Strange money superstitions across Kenyan communities

Money superstitions rule many contemporary cultures. Among the Chinese, for instance, eight is thought to be a lucky number, signifying wealth and prosperity.

Other people around the world practise the Korean superstition of placing a note on the wall near the cash register in a business premise, which, they believe, will bring in many customers and enable the business to make a lot of money.

Money superstitions are also prevalent in modern Kenya, although they vary among different communities.

Superstitions shared

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Some of these superstitions are shared among cultures. Some Kenyan communities, including the Kamba, Luhya, Meru and Luo caution against giving money to certain individuals.

"Elders advise against giving money to specific people, especially certain old women. It is believed that if you offer them money they will use it to bewitch you,” says Mike Kamuti, a young man from Meru.

"Some members of the community believe it is wrong to give coins to some individuals, as they can perform sorcery using the coins to prevent you from earning more.

"Instead, it is advised that one gives money in form of notes," says King Nabongo Mumia of the Wanga.

Communities like the Kamba and Luhya prefer helping people by buying them items like sugar or flour instead of offering money, since sorcery cannot be performed using such items.

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Valued by the learned

According to Mumia, superstitions surrounding money are few among the Wanga, but those that exist are valued even by learned people.

“The other superstition is that picking money can bring you bad luck because the evil or bad luck of the person who dropped the money will follow you," he said.

This belief is not just held by the Wanga but also the Luo, the larger Luhya community, Kisiis and Kambas.

"I often hear that sick people intentionally drop money on the road so the sickness leaves them and transfers to the person that picks the money," says Nancy Achola, a Luo.

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Her claim is corroborated by a Kisii man who told The Standard that some members of his community believed if one was ailing, all they needed to do to get well was rub a coin on the ailing part of the body then throw it on the road. Whoever picks the coin would get the illness, while the ailing person who threw the coin would recover.

Most effective

In some communities, like the Kambas and Luhyas, these practices are believed to be most effective if the money is thrown at a road junction.

"If you get into a road accident and the insurance company compensates you with money, you should throw half of that money away," says Loice Emali of the Maragoli sub-tribe of the Luhya community.

"You should go with that half of the money to a road junction and throw it there. If you keep it, it will harm you. You will not go for a year before you die," she adds.

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Ms Achola says she has heard of claims that wealthy people with children living with disabilities, including mental illness, or those who keep losing family members use their children or other family members to generate wealth, especially if the ill one is a first-born.

For some cultures, the beliefs surrounding money practices extend to religion. During the celebrations of the Indian New Year, which are held on the evening of Diwali, Hindus perform religious ceremonies meant to bring success.

On New Year's Eve, Indian business-people, in a ceremony known as chopda pujan, which lasts slightly more than an hour, place their accounting books at a specific area in the temple, where they are then prayed for by a priest.

Praying for books

The Hindus believe praying for the books of business will bring success to the business in the New Year.

The Indian community has a series of other practices linked to business prosperity.

“In our places of business, we often have small temples. The small temples are used for morning prayers before the business opens, so that the business can operate smoothly during the day,” a Hindu believer who declined to be named told The Standard.

Another practice that is believed to bring success is the hanging of a black doll at the door of an Indian house or business. For businesses, having a black doll by the door repels negative energy that could potentially harm one’s business. Some Indians opt to hang charms consisting lemons and chilly at the entrance of the business premise, a practice believed to bring good luck and ward off evil eyes.

Indians also believe that one should not spend money during business hours before making a sale, as it carries bad luck. “It is also bad to operate a business after 7pm, especially if you are running the business on a loan,” he says.

Charles Njuguna, a Kikuyu, says he has heard other communities making false claims about Kikuyu cultural superstitions related to money. He notes, "A friend asked me if it is true that Kikuyu babies are given coins immediately after birth so they learn to love money. This is not true."

While money superstitions are prevalent among certain communities, among others, they are rare or not taken seriously, such as among the Kikuyu and Kalenjin.

The Reverend Peter Munga, the secretary general of the Kikuyu Council of Elders, says the Kikuyu have very few money superstitions or beliefs, if any.

“What I can say for sure is that when you receive money from someone you spit on your chest as a sign of gratitude.

"This tradition has, however, been eroded over time due to factors like the use of digital money transfer services,” Munga told The Standard.

Munga says the Kikuyu community traditionally values hard work and generosity.

"Since the old days, witchcraft did not exist in the Kikuyu community. Everybody meant well for the community. Those found to be practising witchcraft were excommunicated," he adds.

Peter Chemaswet, a pastor and historian, says the Kalenjin do not have money superstitions.

The leaders, however, discourage the belief of superstitions.

So fearful

Mumia states: “People tend to become so fearful of these superstitions that they are controlled by them. People need to rid themselves of these fears.”

Munga also notes that these superstitions are dangerous as people allow themselves to be controlled by them.

"Evil is given too much attention, even in churches, leading people to become fearful, even Christians. People need to learn not to give in to these negative beliefs," he says.

Money superstitionscontemporary cultureswealthKenyan communities