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Elders Counsel

A new research course held at Kima International School of Theology May to July 2001

By Jim Harries


Introduction 3
Description of Methods Used 4
Report on the First Elder 6
Report on the Second Elder 9
Report on the Third Elder 12
Report on the Fourth Elder 15
Summary and Conclusion 18
Appendix A. Questions Addressed to the Elders 21
References 22


This account provides a description of a newly introduced course at Kima International School of Theology between May and July 2001. Students were thereby enabled to write informed accounts of the relationship between African customary law and the church in the locality of the school, based on insights given by invited church elders. This author is the lecturer who attended all discussions and found the exercise sufficiently interesting as to want to write his own account of it.

Description of Methods Used

The aims of this KIST course have been to teach some principles of qualitative research methodology, to discover something of the nature of the church in this area, and to prepare our KIST students to interact with church leaders in anticipation of their imminent graduation. The topic taken for the questions asked was 'the relationship between customary law and the church'. The students involved were those in the final year of the BA in Bible and Theology.

This aim was achieved by carrying out interviews of four church elders invited to KIST. Every elder came on a separate day and was welcomed to answer students prepared questions for three hours, interspersed with tea and lunch breaks. They were not told in advance what the questions were going to be. This was intentional, so that the answers we got would be those the elder has in his mind in the course of his work, and not those he may look for in researching a topic he may be given to present on in advance.

Questions asked related to those areas the students felt would reveal our visitors' understanding of the relationship between customary law and the church. Great efforts were made in advance of the interviews to plan carefully to ensure that we helped our visitors to feel welcome and relaxed. Questions were asked in such a way as to be non-threatening and open ended. Although the exact format used varied considerably, a question would typically be asked as: 'What do people in the church understand about X'. (For the list of questions which we asked see Appendix A).

The elders we invited were those I had been recommended by KIST faculty members who are familiar with the church in this area. They were all from the Church of God in East Africa, Kenya, and they were all ordained. They were initially invited by letter, and then that invitation was followed up by one or more visits by way of reminder. They were welcomed respectfully and were with the students from 10.35am up to 2.00pm.

Questioning began after a brief introduction. In each case just two students took turns asking questions. Another two took copious notes that were later made available to the whole group. The other two were responsible for translation. Having translation enabled our visiting elders to use a language with which they were familiar and confident and which contained the appropriate vocabulary for the issues we were exploring. We tried to compensate for loss in translation for non-native speakers in subsequent deliberation by focusing on the meaning of key vernacular terms.

The discussions were stimulating and interesting. The elders continued to be free to answer questions that were clearly relevant to them for the whole time-period. One change of location, a tea-break and then a lunch break helped to provide variety.

Every discussion with an elder was subsequently deliberated on by the class of students together with their lecturer. The first deliberation occurred on the same day as the discussion and was just over one hour in length. The next one was one week later and lasted for a total of three and a half hours. The students were encouraged to do their own analysis of the discussion in advance of the second deliberation. This was to include reference to published materials in the KIST library.

The students wrote up their account of the discussion, which drew on the insights given by our elders into the relationship of customary law and church, after these deliberations and in advance of the following discussion. The whole course took 11 weeks. Elders visited us for four of those 11 weeks, every one coming 2 weeks after his predecessor. The latter weeks were given to assist the students in writing up what they had learned. Their reports were to follow the same format as this one, except that they were also expected to refer to published materials.



   Rev. Hosea Anjerem - First visiting elder.

   Rev. Aggrey Anduuru - Second visiting elder.

   Rev. Alfred Indagwa - Third visiting elder.

   Rev. Clyde Akhemete and Rev. Cleopas Muyela Fourth visiting elders.


   Jim Harries

Class members:

   Richard Saima

   Thomas Olung'a

   Peter Maraka

   Stephen Kutosi

   Obed Okech

   Evanistor Amihanda

Report on the First Elder

Discussion with Rev. Hosea Anjere at KIST from 10:35 a.m. up to 2:00 p.m. on 18-5-01 by BA4 class.

Topic: Customary Law and the Church (Sheria za Mila na Kanisa).



