Historic 100-year-old Nomiya Church set for major facelift

Nomiya Church headquarters in Siaya County. [Courtesy]

The government has embarked on an exercise to rehabilitate the iconic Nomiya Church headquarters in Siaya County to preserve its rich cultural heritage.

Speaking on Wednesday during a tour of the site, Tourism Cabinet Secretary Peninah Malonza said Nomiya Church is to be upgraded into the region's third mausoleum after Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Tom Mboya in Siaya and Homa Bay counties.

The CS, who was accompanied by her ICT counterpart Eliud Owalo, said the government was committed to mapping the potential tourism attraction site.

“We want to build a product called religious tourism, and given that this church has a rich history, it will provide a centre for learning,” said Malonza, adding that the site will be equipped to avail the history of the church.

According to CS Owalo, the church has grown and now boasts over 500,000 members in and outside the country. “The church has become more popular because of its practices such as male circumcision and polygamy,” said the CS.

For more than ten decades, Nomiya Church, loosely translated as “I was given”, has grown steadily among Luos in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Unlike the church in the early days of colonialism, Nomiya kept out of politics and never confronted colonialism.

Started in 1907 by Yohanna Owalo, Nomiya Church was independent of the missionaries and has maintained its identity such that very little is known of it outside its circles.

Owalo, who died in 1921 and was buried at the church’s headquarters in Oboch village, Rarieda sub-county, claimed to have received the call to establish the church directly from God.

According to Cardinal Moses Oketch, Owalo got involved with the first colonial settlers early because Asembo was not as linked to Kisumu as it is today.

“He moved to Kisumu around 1900, possibly as a porter when the railway construction was approaching. He later worked in Mombasa for a magistrate, Alexander Morrison,” said Oketch.

Owalo first converted to Catholicism but later joined the Anglican Church. It is, however, in Mombasa that he had several visions and revelations that convinced him of God’s call upon his life.

“The most spectacular one that completely transformed him came on March 1, 1907, when he was taken to the first, second and third heavens by the spirit,” narrated Oketch.

Memorial at Nomiya Church headquarters in Siaya County. [Courtesy]

Owalo claimed that he saw various revelations in the heavens including the observation that Arabs, Jews and Luos were the only ones allowed in.

God, Owalo said, instructed him to acknowledge that He was the only true God, and beside Him, there was no other, nor shall there be any other.

God acknowledged that man; his creation, had deviated into the worship of idols. “Go! Take a well-sharpened knife to circumcise all men. He who has an ear, let him hear and adhere but leave the disobedient alone.”

Owalo made sure that this charge he got from God was written in the Nomiya Prayer Book.

The history of this church lends credence to God’s supreme call that goes beyond race. Africans, especially Luos, had just experienced resident missionaries in Maseno from 1906.

Owalo was thereafter advised by his boss to acquire adequate education before launching his religious movement. He joined the Catholic Mission at Ojola in Kisumu until his beliefs, which went against the Catholic faith, became an obstacle, and he was sent away.

He then spent some time with the Muslims in Kisumu, where he was probably circumcised before moving to a CMS School in Nairobi in 1908.

He tried the Church of Scotland (PCEA) in Kikuyu around 1909. In October 1910, Owalo went to teach in Maseno, but his controversial beliefs led to his expulsion in 1912.

He was not shy to share his belief that Jesus was not of the same substance as God. He was also against monogamy, which to him was a European idea and not biblical. He was also opposed to the doctrine of the Trinity, and he believed that Jesus was just a prophet of God like him.

“He left Maseno to start his Mission to the Luos, which he later named Nomiya Luo Mission. This is the first African Independent Church in Kenya,” added Oketch.

The church began by confining its ministry to the Luo community, which was in line with the colonial rule of confining churches to specific spheres of influence.

“In order to embrace the changes in the country, the church has begun to evangelize outside the Luo community. We dropped the Luo from the name and became Nomiya Church.

It is against this backdrop of rich history that the government, through the State Department for Culture and the National Museums of Kenya, has embarked on a plan to recognize the church as a historical site.