It probably doesn’t get more staunch than this. To mention but a few, Akorino members don’t support the use of condoms or contraceptives, the women wear long frilled garbs and a headscarves, the boys and men wear white turbans and rarely shave their heads, and their worship is occasioned by nostalgic, old worship songs chanted with the aid of a drum. So radical are their beliefs, that some members of this highly conservative religious group shun taking their children to school and to hospital.
However, such retrogressive practices might become a thing of the past, thanks to the religious group’s young generation, which is gradually transforming the movement by persuading fellow members to abandon some of their long-held backward beliefs.
There was loud applause as Dr David Kiarie walked to the podium to be conferred with a PhD in Supply Chain Management during his graduation at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) in 2016.
Though he is not the only one who has embraced education among the religious group, which has for long thought education is inconsequential, Mwangi is a manifestation of the transformation that is taking place within the group.
Others who have graduated with a doctorate degree include Dr Ayub Macharia, the director of National Environment Management Authority, who holds a doctorate degree in Environment from South Africa, as well as United States-based Dr Solomon Waigwa, who holds a doctorate degree in Theology from a US university.
“The importance of education is a value that has been handed down generations in the Waigwas,” says his 33-year-old son, Dr David Wachira.
Even though Dr Waigwa’s father only had Class Six education, he ensured that his son achieved college education and became a teacher.
Now a college professor in the US where he relocated to with his wife and three children over 20 years ago, he advanced his education and earned his PhD at the age of 50, while his wife completed her studies in paediatrics.
His son, Dr Wachira, recently attracted media attention, for his excellence in education, having attained a PhD aged 27, and career path in the US, all the while holding tight to his roots and fashionably rocking his headwear down the sophisticated streets of Washington, DC.
Wachira works at the World Bank as a public finance and governance specialist, and serves as co-president of the institution’s Youth to Youth programme.
His sister, the second-born, is also a college professor, and holds a PhD in public health, while the last-born is currently pursuing her PhD in counseling psychology after completing her master’s degree in 2017.
This is a clear indication that Akorino church members have changed their way of life to be in support of the dynamics of the modern world. “In the past, many are the members who were forced to abandon their faith to be allowed in education institutions.
However, some decided to endure the hardship and ridicule from teachers and fellow students throughout their education life to be where they are now,” says Dr Kiarie.
And as a way of showing how important education is, Kiarie and other scholars who are members of the sect are planning to put up a secondary school where two thirds of its admission will be Akorino, to ensure that the denomination’s members have an opportunity to go through high school education uninterrupted, as many students find themselves having to change their life when they join high school, usually boarding schools, where all learners are forced to conform, such as do away with turbans.
Many find the Akorino to have an overly conservative approach to life and anti-western dress code and lifestyle in general. But as much as Priscillah Carey, who is in her 20s, loves her long skirts, she likes to add some fun to her outfit.
She pairs them with crop tops and sometimes rocks a fitting T-shirt with a figure hugging skirt. Generally, she dresses depending on the occasion. That’s not all, she has also taken a controversial career – make-up artistry – despite being a professional accountant.
From her studios at Muthaiga Suites and View Park Towers, she works daily, glamourising and highlighting the natural beauty of her clients. Even though her religion believes that women need to stay natural and they should not wear make-up, she is one of the city’s upcoming make-up artists to watch. She definitely wears make-up too, but not that loud.
“Sometimes modern Akorino face opposition from the church and the society. We are even street bullied because of going against the “righteous way” according to our faith, and one needs to be bold enough to overcome all this,” she says.
Her journey has not been a bed of roses, because sometimes she is required to test some of the products she uses, but her religion doesn’t allow one to wear coloured lipstick and nail polish, which she finds quite discouraging for her growth in the profession. With the support of her family, she finds a way around it.
“Lucky for me my mum is supportive and wanted me to become what I wanted, and not what she wanted. At first, she tried to talk me out of it, but I convinced her that this is what I wanted. Since then, she always has my back. She’s super supportive,” adds the make-up artist.
Dr Wachira too is a sharp dresser, and custom-made colourful woven ties are part of his signature look. Together with his family members, he has, however, maintained the turban, despite living in the US for two decades and working at a top global organisation based in one of the most sophisticated cities in the world, while for many, it would have been more convenient to blend than be different.
“It comes down to values and sense of identity,” he says, referring to the Swahili proverb “mwacha mila ni mtumwa”. The economist posits that taking off the turban would be tantamount to denouncing his identity. It wasn’t so easy though, especially in a place where people have no idea about the Akorino.
As a teenager, when his family had just settled in the US, he thought of taking off his turban to fit in. But now, the headwear is part of his identity. At the bank, he is identified as the man with a turban. His family has held on to its Akorino church roots, and they worship at National Community Church in DC.
Initially, artistes from the group used to wait for a song composition to be revealed by the Holy Spirit in form of a dream or through a scripture reading and be delivered to the chosen one.
“These days, young Akorino artistes have evolved and adapted to use of keyboards and pop music influences,” says popular gospel music recording artiste Allan Aaron, who together with others such as Hezeh Ndungu have a different style of composition that takes on a modern pop format, and does not necessarily rely on dreams or scripture readings. Such singers are drawing appeal outside the sect.
However, even though a dose of contemporary styles such as hip hop is infused into their songs, they still retain some parts of typical Akorino songs character, especially in the vocal style, which creates a distinction from other forms of Kenyan music.
At 24 years old, Francis Wambua has broken all myths about people of his faith, who shun practice of family planning. “The religion believes in ‘filling the world’, and uses biblical teachings to justify this stand, claiming that family planning defies God’s orders of mankind,” says Wambua, who is moving against the tide and preaching the importance of family planning to everyone in his church who gives him an ear, something that has made him almost get excommunicated from the institution.
He has even started an initiative called ‘Ndugus for Dadas’, as a way of encouraging men in informal settlements to take up family planning. This led to him being allowed to preach his gospel to the youth by the church, but outside the church, as the religion believes that sex before marriage is taboo.
He says premarital sex saw him get married early, after impregnating a girl who is now his wife, because they didn’t have access to family planning methods, and that is why he wants to help youth not find themselves in the same predicament.
In matters dating too, the young generation of the denomination continues to break the mould. Dr Wachira says that when he finally settles down, his ideal woman does not necessarily have to be of his denomination.
“I hardly have any concerns with marrying someone of a different race or denomination,” he reveals, and expresses an affinity for a woman who is open-minded, accepting of others, and one who is not afraid of challenging the status quo.
For long, members of the group were not only forbidden from becoming politicians, but were also not supposed attend political rallies. This might be the reason there has been no Akorino politician until last election, when Eric Muchangi Njiru, popularly known as Karemba, was elected to represent Runyenjes constituency.
This was Muchangi’s second bid after his unsuccessful one in 2013, when he vied on an Alliance Party of Kenya ticket. His success may likely open doors for other sect members, who may now have the courage to vie for other positions.
“In the early Akorino church, worshippers were not allowed to enter a church with money. This is because the denomination believed that God bars them from accumulating wealth here on earth,” says entrepreneur Obadiah Maina, who is in his 40s.
He is the founder of Good Life Sacco, Red Hill Girls Secondary School, Limuru among other enterprises. He has succeeded in convincing a number of ardent adherents of his church to evaluate their view on wealth accumulation on earth.
He lives by the mantra ‘God did not create human beings to have a bad life; all things in the world were created to serve human beings as they serve God’. Through the Sacco he helped found in 2012 in Thika, he shows that being the religion’s follower does not mean one cannot invest in business.
The modern Akorino Waigwa family also owns a 25-acre ranch in Texas, US, among other properties.