   Rev. Hosea Anjere - Visiting elder


   Jim Harries - Chairman

Class members:

   Richard Saima - Questioner

   Thomas Olung'a - Questioner

   Peter Maraka - Scribe

   Stephen Kutosi - Scribe

   Obed Okech - Translator

   Evanistor Amihanda - Translator

The discussion was conducted in Swahili and English.

The discussion was far ranging on many important issues pertaining to Christian living and church life in Africa today. Below are some of the main observations made from the discussion.

In the course of discussion, the role of the church being at the heart of the rural Luiya community became clear. Hence the church has taken over many of the roles traditionally fulfilled by the extended family or clan.

The traditional practice whereby children were barikiwe (blessed) through receiving instructions from their grand-parents is something that should be renewed through good ushirika (fellowship) in the church, according to Anjere. The church is fulfilling a key central community role by advising people to take the bringing up of children very seriously. A prior deception that the formal education system is all that a child needs, has been found to have been misguided.

This central community role was taken even more seriously in the past as the church made what was later seen as a misguided attempt at abolishing bride-wealth payments. Later the church itself was helping orphan young men by providing their bride-wealth.

There are clear instances in which the church has adapted practices arising from the tradition of the people. One example of this shared by Anjere, was the 'dormitories' managed by the church in years gone by, in imitation of the traditional practice of having young girls from a village and young boys from a village stay together under the tutelage and observation of grandparents. The adults guiding the children in these dormitories had an important role to play in subsequently arranging marriages. This practice of dormitories has since been discontinued.

A difficulty the church is currently facing, according to Anjere, is that of retirees returning to the rural area seeing it as being a haven and source of prestige for them in their old age. The church is taken by the old as having taken the place of traditional institutions for the senior members of a community.

There is a danger in bringing outside customs into the church explained Anjere quoting the late Enoch Olando: "...watu wataanza ku[zi]amini kulikwo Kristo mwenyewe." (people will begin to believe in them more than in Christ himself). It seems that the role of the church in conducting memorial services may have become more important in some peoples minds than the churches wider role as the body of Christ.

Church of God pastors cannot be held accountable for some apparently irresponsible practices regarding funerals, because they are there to serve the bereaved and not dictate to them what should happen, shared Anjere. In some senses then pastors are passive followers of the peoples' own understanding of the role of customary practices.

Similarly on the issue of polygamy, Anjere conceded that it is not wise, or perhaps even possible, to dictate to a people that polygamists should not take a leadership role in a church. People should be encouraged to draw this conclusion themselves. Anjere cited an example where a polygamist received a mwanga (revelation or vision) when sick and receiving healing from God, that monogamists should fill leadership roles in the church.

Yet the church is not only a passive follower. In time the stand of the church on monogamy verses polygamy needs to be formally laid out, as in the Yellow Paper Recommendations to the Executive Council of the COGEA of 30/10/1982 which states that a polygamist husband "...cannot take the position of leadership in the church". (Page 2).

Anjere's response to the vexed question of memorial services was by reference to Scripture. The Old Testament has many instances in which people seek to remember a past event or person. In the New Testament and in Christian tradition we put great emphasis on remembering the death and resurrection of Christ. Anjere emphasised that it was important for the church to ensure that the memorial service be a time and place of teaching.

It became apparent that while there are times when the church initiates change and is at the front line of developments, there are others when outside circumstances force it to adapt. Although the origin of the prohibition of the use of musical instruments in the Church of God prior to 1960 was not discussed, a general movement to the Africanisation of Christian music, coupled with a principal at Kima Theological College with charismatic leanings, were explained by Anjere as having contributed to this changing. In this instance the church was forced towards customary musical traditions by outside pressures.

Pressure from outside also seems to have been responsible for buffeting the church back and fore regarding its position or bride-wealth. This was at one time banned, according to Anjere. Communities not valuing wives they had been given freely, forced this ban to be removed. For a while the number of cattle to be paid was standardised. Lately a declining economy is pressuring the community and the church again to reconsider the question of bride-wealth.

Questions of economy are important, according to Anjere. In prior years men having large plots of land with thriving farms enabled them to commit themselves devotedly to the church in the basis of their own resources. The small size of plots today is one reason church ministers have become more dependent on receiving salaries. Yet it is common to find that a church leader who becomes wealthy becomes less effective in ministry.

Another problem touched upon, is that of people wanting to use the church for their own prestige and financial advantage. Hence Anjere shared that some retirees have been coming from town and trying to buy positions in the church for themselves. Old men have customarily had much influence in their communities, and influence that they are these days trying to gain through the offices of the church.

Some teachings now widely promoted by the church are rooted neither in Scripture or tradition, but in science. The recommendation mentioned by Anjere for marrying couples to be certified free of HIV is an example of this.

Anjere made use of some English words, despite the fact that he was speaking in Kiswahili. This would suggest that the word he was using represented a new-way of understanding that was not there in the African or Swahili worldview. One term was 'emotionalism'. African vernacular terms used to describe 'emotional' experiences implicitly suggest the involvement of spirits (or the Holy Spirit). It appears that Anjere was here trying to draw on a secularised understanding of a phenomenon to present his case. (Neither is the word emotion found in the Bible.)

Another term he used was 'security' or 'insecurity'. It appears again that the state in which people find themselves in their lives today, has no equivalent in African custom, hence no local word could be found to describe it. On the other hand, Anjere explained, it was this problem that forced Saul to go to the Witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28).

Report on the Second Elder

Discussion with Rev. Aggrey Anduuru at KIST from 10:35 a.m. up to 2:00 p.m. on 8-6-01 by BA4 class.

Topic: Customary Law and the Church (Sheria za Mila na Kanisa)



   Rev. Aggrey Anduru - Visiting elder


   Jim Harries - Chairman

Class members:

   Richard Saima - Scribe

   Thomas Olung'a - Scribe

   Peter Maraka - Questioner

   Stephen Kutosi - Questioner

   Obed Okech - Translator

   Evanistor Amihanda - Translator

The discussion was conducted in Kiluiya and English.

Anduuru was aged 87 years old and thus spoke with long experience. For many of those years he has been closely involved with Church of God, and his home is just a few miles from Kima.

Anduuru's perspective on the relationship between customary law and the church was influenced by a combination of his Christian conviction, that much of what was African culture was evil and to be rejected. Also by his sense of alarm and opposition to recent developments that are to him taking the church too far away from its proper moorings.

The first missionaries to the Kima area, reported Anduuru, told the African people to leave drinking, smoking and their second and subsequent wives in order to join the church. This was a frontal attack on African customary laws and tradition. Anduuru seemed to understand this as being necessary in order to achieve purity or cleanness. He explained that the 10 Commandments had been given for the sake of acquiring purity. Yet this means of acquiring purity or cleanliness had been superseded by Christian or New Testament teaching.

Anduuru's concern for purity in living frequently became apparent. A pig is 'dirty', he explained, yet Paul said that we should eat whatever is given to us. The baptism of John shows that someone has done away with sin and is clean.

The concern for cleanliness or purity would appear to have been there in the customary law. Anduuru was applying the same principle to enable him to understand Christianity.

There were many occasions on which Anduuru perceived a clear parallel between Old Testament and present day practices. He explained the importance of the dress of the clergy in today's church, with reference to the adornment of Aaron as explained in the law of Moses. So also the Old Testament talks of physical circumcision, which Jesus interpreted spiritually. For Anduuru for today, circumcision is baptism.

Each of the above also has parallels in customary law. Hence Wako (1985: 22) mentions obuyoni, being a special cap worn by important men at public events in Luiya tradition. The Luiya are renowned for their traditional circumcision rites, although Anduuru told us that few people circumcise in Bunyore (the sub-group of the Luiya in which Kima is found) these days. Baptism is preferred, because it is applied to both men and women, in line with Jesus' teaching that salvation is for all.

Anduuru made frequent reference to the Bible, and particularly the Old Testament in answering questions. His Bible knowledge is clearly good, and his thinking very much guided by the Scriptures. His references were often of a positive nature, although he was also very clear that the Old Testament has been superseded by the New. Hence a man has full authority over his wife, because she came from his rib (Genesis 2:21). Yet he later shared that the rending of the Temple curtain that took place upon the death of Jesus means that the church is now for all and women are authorised to lead.

