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PCEA ban on traditional ceremony misguided

The ban by the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) of an age-old Kikuyu traditional practice seems to confirm fears by African traditionalists that the Church has all along been a tool of Western hegemony.

In a recent statement by its top governing body, the PCEA Church said it had banned its followers from taking part in the popular Kikuyu rite known as “Mburi cia Kiama”. The practice is a rite of passage that entails the transition of men into positions of leadership.

In this hallowed ceremony, the older men receive authority to advice younger ones on various matters related to the community. It is similar in nature to the Maa tradition where young men (morans) graduate into elders. 

But I am not making a blanket condemnation of the Church, at least on this matter. I must admit the Catholic Church has tried its best, and still continues to appreciate and assimilate certain African customs in its liturgy. As a fairly progressive denomination of the Christian Church, the Catholic Church tries to be realistic to some sensitive customs of their congregants.

Secondly, it is true that the otherwise noble practice of “Mburi cia Kiama” has been infiltrated and abused by self-seekers and opportunists, who have commercialised it for ignoble ends. Politicians have also hijacked the custom in search of popularity and endorsement by elders.

But that should not be a reason for condemning the practice by branding it evil or ungodly. Lest the Church forgets, it has lost a lot of credibility from the conduct of a section of an increasingly corrupt and immoral clergy. It is a case of living in a glass house.

From the foregoing, I believe PCEA is running scared as Africans start seeing through a lot of some deceptive teachings and practices. The African society is at a crossroads, and people are increasingly seeking to rediscover their identity.

I am a member in a couple of WhatsApp groups that seek to do the above. One consists of an older and conservative demographic group, while another has a more youthful and practical membership. Ironically, the latter is more aggressive in its advocacy of Africans going back to their roots.

The group of older men and women seems stuck in intellectual arguments that do not offer any solution to our gradual social disintegration. It is this lacuna that traditionalists seek to fill. Personally, I believe it’s high time that Africans retraced their steps and reinstated customs that gave society stability.

We cannot continue being fooled, or fooling ourselves, that the current state of affairs is sustainable in another generation.

There is always the defeatist argument that we have gone too far to turn back. I beg to differ. In any case, what is better? To move on into total self-destruction, or to take a break and abandon what has failed to deliver fundamental solutions to social ills?

One thing that worries me about some individuals and communities is the sheer magnitude of self-hate they have. We have been so brainwashed that we equate Western values and modernism with civilisation, forgetting that Africans of yore were quite advanced on many fronts.

This PCEA saga reminds me of the 1980s case between the late politician Wambui Otieno, and the Luo Umira Kager clan. Wambui and her late husband’s clan were engaged in a legal tussle over who had the right of her husband’s remains.

In the precedence setting ruling, the judges ruled that the Luo custom is superior and supersedes any legal considerations. She inherited the husband materially, but the clan laid him to rest. Food for thought. – Writer is executive director, Centre for Climate Change Awareness—[email protected]

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