History of the Akurinu- a conservative and long-standing church
In the mid-1920s, Kenya had just been declared a colony as the effects of World War I began to bite. This came with the orders to carry kipande and forced labour.
The first generation of educated Kenyans were coming out of mission schools and now Africans could read and interpret the Bible from an African context.
The first Akurinu members came from the fallouts at mission centres. The emergence of a Holy Spirit movement in the African Inland Church-Kijabe led to expulsions which led members to the Akurinu Church.
They never broke out from a specific church. Their doctrine is a product of Africans interpreting the Bible within Kikuyu beliefs and contexts. To date, they are the outsiders of the Christian community and in many instances have been referred to as a sect. By 1927, the Akurinu had a substantial number of members that caught the attention of the colonial government and its first reaction was to link them with the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA).
The origin of the name Akurinu is not clear but some people credit it to Mukurini, the Kikuyu term for “who is the redeemer?” Members used to ask the question to identify members.
The other name is the informal wagithomo, meaning the readers, because they placed high value on reading the Bible.
Their approach was peace. When the colonial government tried to fight the movement, they fought back by withdrawing from Western culture. They refused to carry the kipande and did not agree to be counted during census. They also did not pay taxes, neither did they take their children to missionary schools or hospitals. In 1927, a group of Akurinu leaders led by Ng’ang’a went on a prayer pilgrimage on Mt Kenya. On reaching River Nyamindi, God spoke to Prophetess Lilian Njeru, telling her they should throw their Kikuyu traditional ornaments in the river and cover their hair.
That marked their departure from deep Kikuyu traditions of wearing ornaments and they started covering their hair. In February 1934, Ng’ang’a and two of the founders were shot dead by the police during a prayer retreat in the forest. This marked the beginning of persecution, suspicion and reclusive living of Akurinu members until the 1952 state of emergency.
Whenever they were arrested they never complained. They believed persecution was part of their spiritual journey. Their history is full of stories of pain. The mark of Akurinu pacifism is their white robes and turbans. Robes were adapted from Muslims and turbans from the Asians.
The church was officially registered in 1959 as The Holy Ghost Church of East Africa. Divisions and splits have happened but many still keep their old doctrines. The church is characterised by emotional repentance of sins during loud prayers accompanied by singing and drumming.
They do not shake hands, a practice introduced following public health challenges in the 1920s that came with the Spanish Flu pandemic. Marriage between members out of the Akurinu church is prohibited. Members have to adhere to strict dietary codes. Some branches of the church still shun hospitals.
The pentecostal doctrines of baptism by the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, dreams and visions interpretation, and healing ministry are at the core of the church. Members are conservative in their dressing and manners.
Dr David Wachira, also known as the American Mukurino, is a financial specialist at the World Bank and married to a Norwegian. He still wears his turban. Peris ‘Pesh’ Wanjiku, a fashion model, still wears long skirts and a turban. The church is changing, but in a slow and steady pace.