Anduuru's understanding of the New Testament was that it was to set people free from customary law, as it had the Jews in the Bible from their own traditional set of regulations. Yet his accusation that the current generation was 'destroying the church' illustrated that he considered things to have gone off course, or to have gone too far.

His critique of the church of today was broad and frequent. The church is changing "... due to the reasoning of people who are present" said his interpreter translating from Kiluiya. He did not consider all the changes to be for the better. 'Reason' is here the enemy to God's true design, and the factor bringing change. Hence there is no-one at KIST who is qualified to teach Church of God pastors seeking ordination. People these days think they know it all after a time in college, only to head for a ditch, he explained.

While the tendency to look back on the 'good old days' is perhaps not uncommon amongst the aged, Anduuru was perhaps pointing out some very real transformations that have affected the church.

The listener was left wondering just what it was that Anduuru was coming out in support of, and specifically what he was against. He was not attempting to defend customary practices as such. His concern was perhaps at the changes now affecting the church, especially those coming from outside the area and the Continent.

The basis for Anduuru's criticism was in at least one instance, enjoyment. "God does not want us to enjoy what is not necessary," he said after commenting that "There is nothing bad like drumming in the church." These are "words [practices] we put into the church that Jesus doesn't like" he said. On the other hand, on being questioned as to the appropriateness of memorial services, held in memory of the dead, he said that "they have a right to do whatever they want because they believe in that". He did not appear to recognise the possibility of conflict between faith in one God, and making sacrifices to departed ancestors. It could appear that he was following customs clearly instigated in view of the power and presence of the dead in respect to the living, without consciously acknowledging the role or presence of the dead.

Anduuru considered the church to have a role in determining as well as interpreting traditions of people. As Jesus had told Peter, he explained, so up to today many things the church does can be accepted as right, even if they are not in the Bible. "There are things in the world which we bring into the church which are good things which are not written in the Bible." he explained. The prophetic role that elders had in guiding the Luiya through their traditional religion was thus for Anduuru being continued through the church of today.

For Anduuru customary law was in many respects gone. Yet it lived on in his interpretation of the Scriptures and the life of the church in his community. He was a first generation Christian who accepted the early missionary's condemnation of his peoples' ancient practices, while not realising the extent to which they coloured his conception of all that was going on around him.

Report on the Third Elder

Discussion with Rev. Alfred Indagwa at KIST from 10:35 a.m. up to 2:00 p.m. on 15th June 2001 by BA4 class.

Topic: Customary Law and the Church (Sheria za Mila na Kanisa).



   Rev. Alfred Indagwa - Visiting elder


   Jim Harries - Chairman

Class members:

   Richard Saima - Questioner

   Thomas Olung'a - Questioner

   Peter Maraka - Scribe

   Stephen Kutosi - Scribe

   Obed Okech - Translator

   Evanistor Amihanda Translator

The discussion was conducted in Swahili and English.

Indagwa has been our youngest elder to date, having graduated from KTC (Kima Theological College) just 8 years ago. His experiences as a student seemed still to be fresh in his mind and his answers to questions sometimes appeared to reflect his desire to be true to his own Kima education.

He frequently referred to the role of reason in his consideration of issues concerning the church. Hence research (utafiti) should result in finding medicine for aids. The church should use drums so as to deter young people from leaving. Hence also we need to teach our church members to avoid polygamy because it results in there not being peace in peoples' homes and even in people killing one another. A drawback of memorial services is that they take time that could otherwise be given to discussing development of the home.

The ongoing relationship of COG with the USA was evident from Indagwa's suggesting that peoples' failure to acquire bride-wealth in the current economic climate could be rectified with help from Compassion International. He told us that kanisa imekuwa (the church has grown) by pointing out the size of the church relative to that in the USA, and the progress in the Bible school here at Kima which has from early on had a lot of American inputs.

A problem currently faced by COG according to Indagwa is that of youth leaving the church for other 'fellowships'. He considered this to be due to their dissatisfaction through not finding drums (or other instruments) and lively music in the churches.

