Like Tarzan's hidden home in the Mutia Escarpment with its tales of the elephants' graveyard, in the 1920s explorers found a mysterious place in Africa that became known as the Forbidden Pit.
In the 1920s, Africa was a continent mostly unexplored by Westerners. Mysteries abounded as to what could be found there, and one report described a place located in North Rhodesia that the native Mashona and Matabele tribes shunned. They called it the Forbidden Pit.
September 1925, via London a news story ran of a bottomless hole discovered by scientist in Rhodesia. It was described as a huge, water-filled limestone pit. The tribes thought of it as the center of a lost world.
The reason for the natives' fear were based on stories of strange, reptile-like animals that roamed the area, eating anything it could catch, including humans. Growls could also be heard coming from the pit. In an attempt to appease whatever lurked in the depths of the hole, another tribe, the Ila, tied a group of their own people flung them into pit as a sacrifice.
G. Elliot Smith, professor of anatomy at the University of London said, "It is highly probably that there are animals still alive in the wild, broken hill country that are known to us only in a fossilized state. This country is bound to produce a great many things of extraordinary interest in the future. It may be the last refuge of the animals thought by us to be extinct."
At the beginning, the expedition had trouble finding a native guide willing to take them to the Forbidden Pit. The party did not encounter any strange sighting, but the guide as well as the natives from the area insisted the strange creatures existed. They feared it so much, that many refused to talk about it.
The October 1925 issue of the New Zealand Guardian, recounted a story told by Lewanki, the chief of the Barotse tribe thus: "An animal like a monstrous hippopotamus, but many times larger, which swirled away as he looked but left behind it the traces of its crawling limbs like ruts of wagon wheels.
The party of explorers were constantly warned by the natives to stay away from the "pit". The article reported on the description given by the tribesman as:
The story conjures up visions of some great reptile like the Plesiosaurus, which wallowed in the swamps of Africa millions of years before ancient man walked there. Fifty miles from the Forbidden Pit the skull of Africa’s earliest known man was found, a contemporary of the cave men of Europe. Could he have seen this monster or its ancestors?
In 1927, Major F. G. Jackson spent 12 months traversing Africa in a 6,000 mile trip from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. He was accompanied by Graham Eyres-Monsell, 2nd Viscount Monsell. The caravan had almost 100 native carriers throughout the trip. They stopped at the "forbidden pit", which was believed to be an unfathomable body of water. The natives thought it to be the home of a prehistoric monster.
Major Jackson said it was a deserted place that the natives stayed well away from, and was far from any European habitation. It sat surrounded by stunted trees and measured about half an acre. The banks into the pit were steep and slimy.
The major along with his companion stripped and swam in the water, and during their stay they did not see or hear anything unusual.
Close to this area is the Kafue River which feeds the Lukanga Swamp. The upper part of the river is dotted with limestone caves, underground rivers and sinkholes.
The expedition then stopped at the court of Ging M'singa the only remaining warrior king in central Africa. They found that the power behind the throne was his mother who measured more than six feet in height. Her chief claim to fame was that she poisoned six of her relatives to ensure her's son's ascension to the throne.
Jackson found a high death rate from tuberculosis, and that many times healthy persons were purposely infected in order to assure their death. This was done from taking the lungs from dead TB victims, and grinding them to a powder. This was then used to fill the tubes the natives drank their native beer from.
Whether the explorers thought they would encounter prehistoric reptiles or mammals, the most important question remains unanswered, which is what the Forbidden Pit actually is. Is it a bottomless sinkhole or the doorway to another world where creatures long thought extinct would occasionally exit to terrorize the natives?
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer