The push by a section of Kikuyu traditionalists to convert Christians to worship their traditional god seems to have taken root in central Kenya.
The vigorous campaign by a section of traditionalists who refer to themselves as Kikuyu seers has led to a major ideological difference between them and clergy who are now arming themselves in an all-out spiritual war. Two years ago, the then Nairobi Catholic Archbishop John Cardinal Njue sent a circular to all churches saying he was concerned that a group calling itself Gwata Ndai was coercing the faithful to join it.
According to the Cardinal, the group bore the characteristics of a cult and had its base in Kiambu and Nairobi and was instilling fear in order to inculcate their doctrines and enforce their practices upon individuals.
“I urge priests to re-integrate Christians willing to come back to the church through the guidance of the Catholic liturgical rite which includes going through prayer retreats, fasting and the sacrament of reconciliation,” the Cardinal stated in the circular.
Two years later, the campaign by the church seems to have borne little or no fruit. Their antagonists advocating culture have gone a notch higher to use celebrated artists to convert the flock to return to their old ways of worshipping. For the first time, culturists are opening up about their intensive strategy to convert the faithful to return to their god, Mwene Nyaga.
They claim that the Biblical God belongs to colonialists and the whites and that lifestyle diseases struck the Agikuyu community when they abandoned their supreme deity. Karanja Mwangi, who describes himself as a seer (mundu mugo), says he uses the cultural divine intervention to speak to the living dead who dictate to him about the calamities his over 100 followers are facing and how to mitigate them.
“We have made major strides to inform and educate our people about our true god and our efforts are bearing fruits, in the next 50 years, all Christians will have realised about Mwene Nyaga and will get back to their traditional ways of worshipping,” said Mwangi.
According to Mwangi, there are about 1,000 seers, whose roles are equivalent to that of the clergy only that seers awaken the spirit of the living dead to guide their community.
“We meet twice a month where we try to restore the river back to its course. we don’t go to churches because I believe religion is meant for division and can’t represent the god we know,” the head of a group known as the Gikuyu Academy said.
However, he says he advocates for progressive culture, that which is not static saying they do away with archaic cultures such as female genital mutilation.
“All that we don’t subscribe to is colonialistic doctrines in the church but we can’t go back to wearing skins, the way our forefathers used to do. We have those of us (traditionalists) advocating for such uncivilised practices and this causes confusion,” added Mwangi.
Other than Mwangi, there are other groups such as Mihiriga Kenda, led by Maina Magoto which has its base in Muranga where many flock every morning to know their fate and other groups such as Gwata Ndai which has its base in Kiambu. Magoto’s empire in Kiamara village in Kangema is among the biggest gathering of all attracting over 70,000 followers who refer to him as ‘awa’ my lord.
The centenarian also advocates for the Agikuyu to ditch Christianity saying diseases such as cancer, and diabetes among others are a result of ‘the community worshipping new gods’.
“Some call me a witchdoctor because they are Christians but my people know that I hate witches. The misunderstanding saw me land in jail since they seem not to have freedom on the traditional way of life,” Magoto noted.
But Mwangi noted that the community was experiencing a transition moment as there was a massive denouncement of the Christian faith to the Agikuyu traditional practices, a move he said was prophesied by Mugo Wa Kibiro. Mugo wa Kibiru also known as Cege Wa Kibiro was a Kikuyu prophet and a medicine man who is believed to have prophesied about the coming of colonialists and the construction of the railway. There are about 21 other prophecies that are rumoured to have been made by Mugo Wa Kibiru.
Some of the factors that have accelerated the campaign by traditionalists against the church include some celebrated artists who are using their talents to urge their natives to go back to their traditional way of life. Artists like Muigai Wa Njoroge, a gospel artist cum traditional one in his song “Ningwigiira’ urges the Kikuyu community to go back to their true god to avert calamity.
The songs also call for the community to go back to perform rituals for it to be blessed by the gods. Other artists like Waithaka Mbogo alias Dr Gathemba has been spreading the message of traditionalism through songs and through YouTube where he has been interviewing ‘seers and prophets’ and believes the messages have been effective.
“I have about 50 songs that seek to popularise our traditional way of life and return to our god. We project that about 1.5 million people from the Agikuyu community have ditched Christianity and come back home,” said Mbogo.
The move has unsettled the church whose flock continues diminishing. Mt Kenya Bishops Forum chairperson Stephen Maina said the trend is worrying especially where the young generation has been radicalised to denounce Christianity. The prelate said the church is now arming itself by harnessing church groups from Sunday schools, teen and youth groups to educate them on embracing the right cultural practices and abandon those that have been overtaken by events.
He said the confusion caused by the culturists has contributed to increased cases of female genital mutilation and male chauvinism in society.
“We have called on churches to reinforce associations and teach them why it is necessary to worship the Lord God and why they should ditch the archaic cultural practices,” said the Bishop of Full Time Winners Church of Kenya.
However, Bishop Timothy Gichere of ACK Mt Kenya Central Diocese said since there is freedom of worship in Kenya, the church has little to fight back but said they have warned their faithful about the dangers of syncretism.
“We are aware of the vigorous campaign about the directionless group that is preaching the anti-church message. We have warned Christians that joining them and practising what they preach is denouncing their faith,” said Dr Gichere.
He said most Christians are finding their way back to the church after knowing the truth and wanted everybody who wants to denounce his faith to consult widely before making the move.
Murang’a Catholic Bishop James Wainaina said the matter was serious adding that those practising the rituals are avoiding church weddings, preferring traditional ones, avoiding baptisms and Christian naming.
“The rituals are done discreetly and without much pomp. In part, those who have participated in Christian rites like baptism or even participating in the mass, are required to be ritually cleansed in the traditional way. What this means is that being baptised or attending and participating in mass in evil, by the advocates of such unchristian practices is a radical break from, Christianity,” said the Bishop.