Are these the real Jews?

Story by ANTHONY NYONGESA

“Make sure you remove your shoes when we arrive at the main entrance into Jerusalem. It is a holy place and if you ignore my advice, you will be doing it at your own peril. You will receive no blessings and probably be cursed instead”, the boda boda (bicycle taxi) rider warns me as I get off.

We are approaching the compound where Elijah Masinde, the legendary Bukusu leader, self-proclaimed prophet and founder of the Dini ya Musambwa sect, hid in the early 1940s to avoid arrest by the colonial government.

The place has since been turned into a shrine by the Judah Israeli sect, whose members believe they are the real Jews. According to the sect, River Chesamisi – one of the river that runs down Mt Elgon on Kenya-Uganda border – is the “River Jordan” and every member must be baptised here.

“God revealed himself to Africans in 1920s and told them they were the Israelites,” says Moses Wafula, the high priest and self-styled representative of the Biblical Moses.

According to Wafula, “spirits” have shown that Jesus was an African, not a Semite.

“His second coming will be in Kenya, specifically in Bungoma, which is our area,” he claimed during an interview in “Jerusalem”, the church’s headquarters near Chesamisi High School, about 10 kilometres from Kamukuywa shopping centre.

To get to “Jerusalem” from the Bungoma-Kitale road, you can walk or hire a boda boda at Kamukuywa shopping centre since there are no public service vehicles on the Kamukuywa-Chesamisi route.

The sect is among the many independent religious groups that sprung up during the colonial days as an alternative to the mainstream churches, which had banned polygamy and female circumcision. It still encourages polygamy.

The sect’s offices are built above a tunnel where Masinde and other Africans considered dangerous by the colonialists hid for some time before they were captured and jailed.  

Immediately after Masinde’s capture in 1944, the tunnel was sealed. But it was re-dug by the sect members in 1998 and turned into a basement where religious implements are stored. It is here that the head of the church, Binti Zion Sarah Nafula, mediates with God on behalf of her people.

“Elijah Masinde, one of the founders of this church, came here as the Messiah to spread the gospel but began engaging in evil practices before he quit to form Dini ya Musambwa (Belief in Ancestors in the Bukusu language), which was banned by the colonial government.

“Under the umbrella of the Anglican African Israel church, Masinde was one of the six members filled with the “Spirit” to speak out against the devil and the colonial masters and they would hide in the tunnel whenever the colonial officers came looking for them,” explains Samuel Wanyama, Mfalme wa Israeli (King of the Israelites).

Later, Masinde and his colleagues formed Judah Israeli, only to abandon it after a short while to form Dini ya Musambwa.

Wanyama says that Masinde’s deviation from God’s work to form Dini ya Musambwa was a rebellion not only against his followers but also against God, and that was why he ended up being captured by the colonial forces in collaboration with African chiefs.

“Unlike in mainstream churches, where members fight for positions in the church, God anoints us through Binti Zion (Kiswahili for daughter of Zion),” says Peter Wafula, the church’s Kamukuywa branch chairman.

Twice a year, the sect members, dressed in flowing robes and their heads bent in supplication, climb Mt Elgon, which is 4,321 metres high, to offer sacrifices to God.

“We sacrifice doves, lambs and bulls that have not yet started mating. That is what God instructed his people to do,” offers Wafula, the high priest. They are supposed to make the offerings every month but only do so twice a year due to financial constraints, says Wafula.  

Before they set off for Mt Elgon, they slaughter a lamb in “Jerusalem” and smear its blood on the religious implements that are to be carried up the mountain.

On their way to the top, they bathe in the “living waters”, a warm spring on the mountain side that is believed to cure diseases and ward off bad luck in the community.

It is at this point that Binti Zion reads out the names of the followers who will make up the heavenly kingdom. Those whose names do not appear have to wait and see if they will make it to the heavenly kingdom during the next pilgrimage.

After several days on the mountain, the pilgrims head back to “Jerusalem” where they are welcomed with song and dance. After the celebrations, a bull is sacrificed at a special spot near the church building set aside just for that purpose.

“Jerusalem” is always a beehive of activity, with tourists, historians, journalists and other curious visitors thronging the compound to tour Masinde’s hideout -turned – shrine.  

In addition to the shrine, several huts have been built in the compound to house homeless families, widows and widowers, spouses separated from their partners, and elderly people who have no relatives to care for them.

“Before we give them accommodation, we try to establish whether or not the person is telling the truth about their having nowhere else to go,” asserts Wafula.

“Since time immemorial, this has been a place of refuge, that is why Masinde and others opposed to the colonial rule travelled all the way from Maeni in Kimilili to hide here,” he goes on to explain.