Despite his being fluent in the Swahili language, Indagwa occasionally made use of English words. He referred to 'evil spirits', 'confusion' and 'community' using English. This suggests that his understanding of the spirits that trouble people is rooted in a Biblical or an international comprehension, rather than the customary Luihya one. The 'confusion' he refers to is that created by churches who spend whole nights in noisy prayer. This practice, which is presumably rooted in customary understanding, is not appreciated by Indagwa. Finally his use of the term 'community', is presumably trying to get away from the implicit assumptions in equivalent Swahili words that a community of people is made up of relatives, e.g. ukoo or jamaa.

Indagwa finds himself in a church that carries out a lot of rituals. In many instances he explained that, although the rituals appear to be rooted in and supporting customary beliefs, they were in actual fact empty. That is, that the existence of the ritual need not make us think that the customary belief traditionally associated with it continues.

Hence in his home area a Reverend from the Church of God who died in 1990 is remembered in an annual anniversary at which animals are slaughtered. Indagwa says that this is "just giving thanks to God" and did not know the Swahili word for sacrifice, hence suggesting that this was not an issue at all. Celebrations may include the slaughter of animals that some could consider to be sacrifices, but in our spirits we should know that Jesus finished all need for sacrifice, shared Indagwa. When asked as to the importance of distinguishing clean and unclean foods, Indagwa shared that "chakula hakina neno" (there are no issues concerned with choice of foods). He perceived head shaving three days after a death at an event known as kufufua ('to resurrect') in which the hair was thrown onto the grave of the deceased, was also "kama kawaida" (just normal) and did not see any significance in relation to the ongoing presence of the dead. Finally in reference to clothing worn by leaders within the church Indagwa told us that "nguo haina maana" (clothes are not important), but then went on to explain the elaborate system used for distinguishing people of different ranks in the COG according to dress.

Many old customs should be forgotten, Indagwa said when asked whether education by grandparents should be revived. When discussing the use of holy water, he aligned it with the practice of other churches, e.g. Roman Catholic, and not with African custom. His view appears to be that much of what could be considered as customary law is these days irrelevant and past. Referring to the clergy, he said that "Sisi ni wanabii" (we are prophets). It was not clear whether this understanding was rooted only in OT prophecy, African Traditional Religion, or a combination of both?

The church, in Indagwa's view, is not there to give people rules. Hence he does not refuse the use of traditional herbs for healing, although someone practising "miujiza ya kienyeji" (traditional miracles) should be avoided. People who habitually drink alcohol should not be chased from the church as "Sisi kazi wetu ni kuwaombea sio kuwafukuza kwa kanisa" (our task is to pray for them, not to chase them from the church). Similarly, in outreach to the Masai people who are very inclined to polygamy, we need to be lenient with them until the church is established.

Indagwa made a few references to the role of curses in maintaining God's standards. He mentioned that those who try to follow food codes that prohibit the consumption of some foods are cursed, as those who follow the law are cursed. Regarding the remarriage of widows he said that "aangalie kwa Bwana, ampe uwezo kushinda, sababu angeenda kuolewa kwanza atakufa". (she should look to the Lord, for him to give her strength to be victorious, because if she were to go to be married, first of all she will die). It is not clear whether Indagwa's understanding of curses is rooted in the Scriptures, in customary law, or some combination of the two.

Report on the Fourth Elders

Discussion with Rev. Clyde Akhemete and Rev. Cleopas Muyela at KIST from 10:35 a.m. up to 2:00 p.m. on 29-6-01 by BA4 class. (On this occasion our discussion was with two elders).

Topic: Customary Law and the Church (Sheria za Mila na Kanisa).



   Rev. Clyde Akhemete and Rev. Cleopas Muyela Visiting elders


   Jim Harries - Chairman

Class members:

   Richard Saima - Scribe

   Thomas Olung'a -Scribe

   Peter Maraka - Questioner

   Stephen Kutosi - Questioner

   Obed Okech - Translator

   Evanistor Amihanda - Translator

The discussion was conducted in Kiluiya and English.

It is difficult to assess the overall impact of the fact that we on this occasion had two elders attending the discussion. They consistently supported one another and perhaps gave us a more conservative view than they would have done had they been alone. Akhemete spoke first in response to questions, almost invariably subsequently supported by Muyela.

Akhamete and Muyela explained frequently that the church is of necessity closely involved in customary practices, because these are the ones being engaged in by the people whom the church is serving.

