The election of The Most Reverend, Jackson Ole Sapit as Bishop of the Anglican Church in Kenya symbolizes an opportunity for the church to become vocal not just on major national issues, but also the localised community and cultural practices that have held Kenyan communities in bondage for decades.
The coming of Christianity in the 20th Century seems to have not fully dealt with some of the cultural practices amongst Africans that have lingered on to dated. Female circumcision, early marriages, wife inheritance, gender violence, child labour, and discrimination against women in its various forms; leadership, property ownership, funeral rituals, and other rites of passage top the list of cultural practices that permeate the Kenyan society to date.
Funeral rituals continue to be practiced in total flagrance of the biblical Christian values and beliefs. Amongst in Western Kenya, people still insist on carrying out traditional funeral rituals alongside the Christian burial procedure. Observance of the time when the dead is to be buried, inheritance of the property of the late, offering of traditional prayers while invoking to the dead spirits among other post burial funeral rites abound.
The Luhya for instance insist on returning to the grave after 3 days, 40 days, holding women’s only ceremonies and rituals after several months and conducting a memorial services several years after burial. All these practices are accompanied with shedding of blood and pouring of libation to appease the spirits of the dead, offering sacrifices as well as communing with the dead; practices that remain out of scope for the Christian faith.
There is wide fear of the dead amongst many African communities arising from the cultural and traditional beliefs that the dead are living. The belief that the dead are living and have supernatural powers informs how many communities deal with the dead. But the bible is categorical that there is no communication between the living and the dead. Arousing the spirits of the dead is an unchristian practice that God abhors and should come to an end in all communities that profess Christ.
It is therefore in vain and an outright abomination that people return to the grave of the dead 40 days after burial to escort the spirit of the dead to the site of the grave. This is a pagan practice honoring the living dead yet our churches have not been able to come out strongly and teach people the against such practices. In fact some of these practices have been Christianised and are actually conducted by the clergymen oblivious of their effects on the Christian believer. The Christian clergy should be helping people to find freedom from such practices for it is for freedom that Christ Jesus came to give all those who are in bondage.
These funeral rituals whose origin and practice is African and not Christian have adverse effect on the life of the purported believers who engages in the same. The church clergy of yester-years were overcome by culture and some of them continue to officiate in such occasions some of which involve extreme oppression of women, children and men who profess to be Christian.
Worst example cited is the Tero buru and wife inheritance rituals amongst the Luo community. Those who refuse to engage in this practice are threatened with taboos where if the women doesn’t accepts to be ritually cleansed and being inherited by the elder brother of her late husband, she is made an outcast in that community. Yet many of these communities still claim to be Christian faithful in many of the Kenyan Churches.
Archbishop Ole Sapit whose birth and origin is Maasai should know better some of these burdens that our women and men have been made to carry to the 21st Century. Whenever people talk about the Kenyan culture, Maasai community comes top. Why? Maasai community prides itself for keeping ancient cultural practices even in the face of Western civilization. But must we keep some of these retrogressive cultures that mostly oppress women and still claim to have embraced Christianity?
A time has come when all churches in Kenya and Africa at large have to review some of the African cultural practices and say a big NO to those that are contrary to the Christian Faith. We must ask ourselves, “to what extent must we compromise with theses retrogressive African cultures?”
As much as Apostle Paul said he become all things to all men in order to win some, he very clearly did not and neither can compromise biblical doctrine or give credence to pagan practices in our churches today.
The bible clearly says that we should not conform to the pasterns of this world but be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Time has indeed come for a person who knows where the shoe of culture pinches most; Arch Bishop Jackson Ole Sapit, to lead the way in the church war against retrogressive cultural practices that have permeated the Kenyan society over the years.
The Writer is the Communications Manager,