Unlike in other mainstream churches, the Juda Israeli sect operates on a very strict code of conduct. For example, a woman is not allowed to speak directly to a man inside the church. “If a female church member has a pressing issue to put across, she has to ask for permission to speak and that request must be made while kneeling on the floor,” says Ezekiel Waswa, a church official, adding that this is meant to enhance discipline in women.

“Our church seeks to maintain African culture not just in attire but also in deed. In the traditional African setting, women respected men and knelt whenever a man was talking to them or when giving men something, say water or food,” he asserts.

In another notable diversion from mainstream churches, the priest is not allowed to face the congregation while delivering his sermons, which take place on Fridays.

“It is only Jesus who will face his followers the way he did his disciples. No one in the church should face the congregation as is the case in mainstream churches. Those that do so will be held responsible for the sins of other church members on the day of judgment,” asserts Wafula.  

So, while delivering the sermon, the priest walks between the rows of seated members – men sit on the right side of the church while women sit on the left.

When they are not on duty, priests sit among the congregation, but never at the front or back of the church.

“Ours is a case of doing things simply, as instructed by the Bible. We are out to serve, not to be served,” says Waswa, who usually leads the pilgrims’ procession to Mt Elgon.

The land where the church and other houses are built was donated by local people, who were captured and beaten by white soldiers to reveal Masinde’s whereabouts when he started crusading against colonial rule. Those who donated land include Yonah Mukanda, Henry Khaemba and Joel Namanguva – all now dead.

Surprisingly, although Juda Israeli is one of the oldest sects in the country, it has only a few branches in Bungoma and Trans Nzoia districts, and one in neighbouring Uganda.

Publication Date: 04/02/2004
http://www.nationmedia.com/dailynation/nmgcontententry.asp?category_id=31&newsid=5459

blogger’s note: so no technically this story is not about elijah masinde. yes, it’s about judah israeli, en I assure you, there is a reason you’ve got to know about juda israeli if you want to know more about dini ya msambwa. so, if you’re still reading this story, then you have some background on a (supposedly) mysterious, elusive indigenous Afrikan religion, depending on who tells the story……like here’s another hadithi…..

2001-AUG-28: Kenya: About 300 members of the banned ‘Dini ya Musambwa’ (‘Religion of Tradition‘) faith group have refused to allow their children under five years of age to be vaccinated against polio. They believe that vaccinations are “ungodly.” They prefer to use traditional healing techniques. 

blogger’s note: en before you assume this is just history, read the truth in the signs, like in this hadithi…..

http://africanpress.wordpress.com/2007/10/15/scrambling-to-be-recognised-by-dini-ya-musambwa-kenya-sect/

The battle for the crucial Western Province vote has taken an unprecedented twist as Former Vice-President Musalia Mudavadi and Ford-Kenya chairman Musikari Kombo scramble over a notable prophesy on Luhya leadership.

With the Local Government minister accused of having overlooked its relevance, the ODM running mate appears to have stolen the region’s political grip from the noose of Kombo. Now the Ford-Kenya brigade has embarked on a belated move to visit the shrine of the Dini ya Musambwa prophet, the late Elijah Masinde, to seek blessings and guidance.

According to the Masinde prophesy made over four decades ago, the leadership of the Luhya community was to come from Lake Victoria. The Luhya were also to realise the presidency through the community’s third leadership.

Despite earlier requests by the Masinde family to the Ford-Kenya fraternity for consultation over various issues, the leaders never turned up.

But the political equation has suddenly changed, with Mudavadi becoming the running mate of ODM presidential candidate Raila Odinga, which has some bearing on Masinde’s prophesy.

Subsequently, Mudavadi last month visited Masinde’s shrine and held a lengthy discussion with the sect members and Bukusu elders, who endorsed him as the third Luhya leader.

They also gave him a baton as a symbol to lead the community.

But in a bid to restore their dwindling political fortunes, Ford-Kenya leaders plan to perform a ceremony at the shrine to appease the ancestors and seek blessings ahead of the General Election. Kanduyi MP Wafula Wamunyinyi said Kombo had sanctioned him to prepare the big cleansing ceremony to ensure they remain politically relevant.

But Masinde’s family has told Ford-Kenya to consult with them before visiting the shrine.

The family spokesperson, Mzee Lucas Watta, warned that the party leaders were not welcome to the shrine.

“We have blessed the Orange family and given Musalia the baton to be the third Luhya leader. We cannot alter this and Ford-Kenya must be ready to carry its own burden,” said Watta.

At an elaborate ceremony presided over by a prominent elder, Patrick Chaka, at the shrine, Mudavadi beat Kombo to the game by sitting on the special stool.

The late Masinde Muliro and the late Vice-President, Michael Wamalwa also sat on the stool signifying their new role as leaders of the Bukusu and the Luhya community as a whole.

