The small town of Rutamba is situated about 30km east of Lindi as the crow flies, in a cashew-growing area studded with attractive lakes and offering easy access to two of the most significant of the 18 coastal forest reserves dotted around the vicinity of Lindi. Rutamba town is flanked to the south by the smallish Lake Nampawaru, and to the northeast by an oval lake covering some 3km2 and also called Rutamba. The attractive 9km2 Litopo Forest Reserve, which lies on the eastern shore of Lake Rutamba, is bounded to the south by the Lindi road starting 2km out of Rutamba town, and to the east by a long, narrow and apparently anonymous lake. The 7km2 Chitoa Forest Reserve lies to the northwest of Rutamba, and is transected by a generally motorable track leading to Milola village.

The significance of the Litopo and Chitoa forests is not so much the size of the protected areas, but that – unlike several larger forest reserves around Lindi – they still contain a large component of closed canopy coastal forest. Both forest reserves are relatively poorly known in scientific terms, but a recent ornithological expedition to the area revealed them to be rich in coastal forest birds such as east coast akalat, Kretschmer’s longbill, red-tailed ant thrush, Reichenow’s batis, Livingstone’s flycatcher and plain-backed sunbird. Litopo Forest also harbours a significant breeding population of the brilliantly coloured and highly sought after Angola pitta, while the very rare white-chested alethe has been recorded in Chitoa. The localised African finfoot and white-backed night heron are resident on the shady fringes of the lakes, along with a variety of more widespread water-associated birds. Mammals are more poorly represented – or perhaps just more elusive – but hippos live in some of the lakes, a small elephant population is known to inhabit the forest seasonally, and various small antelopes and primates are present.

Getting there and away Rutamba lies about 45km from Lindi by road. To get there in a private vehicle, head south along the main surfaced road towards Mnazi Moja for about 20km, then turn right onto an unsurfaced road. This passes through Ngapa after about 10km, crossing a bridge over a river after another 8km or so, shortly before passing through Ngonja, after which it’s another 5km to Rutamba. The trip should take about an hour in a private vehicle, and both forests are accessible by road, making this a perfectly feasible day trip out of Lindi.

The situation is not quite so straightforward for travellers without private transport. So far as I can ascertain, no formal public transport runs to Rutamba from Lindi. On most days, however, at least one truck will head out to the Rutamba area to collect cashew nuts, taking passengers for US$1 per person. These trucks normally stop to collect passengers at the junction on the edge of town, opposite the Shell garage, but it might be easier to ask around about suitable transport the day before you want to travel – the bus station is the best place to start making enquiries. Another option would be to catch public transport to Mnazi Moja as far as the Rutamba junction, and wait there for something to come along – you should get through with an early start, but if not then it will be easy enough to catch public transport back to Lindi. From Rutamba, the Litipo Forest Reserve can be reached on foot by following the main road back to Lindi for about 30 minutes, while the Chitoa Forest Reserve lies a similar distance along the road towards Milola.


Where to stay

Travellers who reach Rutamba using public transport or trucks, or who arrive in a private vehicle but want to seek out birds during the prime hours after dawn and before dusk, will need to spend the night. There are a few basic guesthouses to choose from. With permission, it should also be possible to pitch a tent on one of the lakes.

 (c) Philip Briggs 2009


8 thoughts on “Rutamba

  1. philipbriggs says:

    The Killer Cat of Lindi

    The coastal forests around Lindi and Rutamba have only recently attracted the attention of biologists. But locals have long known them to be the favoured stalking ground of the most fearsome of African predators: a terrifying striped feline, larger than a donkey, more ferocious than a lion, and known as the mngwa!

    In 1937, Captain W Hitchins, an experienced hunter, wrote a sympathetic account of the mngwa legend as part of an article entitled African Mystery Beasts. Hichins asserts that vast tracts of coastal forest have never been trodden by a European – a fair point in 1937, given that the extensive jungle-bound Gedi Ruins in Kenya had gone undiscovered until four years earlier. He also points to the antiquity of the legend, which stretches back to a 13th century Swahili hunting song that goes: ‘I … press into the forest, to be devoured by the mngwa; and if the mngwa seizes me, devouring my flesh, that is the fortune of the hunt’.

    Hichins recounts his own vicarious experiences of this mysterious creature.
    “A man was brought in to me at Mchinga on a litter, terribly mauled by some great beast. He said it was a mngwa. As he himself was a brave and skilful hunter, who had often tracked down lions, leopards and other ‘killers’ with me and other white men, why should we suppose that in this case he mistook a lion or a leopard for some other beast? On another occasion, at Lindi, a mngwa took to prowling the village at night, killed several villagers and, finally, a policeman on point at the market. For nights the whole town lived in fear, and although we doubled the police guards we had difficulty in getting the men to go on duty. But I have seen those same men rout a lion out of a bush-patch with sticks! They swore that this beast was not a lion, nor a leopard, but a mngwa. We made every effort to waylay it, but, unfortunately, were not successful; nor did we get a lion, as we might reasonably have done had it been one.”

    Many of the coastal forests around Lindi still await formal scientific study, and it seems highly likely that they harbour several as yet undescribed small vertebrate species. Rather more difficult to accept is that a ferocious donkey-sized feline still prowls undetected within the tangled undergrowth. And yet the very persistence of the mngwa legend makes it tempting to think it has a basis in fact, perhaps some long-extinct predator that has survived in the folk memory.

  2. Najum Juma says:

    i just want to add that in early period rutamba was the centre for refugees from mozambiqe also there is junction to rondo where is well known in production of wood

    • Kikki Birgitta Nordin says:

      Yes,it was the refugee settlement run by the Lutheran world federation, TCRS, Tanganyika refugee service. I was stationed there in Rutamba as a nurse from 1966-1970!
      A lovely place and lots of fond memories in my heart from that period.
      I started there when we saw patients in a white painted mudhouse.
      We built a nice Health Center with in patient wards and maternity ward.

  3. Hamisi Umbaliche says:

    I am very much excited reading this article because it explain some staffs about my home village Rutamba. I was born and grown here. I like the place, I like the people and I like the environment. well I apreciate that you took your time to write about this but I would like to correct some minor mistakes. 1. The other lake found on south is Nambawala and not Nampawaru. 2. The forest is called Litipo forest reserve not litopo. 3. The next village from Rutamba to Lindi is Ngunja and not Ngonja.

  4. Najum Juma says:

    In additional the village is known in production of pads, pumkins and coconuts.. The junction to Rondo Village where the Hon. Bernard Membe was born make the villahe of Rutamba being the small centre of economic activities like trade of various goods, The famous trader in the area including Mchunda, Kijiwe, Condo and others, also there is police post and health centre, two primary schools and one secondary school…the village has two water bodies within which are Nambawara with salt water and Kijanga with fresh water…during the year 2010 up to 2015 the ward officer was Mzee Ng’ombo… I’m very deep with this village coz I was born there….

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