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Nomiya, the church leading fight against HIV/Aids in Nyanza

By Isaiah Gwengi | September 24th 2021

President Uhuru Kenyatta interacts with members of Nomiya Faith Church who paid him a courtesy call at the State House, Nairobi in May 2017. [PSCU]

Many people in Luo Nyanza did not immediately embrace circumcision, even after clinical trials established it significantly reduced a man’s chances of contracting HIV, thanks to tradition.

According to the trials carried out in several countries, including Kenya, Uganda and South Africa, a man’s chances of contracting the disease during sex with HIV-infected female partners was reduced by 50 per cent to 60 per cent with circumcision.

But as the debate on whether circumcision should be practiced as a way of fighting the killer disease raged, a group in Luo Nyanza was unbothered - they were already practicing circumcision, based on their religious persuasions.

Adherents of Nomiya Church have practiced male circumcision since Johanna Owalo founded the denomination in 1907. Nomiya is Luo word for ‘I was given’.

Experts are warning of a possible surge in HIV infections in Nyanza, as people avoid circumcision. However, Nomiya Church, whose headquarters is in the region, is way ahead of time, promoting and practicing circumcision according to Biblical teachings.

Daniel Omondi, the leader of the church, says Owalo was instructed by God to take a long sharp sword and circumcise his adherents to distinguish his followers from the rest of the Luo people.

In keeping up with the Old Testament traditions, pioneers of the church faced strong resistance from custodians of the local culture, who termed male circumcision a foreign ritual. But the church stood its ground and circumcised thousands of sons eight days after birth.

Nomiya Women Ministry members dance at their church in Nyamasaria, Kisumu, January 2019. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

In Genesis 17, God ordered Abraham to ensure boys were circumcised eight days after birth. After circumcision, the infant and its mother are kept in seclusion for 30 days.

During that period, the mother is not allowed to attend any public function, go to church or even touch the Bible because she is considered unclean. However, she is allowed to cook her food, wash her clothes even as she attends to the baby.

The woman is also allowed to attend the funeral of her husband, in case he dies during that period. She can also attend the funeral of any immediate family member during her seclusion. “In the event the mother dies before the end of the 30 days, we conduct prayers for the baby before taking him out of seclusion,” says Omondi.

During the period a woman and her circumcised infant are in seclusion, her husband is not allowed to take alcohol, smoke or have sex with her. If the man is a polygamist, he is only allowed to provide for the mother and child but is restricted from sharing a bed with them.

After seclusion, the baby is presented at mesa mar misango (sacrificial table), after which roast meat of a ram and cockerel are served with chapati. The ritual is only open to the circumcised.

 “We use cockerels because they are affordable and readily available. One is burnt to ashes while the other is roasted and eaten. Nobody is allowed to talk at the sacrificial table because this is a moment we communicate with God alone,” says Omondi.

Mary Ogutu, a member of the church and a counsellor, says there is need for government to establish counselling and testing centers in the church. “Circumcision, HIV counselling and testing go hand in hand. Nomiya Church is supplementing the ministry of health’s services,” she said. 

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