Dini ya Musambwa myths

But Ford-Kenya allied politicians are putting up a spirited fight to reverse this notion. They argue that the Masinde prophesy is Bukusu-specific and not for the entire community.

Reacting, Bumula MP, Mr Bifwoli Wakoli, said: “I am a staunch Catholic and do not subscribe to the myths and legends of Dini ya Musambwa, which is a totally different religion.”

While acknowledging the existence of an ODM wave that is “quickly spreading around urban locations” in the former larger Bungoma District, Wakoli says he is not sure whether it is linked to the Masinde prophesy.

Nonetheless, the Ford-Kenya parliamentary whip maintains that his party still enjoys massive support in the rural areas.

Meanwhile, Mudavadi is expected to receive civic leaders from Narc-Kenya and Ford-Kenya from Malava constituency on Tuesday.

The Masinde factor aside, ODM hopes to take advantage of Ford-Kenya’s absence from the ballot paper in the December polls to win the Bungoma votes.

Mr Kibisu Kabatesi, ODM Presidential Campaign’s Director of Communications and Public Relations, says Ford-Kenya supporters had expected that their party would remain independent. But its being “consumed” by PNU has led to confusion and apathy.

It is probably because of this that a splinter party, New Ford-Kenya, led by Cabinet ministers Mr Soita Shitanda and Dr Mukhisa Kituyi hopes to ride on the voters’ apathy by offering an alternative.

Although a member party of PNU, New Ford-Kenya leaders will field candidates independently. The trick may just work considering that the party’s name resonates with that of the original Ford-Kenya party.

ODM’s popularity in the region, argues Kabatesi, is partly hinged on this development. He points out at the latest Steadman opinion poll figures, which indicate an increase of five points from 66 per cent to 71 per cent in favour of ODM in Western Province.

“This gain has mainly been made in the former Bungoma District, as the other parts of the Province are solidly Orange,” says Kabatesi.

Published by API/APN africanpress@chello.no tel +47 932 99 739 or +47 6300 2525 source.standard.ke

tdot39 (40)Michael Madill, The Daily Monitor, Monday October 19th
Do you know the fear which arrives with the knock on the door in the middle of the night?  If you were an outspoken opponent of any government from 1962 until today you felt it even if it never happened to you.  Do you know the terror of women who lived through the civil war in Luweero or LRA atrocities in the north?  They went out every day knowing they faced rape and murder, suffering because they were women.

If you are a gay man or woman living in Uganda today, then you carry the same burden of persecution for your identity.  You risk death or torture or public humiliation at the hands of a community blinded by hate and religious dogma.  Your plight is about to worsen, since another bill making you illegal will soon pass into law.

Gay people are not the only ones who should fear the new bill criminalising homosexuality.  Measures which make who you are a crime are easy to manipulate.  It’s easy to persecute gay people in Uganda because they are a very small group which has no political or mainstream social support.

If you think those two groups deserve what they get, then recall the days not so long ago when you felt unfairly targeted for what you are.  The last 47 years were not kind to many of us.  So it is astonishing that we seem to have learned nothing about the importance of diversity to stability and development.

How will the new law be enforced?  Arrests and prosecutions will almost always result from denunciations.  Since you can’t tell a gay man or woman just by looking, everyone is at risk.  This puts power into the hands of the snitch, the aggrieved spouse or employee, the wronged friend or election opponent.  Once you are branded, the stigma and its judicial consequences will be hard to shake.  Are you prepared to suffer imprisonment and possibly physical violence because someone says the
y saw you commit an act or saw your name in an e-mail list?

If the odious bill on the table in Parliament is permitted to join its brethren in the law books, then it is fair to ask, who’s next?  Gay people don’t pose a threat to the government, but they are an easy scapegoat for inflaming public anger which itself can be manipulated against other groups which are a threat.  An election is coming soon, and there is little an embattled government likes better than to divert attention from its troubles or to neutralise its opponents.

Uganda would not be 47 years old if it were not for the contributions of all its people, whatever their identity.  We saw the affects of the expulsion of Asians in the 1970s.  We still feel the weight of discrimination against Northerners today.  Yet we so easily slip into the habit of hating those who are different.  

Repression is an expedient.  Today it is cheap and easy to make laws against gay people.  Tomorrow it may be cheap and easy to make laws against elections.  Today the majority participates because it can, and it hands the government increments of power and social control.  Tomorrow, when the government is stronger, the majority may not be able to resist if the government decides sterner measures are required to ensure peace, prosperity or social cohesion.

The reason we should all fear the easy hatred of legitimised gay bashing is that it puts the country on a path away from democracy.  The ease with which this bill is likely to become law will mark another step away from real pluralism.  The creeping fascism of social purification begins with the easiest pickings but never stops, and its result is always tyranny.

mmadill@oakton.edu