The Catholic Church recently raised an alarm over cultic groups operating in parts of Central, especially in Kiambu County. In a letter read out to all congregations on Sunday, March 8 the Catholic Archbishop of Nairobi, John Cardinal Njue came out strongly to warn faithful about the existence of at least two such groups within his geographical jurisdiction. He identified “Gwata Ndai” as one of such groups.
According to the Cardinal, the groups claim to be advocating a cultural renaissance through such activities as reinforcing of cultural traditions and practices, men empowerment and reinstating traditional ways of worship. In an investigative report commissioned by the church, the teachings of the groups were found to also include such retrogressive practices as female circumcision, male chauvinism and subjugation of women.
Though these groups may have caught the attention of the Church, cultural renaissance seems to be a phenomenon that has captured the nation for a while now. In fact, the growth of this new clamour for cultural identity and practice has been inadvertently created and propagated by politicians and some clergy. From the mid nighties to early 2000s, there was a major proliferation of tribal groupings that manifested in various ways, including the holding of cultural nights or days in major urban centres, especially in Nairobi. Though initially these were great opportunities for celebrating cultural expressions such as dress, food and dance; some activities bordered on mild to extreme cultural cultism.
What is interesting is that, whereas Mount Kenya tribes were among the first of Kenyan tribes to embrace western “civilisation” (at a time when other tribes hang on to their cultural practices), the region is now the centre of cultural renaissance. We have seen notable personalities openly choose cultural weddings in place of Christian ones. The explanations are many but with no easy answers.
Studies indicate that cultism is often the result of at least two diametrically opposed social phenomena – fear and security. When a people are in a state of fear or uncertainty, they tend to recourse to cultic shields. Depending on the source or cause of our fear, the shelter we seek may range from the physical to the mystical. If the threat is to our physical wellbeing, we will seek physical shelter or shield. However, when the threat is existential, the recourse is often mystical. That is why even in the current Kiambu case, the groups have resorted to instilling fear – such as fear of death and unexplained calamities if one ignores their teachings – and coercion in recruiting new members.
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At the other extreme though, men and women who tend to follow or join cults are the educated, powerful or wealthy. Human beings are naturally spiritual or religious. Hence, education, power, or riches never fully satisfies. People therefore seek for inner satisfaction in something beyond material possessions. If they are not members of any mainstream faith groups, they tend to fall prey to mystic or cultic movements. This explains why groups like Free Masonry tend to attract the intellectuals, the powerful, and the rich.
It follows therefore that in highly volatile environments, people will tend towards cultic behaviours and even join cultic groups, for solace or self-actualisation. This was well demonstrated in the life of ancient Israel. Whenever they were in a state of uncertainty, they embraced the mystic and idolatrous practices of their neighbours. Likewise, in Kenya, periods of distress and uncertainty have driven many to cultural and religious cults. This may explain why cultural mysticism has especially gripped the Mount Kenya region, with a strong drive towards traditional cultural worship and practices. In other parts of the country, where people did not quite abandon their cultural practices, there now exists a high sense of syncretism – the integration of traditional cultural worship with the worship of God.
In all cases, however, it has not been unusual to find high ranking Christian leaders, particularly former Church leaders, advocating traditional practices, especially during weddings, burials, and rites of passage. This cultural renaissance – and its attendant push towards some repugnant practices – poses a threat to the wellbeing of society, and the Church in particular. That is why we must support Cardinal Njue’s call to shun cultic groupings but hold dear to age old Christian values even as we guard our positive cultural heritage.
- The writer is the presiding bishop of Christ is the Answer Ministries. [email protected]