The Matumbi Hills to the west of Kilwa are, according to the findings of a German–Turkish expedition in 1994 and German–Italian one in 1995, the site of a limestone cave network far more extensive than the more famous and regularly visited caves at Amboni near Tanga. The caves were first brought to the attention of scientists in 1910 by a local Catholic missionary Ambros Mayer and were further explored in 1911 by a police sergeant called Thurmann. Prior to that, the Mutumbi Caves had formed an important hideaway for local rebel troops during the Maji Maji revolution. The most impressive cave, Nangoma, is revered locally for housing an important deity, and its name probably derives from the Swahili ngoma – dance – suggesting a history of use for ritual celebrations. The 1995 expedition determined it to open into a passage stretching for 7.5km into the hills, making it the longest measured cave in Tanzania and the 13th-longest in Africa. Within it lie several potentially interesting fossil beds as well as a few small waterfalls. Also of interest is the 1km-deep Mpatawa Cave, the main entrance gallery of which contains lots of boulders and corroded calcite formations. The Namaingo Caves have a total length of 2.4km.
Remote, undeveloped for tourism, and impossible to explore without private transport, the Matumbi Caves have recently been the subject of a low-key campaign for greater recognition and publicity, led by a local elder Abdullah Botori Mweyo, who helped the 1995 expedition locate several previously undocumented caverns. At the time of writing, the best place from which to explore the caves is the remote Kipatimu Mission, some four hours’ drive from Kilwa in the Matumbi Hills. Although rooms and meals might be available here, it would be advisable to carry a tent and a supply of food. Abdullah Botori Mweyo can usually be contacted through the mission. It would be extremely foolhardy to attempt exploring the area without local guidance or to venture deep into the caves unless you are an experienced caver with good equipment.
(c) Philip Briggs 2009