Hence the churches involvement in memorial services, we were told by Akhamete, arises from the desire of the people. Akhamete also shared how the church had attempted to give women leaders certain powers, such as dedicating children, but the people themselves had protested and refused. The church sometimes has a moderating role on customary practices. Both Akhamete and Muyela mentioned this in relation to payment of bride-wealth. The church would intervene to prevent this rising to excessive level.

Some questions pertaining to customary practices fall outside of the scope of the church. The New Testament is clear that no food should be called unclean (Acts 10), and so Christians should not refuse certain foods. Yet Akhamete gave the example that the Luiya don't eat dog meat. He said that this is clearly a prohibition to be continued regardless of what the Bible says, because it has been handed down from the ancestors. Similarly for Akhamete a man's choice as to whether or not to take a second wife "is a personal issue".

Both elders agreed however that head-shaving after a funeral was unchristian, and it was good to have done away with it. Akhamete told us that this in Bunyore " not termed as something good" and Muyela emphasised that "...such things do not have any meaning". These views are contrary to the unquestioned acceptance of head-shaving shared with us by Indagwa (page 13) from Idakho. The lines of ongoing custom have been drawn with influence from missionaries and the church, but where the lines are drawn varies from one sub-tribe to another. Muyela considered the outlawing of certain methods of killing an animal by stretching its neck (strangling) or beating it with sticks to have been right.

Our elders explained that in pre-Christian times certain old men in the Luiya community functioned as ritual specialists. They were the traditional priests, and hence in charge of many sacrifices. It was clear from both Akhamete and Muyela that the pastor has now taken over this role. Their roles, such as the dedication of children, dedication of rulers, bringing blessings etc. is that of Church of God pastors today. Here customary practices of the past are clearly the foundation stone for what the church does today. One can only suppose that those traditional priests wore distinctive clothing. It appears to be this which forms the basis for the desire for church robes amongst the leadership of today's church as a way of setting them apart. Muyela explained how these clothes bring power to a pastor presiding over events such as funerals.

Respect was frequently mentioned as being the basis for a wide variety of traditional practices. A girl should remain a virgin out of respect, and there are also respectful ways of eating chicken and maize that ensure that one's seniors get their rightful share. Shaving of the head used to be done out of respect to the deceased. Memorial services fulfil the same role, but should be honouring to God. Naming children after the dead is in "respect to whoever died" explained Akhamete. People struggle to be righteous so as to be buried by pastors wearing their church attires, said Akhamete, after explaining that he would not wear such when burying a non-believer.

It became evident that what is acceptable and unacceptable in churches in Bunyore has changed with time. Whereas the 1st generation of Christians roundly condemned drumming for Christians, this is rapidly changing as drums are coming in more and more especially to choirs and youth services. Similarly Akhamete told us that the first generation of Christians focused on worship, prayer, and faith. The Holy Spirit came later, although even today the Church of God is not "expressive in the Holy Spirit" as are some other churches, according to Akhamete. Uniforms also have only come in quite recently. These changes can be interpreted as being gradual moves towards accommodating customary understanding.

The Bible was frequently referred to in support of different practices and issues. Biblical cases presented were often not very true to the text. Hence we were told by Muyela that God always spoke to men before women. On the 3rd day ladies went to put flowers at the grave of Jesus according again to Muyela. Akhamete told us that Paul had instructed that widows "must be remarried with the closest relatives [of their husbands]". We were told that for church leaders to have a uniform comes from the Bible, in the Bible blessings come only to a man, and that a Biblical wedding is sealed by the exchange of rings.

Our two elders made frequent and pertinent references to the Scriptures. This clearly underlies the Church of God practice of baptism by immersion. When discussing the traditional practice whereby children were educated by their grandparents, Muyela explained that it was Biblical teaching on the role of parents that "forced them to teach their children." Muyela clearly understands the Bible as having significant power in the lives of believers, over and above certain customary practices.

Akhamete and Muyela were in line with our previous visitor Indagwa (see page 13) in not condemning the use of herbal cures for Christians. The line was drawn on the use of certain charms (epira and ebusutsu) and herbs burned to ashes. Visiting a witchdoctor should be avoided because he ..."will tell a lie and cause a problem with the neighbour of a person" shared Akhamete. The basis on which this critique of traditional medicine is made is not clear. It may be a combination of Biblical, missionary and 'reason based' teaching.

