The Tengzug Hills

Just south of Bolga, the hill village of Tengzug is home to the Talensi people, and the location of a famous shrine. We visited right before the annual Golob Festival, which rendered the shrine inaccessible, but permitted us a peek into the local rituals.

Tengzug Man

To arrive at Tengzug, we arranged a private driver from Bolga Station. Although it’d be possible to get here with shared transport, this would take a long time and require a transfer in the town of Tongo — and on this extremely hot Sunday, we had no patience for such an undertaking. So we had paid a guy take us straight to the village’s gate, and wait until we were done; it was money well spent, and we’d encourage others to do the same. (Just make sure to haggle!)

Once we arrived, we were met by a local guy who’d be acting as our guide for the day. He led us into Tengzug, through a dizzying maze of narrow passages of stone and clay, until we were completely disoriented. Eventually, we ended up the “main plaza”, which is really just an open space about three square meters, near the shrine. Preparations for the Golob Festival were underway, and we knew this because of the baby goat which had been sacrificed moments before, and was now laying in the plaza in pieces: head on a stone, liver in a bowl, guts piled up in the corner. We watched the guys clean and dismember the goat for a little while, and were then led out of the plaza and into the landscape south of town.

Tengzug Cave

This was an area much like Bongo, which we had visited the day before: gorgeous hills decorated with massive stones that appear to have fallen from the sky. Our guide took us to one of the cooler ones — and I mean “cool” in the literal sense. Although the day was brutally hot, we sat underneath the slight incline of a giant stone and enjoyed the strong breeze passing through. He told us this was one of the places where the people of Tengzug would hide to escape raiding slavers. He also told us that the creatures of the land, including snakes and lions, would come to the defense of the locals. We didn’t express any skepticism, out of politeness before his sincere belief, and also what if it was true? I could just see us mocking superstition and then, whoops, a cobra drops on our head.

We returned to the village, where we had the honor of meeting Tengzug’s chief, who is married to 17 women and claims dozens of children. He was sprawled out, chief-like, on a carpeted platform, and we said hello, our guide acting as translator. This guy just exuded this sense of ultimate cool, with the kind of unassailable confidence you only get with wife #17.

Chief Tengzug

Unfortunately, we were unable to see Tengzug’s famous shrine, because of the festival preparations. Our guide was extremely coy about this, saying things like… “You know. Because… well, you know.” I can only assume he meant that it was because villagers would be totally naked at the shrine. To enter, even westerners are expected to disrobe to the waist — that includes women. It might have also been because of sacrifices; I’m not sure, but I wasn’t about to insist. Our visit to Tengzug had been remarkable enough, already.

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