Women of Fire and Spirit: History, Faith, and Gender in Roho Religion in Western Kenya

Women of Fire and Spirit: History, Faith, and Gender in Roho Religion in Western Kenya

Women of Fire and Spirit: History, Faith, and Gender in Roho Religion in Western Kenya

Women of Fire and Spirit: History, Faith, and Gender in Roho Religion in Western Kenya

Synopsis

This is the first extensive study of the African Christian Roho religion, or Holy Spirit movement, in Western Kenya. Hoehler-Fatton uses extensive oral histories and life narratives to provide a counterweight to existing historical literature, and also brings to the fore the role of women in the evolution and expansion of the Church.

Excerpt

In 1983, while teaching at Ojolla Secondary School on the grounds of one of the oldest Catholic mission stations in western Kenya, I witnessed my first juogi (spirit) attack. It was late in the afternoon and the only students left in the compound were a few girls who had begun boarding in the new dormitory. Suddenly, there was a commotion on the southern side of the dormitory. Rounding the corner, I found Cornelia A., one of our Form One students, in distress. She was shaking and hyperventilating, her eyes wide with terror, as she pointed at the air, gasping, Obiro! Obiro! (He/She is coming!) Somehow I managed to quiet Cornelia as the headmistress shooed the other students away. She didn't want to run the risk of allowing Cornelia's condition to spark an episode of "mass hysteria," as had been known to happen at other girls' boarding schools. Cornelia did not return to Ojolla the following term, so I don't know what ever became of her. I was surprised to learn that her classmates did not find her encounter with what they termed "evil spirits" or "satans" to be particularly extraordinary.

During the remainder of my two-year stint as a teacher among the Luo people in Nyanza Province, I gradually came to appreciate the pervasiveness of belief in juogi. In numerous ritualized and mundane ways, Luos express their assumption that spiritual entities are real presences. Juogi can be both kind and cruel, and their power can be tapped for constructive or destructive purposes. When wronged or neglected, ancestral juogi--known as kwere--can afflict their living descendants with illness or misfortune until appropriate propitiatory offerings are made. Particularly vengeful juogi may be classified as jochiende (demons or malevolent ghosts), and stronger ritual measures must be employed to stem their harmfulness (Ocholla-Ayayo 1976; Owuor Anyumba 1974, 5). Certain divinities can be called "free spirits," for they are believed capable of striking anyone, irrespective of lineage or clan. Most of these free juogi (e.g., juok nam, juok Mumbo, and juok yie) are believed to possess individuals, who, once initiated into the cult of that particular divinity, function as its mediums and are able to capitalize on its power.

It appears that the way in which Luos classify spiritual entities, however, is gradually changing. In the past, judging from the investigations of researchers such as Michael Whisson and Henry Owuor Anyumba in the 1950s and 1960s, the distinctive characteristics of each class of free juogi and their corresponding cults were fairly widely known. In the minds of most younger Luos today . . .

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