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What makes Pokot's Dini ya Roho Mafuta Pole ya Africa tick?

By Stephen Ruto | November 3rd 2021

The Dini ya Roho Mafuta pole ya Africa Church in Sook, West Pokot, on July 23, 2020. The Church was established in 1940 and was banned by the colonial government. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

The high and the mighty make a point of visiting this abundantly named church in West Pokot. So what draws the big shots to the spiritual headquarters of the community?

Sook villaa mage in West Pokot County is dotted with four beautiful hills from which streams flow, giving the sleepy area a natural beauty.

Down the hills is a house of God magnificently designed to host a religious group that is deeply rooted in West Pokot.

At least 4,000 members of the Dini ya Roho Mafuta Pole ya Africa congregate in the beautiful church every Saturday to worship.

They call it their "Jerusalem", the place where The Messiah - Jesus Christ - died and was resurrected.

Its long name is perhaps not as long as its history. The church has at least 20,000 members, according to officials.

In November 2020 a host of high profile leaders led by Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga visited the church, rekindling memories of the resilient journey of a traditional African church whose pioneers stood up against the colonial regime, culminating in a massacre some 70 years ago.

For the last nine years, the church’s place of worship has stood tall in Sook, a remote village.

Krop Kilekwang, a member, says the church instils strong values in its faithful.

“It is not just about our beautifully-designed headquarters; it is about the great values and beliefs. We are guided by the Ten Commandments in the Bible,” he says.

Mariao Krop, another faithful, says: “This was the church that existed (in West Pokot) before missionaries and colonial masters came to interrupt our faith.”

Raila was accompanied by West Pokot Governor John Lonyangapuo and Leader of Majority in the Senate Samuel Poghisio during the event at “Jerusalem” for a fundraiser.

In November 2018, Deputy President William Ruto attended one of the church’s services and was nicknamed "Rimmon", a name for a man of the tribe of Benjamin in the Bible. Benjamin was one of the 12 sons of Jacob.

Dini ya Roho Mafuta Pole followers observe the 66th anniversary of April 24, 1950, Koloa Massacre at Kolao Baringo County on April 24, 2016. Hundreds of Pokot men were killed by the British colonial government and buried in a mass grave. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Its traditions include having two separate doors for men and women into the house of worship, removal of shoes and naming of newborns based on dreams by elder members of the church.

The group, established by a blacksmith who became Pokot community’s spiritual leader, has attracted both love and ridicule in equal measure.

Apostle Aristi Kitilit, one of the church's leaders and preacher, says the Roho Mafuta preaches the Holy Bible but blends the Pokot culture and traditions with modern Christianity.

Kitilit says the church was birthed sometime in 1940 by Lucas Pkech, a blacksmith who lived in Keringet village near the current Kapenguria town.

Pkech returned to West Pokot from Kabete in Kiambu County in the late 1930s where he was trained as a blacksmith and upon his arrival, he started making jingles in his Keringet village.

Making jingles made him so popular because the Pokot loved traditional songs and Pkech skillfully delivered the most crucial instrument – the jingle.

Kitilit says every member of the church is given a name derived from a dream by the apostles or senior members of the group.

A recent report detailing the history of the group prepared by Kitilit and other apostles including Alimon, Mesani and Loise, explains how the group has fought for its survival, its ideals and how it bore the brunt of colonialism by the British.

The report says Pkech, the founder of the religious group, was pressured by persistent spiritual calls to start a movement that would stop hate, malice and disunity of the Pokot community during the colonial period.

ODM leader Raila Odinga chats with West Pokot Governor Prof John Lonyangapuo when joined the congregation at Dini Ya Roho Church in Tamugh, West Pokot County on November 03, 2020. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

According to the report, Pkech attracted large crowds in the 1940s by applying Pokot tunes to gospel songs.

Through the songs, the report explains, Pkech’s crowds kept swelling, putting him in trouble with the colonial government, which discouraged large groupings at the time for fear of a rebellion similar to the Mau Mau in Central Kenya.

The colonial government was at the same time introducing Christianity and was wary of Pkech’s growing influence.

According to the British, the Dini ya Roho Mafuta Pole ya Africa movement was anti-colonial and its meetings were banned, but this could not stop a defiant Pkech from increasing his following.

After several warnings to desist from preaching, Pkech was arrested and arraigned at Kapenguria Court, which was located at what is now Chewoyet High School.

After interrogation and recording of statements, he was released on a free bond and immediately went into hiding.

And even after the release and while in his hideout in West Pokot hills, he kept preaching.

“Preaching in Murkwijit, he came across Rosti Achulo and gave a special anointment. He assured Achulo that the colonial era would soon come to an end and the church would thrive," says the report.

Pkech was arrested for the second time and taken to Nakuru. He mysteriously escaped and walked all the way from Nakuru to Kapenguria.

Achulo was detained for days in Kapenguria. Pkech took his gospel to Kolowa in Tiaty where he was allegedly assassinated by colonialists on April 24, 1950. Several worshippers were also shot dead in the carnage.

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