Aspirants flock to traditional shrines seeking good fortune
At 89, Mzee James Chumbembe has seen many elections come and go. An elder in Mahanga village of Vihiga county, his home is near Mungoma Hango Humulogoli, a shrine that is frequented by politicians seeking good fortune before going on the hunt for votes.
It is now that time in the five-year cycle, and they have been turning up at the shrine in droves.
“There is nothing unusual about this pilgrimage,” Mr Chumbembe told the Sunday Nation. “For as long as I can recall, people have been coming here for political miracles, with most of them succeeding in the respective seats they run for.”
He only regrets that plans to build a modern hotel near the sanctuary have not been realised since the suggestion was made more than 30 years ago.
“Money for the proposed hotel must have been embezzled by those charged with its construction. But I pray that some day one is put up for the good of the community,” he said.
Religious sites such as Mungoma Hango Humulogoli are spread across the country. The kayas at the Coast, Abindu, Kit Mikayi and Got Kwer in Nyanza, and the royal tombs of the Wanga kingdom in Matungu-Kakamega, have been receiving more visitors than at any other time of the year.
The “pilgrims” are almost exclusively members of the political class.
After Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka and Ford Kenya leader Moses Wetang’ula formed the Coalition for Reform and Democracy (Cord) last month, Matungu was Mr Odinga’s first stop, and he explained how significant this visit was to his campaign.
“I said that I must come home first before going anywhere, and now, with the blessings of Nabongo and his descendants, I fear no one,” he said after visiting the tomb where the remains of the Abawanga kings are buried.
Amani Alliance presidential hopeful Musalia Mudavadi also held a meeting there with elders.
While campaigning for the Senate seat in Mombasa County last week, Mvita MP Najib Balala slaughtered goats on the roadside to appease the spirits and shield the residents from evil and underdevelopment. He was quoted in sections of the media as saying the sacrifice was to pave the way for development.
Mr David Kisia, a custodian at Hango Humulogoli, said politicians have been going to the site to be blessed with oratory skills as well as the power to control the masses. They undergo certain rituals administered by elders for a fee.
“Every politician wants to be a crowd puller, and this gift is granted here if those who come obey all the instructions of the elders. The ceremony polishes their public speaking (skills),” Mr Kisia said.
But he was quick to note that money is not the main aim of the rituals though the visitors are not expected to come to the elders empty-handed.
“The fee is not a compulsory charge but a token or an offertory that is given voluntarily to keep the elders going. But, of course, just like in the church, you do not go before the presence of God without alms,” he said.
The smallest “token” is Sh5,000, but the amount can be as high as what the visitor is willing to part with.
Mr Kisia said the latest visitor to undergo the ritual, which included slaughtering a ram, is a parliamentary aspirant for Nairobi County.
The site, a cave, is regarded as the original home of Mulogoli, the ancestor of the Maragoli people.
Grace Akoth, the caretaker at Kit Mikayi, equates it to the biblical Mt Sinai where Moses used to go to talk with God.
“We do not keep a record of politicians who come here, but I can tell you that the number has increased threefold because of the ongoing campaigns. It serves the same purpose as Mt Sinai to Moses,” she said.
Mr John Ochieng, the gatekeeper at the scenic rocks, said some even come under the cover of darkness to offer their prayers.
Residents of Abindu say a giant snake that lives in the rocks comes out only once in a year, and whoever sights it receives bountiful blessings. The reward is greater if it is a politician who sees it.
Jessica Owiro, who lives near the Abindu cave, which is also an inter-denominational worship centre, said it is used as both a traditional and modern place of worship and receives many politicians from Kisumu and neighbouring counties. She said most of the sacrifices are made in the dead of the night.
“You wake up in the morning to find paraphernalia used by these people. There was a day a well-known politician asked my son for directions to this place,” she said.
The National Museums of Kenya encourages the preservation of these traditional sacred sites as places of ecological, cultural and spiritual importance.