On discussing the relative roles of pastor and chief it became clear that Akhamete and Muyela considered both to be working with God's authority. No antagonism or tension was seen between their respective roles. Church of God comes across as a church of the community and not a 'called out' church. As in African custom, all that happens in a society was under the watchful eye of ancestors, so now for Nyasaye (God).

Summary and Conclusion

The Christianity shared with us by our visiting elders is deeply rooted in the customary practices and understanding of their people. That something new is perceived in relation to what went before should not surprise us. Yet the implications of this are rarely considered.

Numbers in brackets in this Conclusion refer to pages in this report).

Use of the Bible

The elders we spoke to know and use Scriptures, which they interpret in the light of their customary law.

Some questions and issues that the Bible itself addresses are nevertheless considered by some of our visiting elders to be beyond the scope of the Bible. While it is widely accepted that the Bible itself is in favour of monogamy over polygamy the example given by Anjere (7) of someone being convinced of this was not by study of Scripture but by direct revelation from God. Akhemete told us that despite his reading from the Bible that no food should be unclean (see Acts 10), the Luiya should not eat dog as this custom has been passed down to them from their ancestors (15). Anduuru considers a pig to be dirty, regardless of what the Bible says (9).

Biblical events were often taken as strongly prescriptive. Hence memorial services for the dead were justified on the basis that they were held in the Old Testament (7). Akhemete shared with us that it was a Biblical injunctive for a widow to marry a relative to her dead husband (16). Biblical teaching on education was so strong as to "force" parents to teach their children, said Muyela (16).

The Old Testament was often taken as a model for today's practices. The importance of clerical attire today was explained by Anduuru with reference to Aaron's priestly garb (10). Yet Anduuru was not always consistent. The Old Testament, he said, justified a man having full authority over his wife because she came from his rib. At the same time he also acknowledged that the rending of the Temple curtain at the time of Jesus' crucifixion has brought freedom, meaning that women are nowadays allowed to lead in churches (10). Anduuru's reference to the young of today as "destroying the church" seem to arise from his perception that they are over-using freedom (10).

The Church as Fulfilment of Custom

Our elders clearly perceive the church as the body through which their peoples' customary requirements are fulfilled. The church is seen by them as being the heart of the community (6). The church is there to serve people in the community, and the latter are clearly involved in customary practices. So Akhemete explained repeatedly, the church also comes to be involved in the same.

On these lines Anjere explained that the traditional educational role of grandparents has been taken over by the church (6). 'Dormitories' were thus instituted by early missionaries (6). Retirees often seek refuge in the church on coming 'home' (7). In some respects the church is merely a passive follower of peoples' own understanding of customary obligations said Anjere (7). Indagwa explained that the church was not opposed to the use of traditional medicines providing they were of the right type (13). He was also happy to say that curses would be on those who acted in contrary ways, presumably in ways reminiscent of traditional means of keeping social order (13).

Not that all customary practices are simply incorporated into the church. Head-shaving following bereavement is no longer practised in Bunyore (16). (Although it is considered perfectly acceptable in Idakho (13)).

Changes over Time

Our elders understand the church as continuously changing and responding to change.

The fact that a practice held sacrosanct in one era, was simply abolished and changed in another, did not greatly trouble most of our elders. The exception was Anduuru, who was by far the oldest of our guest elders. He explained in relation to recent changes that there are " ... practices we put into the church that Jesus doesn't like" (10). He was longing for a bygone era.

We heard how a number of critical customary issues had come to be viewed differently with the passing of time. At one time the church had attempted to abolish bride-wealth (6). When this did not work as it resulted in people not valuing their wives, the church took upon itself to standardise the number of cattle that should be given. In some cases the church took upon itself to pay bride-wealth on behalf of the poor (7). An early stand against drums and other instruments in churches was gradually eroded by outside pressure towards a return to a more customary style of music in church. Akhemete supported Anjere, telling us that the first generation church in the Bunyore area disallowed drums and that the idea of the Holy Spirit also came later (16). Akhemete told us that the churches decision to allow women pastors to dedicate children was reversed due to popular opposition based on what women were and were not allowed to do customarily.

