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It costs one up to Sh500,000 for an elaborate kaya anointing ceremony

By Patrick Beja | November 1st 2021
Kaya Mtswakara Chairman Shaban Ndegwa. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

The man who in March this year anointed ODM leader Raila Odinga in an open ground in Samburu, Kinango Sub-county in Kwale, expects him to turn up for an elaborate ceremony in one of the local sacred sites.

Shaban Ndegwa, a member of the Coast Interfaith Council of Clerics (CICC), says Raila had told him he would return for blessings inside a kaya forest, and they were expecting him in the coming months.

But for a prominent man like Raila, it will cost between Sh200,000 and Sh500,000 to have such a ceremony where kaya elders and the community can participate and feast.

Kwale Woman Representative Zuleikha Hassan sponsored the Samburu ceremony. She catered for fares and allowances for the elders and bought the cloth to dress up the former prime minister.

If Raila turns up, Ndegwa says, he will have to give out money to buy two black bulls, a sheep and 12 pieces of black cloth, 12 pieces of red cloth and 12 pieces of white cloth.

The black cloth represents the African skin colour, red stands for bravery (lion), and white is for peace.

Usually, the red cloth is tied around the waist while performing the kaya ceremonies or prayers. In the past, Mijikenda elders would use the local mnguonguo tree barks or skins of domestic and wild animals as a dress.

“When I led his anointing ceremony at Samburu, Raila indicated his readiness for an elaborate ceremony in the kaya itself. We are looking forward to his return for the blessings,” says Ndegwa.

Inside the kaya, a visitor can be offered special prayers while seated on a three-legged stool close to the vigango (spirits of ancestors) and fingo (portent charm) that make the kayas sacred.

According to Ndegwa, kaya rules do not allow a white man to be ushered into such shrines even if they offer all the requirements for anointment.

Ndegwa, who has been Kaya Mtswakara chairman since 1997, led elders in prayers for President Uhuru Kenyatta at Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi when he faced a criminal case at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The elders were ferried to Nairobi by a church organisation to participate in the prayer session.

In 2014, Ndegwa, 60, also led kaya elders in dressing up President Kenyatta in the black, red and white traditional attire at Baraza Park in Kwale town. They anointed the Head of State when he issued title deeds to the residents.

Later, he teamed up with other kaya elders to anoint Raila as a Digo elder and named him Gakweli in a ceremony sponsored by then Kwale Woman Representative, the late Zainab Chidzuga.

“I became a kaya elder at the age of 37 years, and I can say I have gained enough experience. I have been very active in the kaya institution in both Kwale and Kilifi counties. I have offered blessings to many people,” says Ndegwa.

In 2011, Ndegwa and his team were in the news when they demanded a black bull (nzao), a sheep (ng’onzi), two black he-goats (ndenge), and 12 pieces each of black, red and white clothes to appease the spirits of Kaya Mtswakara after engineers from a foreign construction firm doing a feasibility study for the Sh20 billion Mwache dam entered the shrine while wearing shoes, against the rules.

“We had to demand to be facilitated to conduct an elaborate cleansing ceremony to avoid calamities such as snake bites, disease or lack of rains in the community. Coast Development Authority (CDA), which was the lead government agency in the project, gave us Sh100,000. We conducted an elaborate ceremony where we slaughtered the animals and said special prayers. Villagers participated and feasted,” he says.

In 2017, he was among Kinango kaya elders who took then local MP Gonzi Rai to Kaya Gandini, where the legislator sought blessings ahead of that year’s election. Unfortunately, he lost.

“When we take someone to the kaya, he is offered an opportunity to ask God what he wants,” says Ndegwa.  

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