure.
Notable people that have visited Mwasapile and took the medicine include ministers and members of parliament from Tanzania and Kenya; and famous businessmen and women. The wife of DRC president Joseph Kabila was among them.
Maasapila medicine could not be given by other or far from his home ground. Due to poor infrastructure, the road transport costs roughly 500 times the price of the medicine which is Tanzania shillings 500.
The government chemist had given a statement after examining the medicine, and had said the medicine didn't have any harmful effects to human beings but couldn't confirm if the medicine was scientifically proved to heal the said diseases.