Our visiting elders clearly perceive the limits of human understanding in determining what is right and wrong, and how this changes with time. The changes are often either to or away from African custom.

Anjere talked of an 'insecurity' that people feel today that was not there in the past. He used this English term, thus emphasising that this was something new. Outside pressures were impinging on the church. One of these is economic. It is the current economic deterioration, we were told, that has contributed to leaders today wanting to depend on a salary from the church rather than contributing to serve God voluntarily (8). Economic factors have here overridden what were customarily right ways of going about things.

Indagwa, our youngest elder, described the desirability of different customary practices in terms of their practicality in a reasoned way. Hence research was required to find good medicines, drums must be in church to attract young people, and polygamy should be avoided because it results in there not being peace in peoples' homes (12). According to his explanation, changes need to be made to the way practices that arise out of custom are carried out in the church, by careful reasoning.

Ritual and Ritual Content

Akhemete told us that pastors have taken over many of the roles formerly performed by Luiya 'ritualists' (16). They are often passive followers of peoples' rituals, said Anjere (7). Is this a problem?

Indagwa seemed to think not. To him the existence of a ritual, such as the ufufuka (resurrection) ritual carried out three days after burial, does not mean that people are doing anything contrary to Biblical teaching (13). The same applies to annual memorials that he told us are still being held for a Church of God pastor from his area who has been dead for more than 10 years. These are not important issues to him at all (13). Anduuru also saw no contradiction in customs that are oriented towards traditional respect for the dead being carried out alongside Christian worship and teaching (10). Some things coming into the church from the world are good, even though not in the Bible, he explained (11).

Anjere provided a different view. Quoting a late Enoch Olando he said that people may come to believe more in these customs, carried out in a Christian environment, than in Christ himself (7).

Akhemete talked about actions being carried out through respect (16). This foundational understanding apparently underlying many customary practices seems to negate any criticism, as 'respect' to any fellow human being, dead or alive, would always seem to be appropriate.

Although our elders did not agree on their understanding of customary rituals that are these days found in the church, their discussion emphasised that they are there and are significant. Time and more detailed research would reveal what their ongoing impact on the life of the church is to be.

Appendix A

Questions addressed to the elders.

The elders were asked questions on the topics below. The questions were not always asked in exactly this way. The order in which the questions were asked also varied. Some of our classes were given over to practice in asking questions in non-threatening and open-ended ways. The way the questions are given below illustrates how this was done. The elder was usually asked his view on the understanding of others regarding a certain issue instead of his own view. This was done so as to be less threatening.

1. In the past grandparents were active in the education of children. What is the role of grandparents today?

2. How do people in the church understand bride-wealth (or dowry)?

3. How do people these days perceive polygamists?

4. What do people in the church see as the best way of helping widows?

5. How do people understand the practice of bringing dead bodies into the church before they are buried?

6. How do people today understand animal sacrifices?

7. How do people today understand memorial services?

8. How do people today understand the relationship between a pastor, a traditional healer, and a priest?

9. How do people today understand the relationship between a pastor and a chief?

10. What do people say about using drums and other musical instruments in church?

11. How has the spiritual life of believers in the church changed from what it was in the past, and what further changes are foreseen as coming in the future?

12. These days there are a lot of street children in the towns. How should they get land?

13. Can you explain how people understand the wearing of clerical clothes by church leaders.

14. How do people in the church perceive authority in the home, between husband and wife?

15. What do people think of traditional practices at funerals, like head shaving?

16. How do people understand funeral feasts?

17. Some people do not eat certain foods because they think they are unclean. What do our communities think of that?

18. Is it right to name children? What do people think?

19. How do churches understand holy water? What do people think of those churches who use 'holy water'?

20. How do people understand splitting of churches that occurs so much these days?

21. What is peoples' view of having women leaders in church?

22. How do people inherit land these days?

23. How do people in the church view traditional herbs?

24. The pastor and the traditional healer all seek to help people. How do people see their roles as differing?

25. How do people understand the consumption of alcohol?

These questions were more than adequate to fuel over three hours of discussion with every elder.


    1954 The Western Abaluyia and their Proverbs Nairobi: Kenya Literatue Bureau