Family caught in twisted claims of Kamba curses and cleansing rites

Witchcraft paraphernalia on display. [File, Standard]

At the age of 80, Syolo Muthama would possibly be resting easy as he plays with his grandchildren and catches up with folks in the community.

However, he is a troubled man who was until yesterday rocked in a vicious court battle with his relatives over bizarre happenings of August 4, 2005.

Muthama told High Court Judge Lawrence Mugambi that he leads a lonely life after his children, family and community shunned him over the belief that he is a witch.

He sued Ndavi Nungu, Cosman Mukosi, Shadrack Kioko, Benedict Mutua, Titus Mbolu, Ngome Mulei and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI).

Muthama and the five persons he sued belong to Mbaa Ndambuki clan.

Trouble in the family started in 1992 following their kin’s death. Mukosi told the court that when one of his uncles died, Muthama’s father told mourners that his son killed the deceased through witchcraft.

He also narrated that Muthama was ordered to leave and never to return. Thereafter, the court heard that the 80-year-old man's father retrieved a bow and arrow and shot at him.

Mukosi said his grandfather declared his son an outcast. Muthama’s father died in 1998 but he did not attend the burial.

Muthama narrated that on August 4, 2005, Nungu, Mukosi, Kioko, Mutua, Mbolu and Mulei organised for a family meeting at Kako village and invited him.

Nungu allegedly convinced the other family members to believe that he was a witch and the cause of the family misfortunes.

Justice Mugambi heard that Muthama was forcefully bound with ropes, blindfolded and transported to Mbitini in Kitui in a pick-up truck at night to be exorcised of witchcraft powers.

Muthama told the court that he was forced to take an oath known as ngata ostensibly to neutralise the alleged witchcraft powers.

Ngata is practiced by the Kamba community. It involves consumption of blood and intestines of a goat that is specifically prepared by a witch doctor to denote a new beginning and eternal protection from evil.

Muthama told court that the ordeal meant to ensure that he could not bewitch anyone else caused him immense psychological torture. 

After the incident, he said that he was shunned by the community and his children. Muthama said he lives in despair and distress.

He told the court that he wrote to the DCI seeking for a thorough probe into the matter but nothing has happened.

Muthama’s relatives filed their responses through Mukosi. He was their star witness.

Mukosi said that after Muthama’s father died, the family called for a meeting on September 7, 2002 to mend fences. He claimed that none of the family members was comfortable associating with Muthama before he was cleansed from the curse placed by his father.

Mukosi said that ngata was proposed to protect the family from witchcraft. All family members, he revealed, agreed that anyone who was above 18 years would be subjected to the same.

Muthama was said to have asked his kin to allow him go sort some issues with a neighbor before he could undertake the ritual.

In 2005, another family member died. Mukosi said that the family met and the proposal for the ritual idea was revisited.

He narrated that Muthama was also for the ritual to happen. According to his testimony, the family raised transport and ritual money and they proceeded to the person who was to conduct the same. 

Mukosi said that all 41 family members who were above the legal age undertook the ritual. He claimed that Muthama took the ritual voluntarily alongside his brothers Kisilu and Ngome. 

He recounted that the three men went to the ritual site using public means.

Mukosi told the court that Muthama’s children had no problem with him.

He said that when he inquired from Muthama about the case, he him that his brother, Muia Kisilu had brought some forms to sign. According to Mukosi, the case was about Muia and not Muthama.

Mukosi argued that the case was an abuse of court process and urged the court to dismiss it with costs.

Nevertheless, Mutua filed a separate response. He told the court that he was a stranger to the witchcraft claims as he did not attend such a family meeting.

Mutua, a Redeemed Gospel Church pastor told the court that on June 29, 2005, his mother passed away and was buried the following month.

He narrated that immediately after the burial, he returned to his place of work in Nairobi. He told court that the family meeting happened after he had left.

Mutua asserted that as a man of the cloth, he could not have attended a meeting for a ngata ritual as he does not ascribe to such practices. He also asked the court to dismiss the case with costs on the basis that Muthama was aware that he never attended the meeting.

Despite being sued, the DCI did not file a reply.

After listening to the rival arguments, Justice Mugambi was of the view that although Muthama’s kin other than Mutua had admitted that the ritual happened, the point that the family members could not agree was on whether it was forced or voluntary.

“The question is who between the respondents and the petitioner is telling the truth as to what actually transpired on that particular day?” He paused.

Justice Mugambi however dismissed Muthama’s case for lapse of time saying that it took him 14 years to file the matter.

The judge said there was no explanation why he did not report the issue to the police immediately it happened and only filed the case on June 3, 2019.

“Although it is now settled that Constitutional violations have no limitation period, it has been held that prolonged delays before seeking enforcement of a right must be explained,” the Judge said.

“Sluggishness on the part of the person asserting his or her rights is frowned upon by law and equity, particularly if there is no reasonable explanation for the delay hence the maxim equity aids the vigilant not the indolent,” said Mugambi.

Justice Mugambi said that the only plausible reason why Muthama was quiet for 14 years was that he alongside 41 members of his family willingly participated in traditional ngata for cleansing purposes.

He dismissed the case but declined to condemn him to pay costs.