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

By Cynthia Hoehler-Fatton | Go to book overview

NOTE ON THE ROHO (HOLY SPIRIT) LITURGICAL LANGUAGE

In his description of Alfayo Odongo Mango's Roho movement, D. H. Rawcliffe states "one of their 'chief priests' wrote copiously in an 'unknown tongue' during a state of trance which, he claimed, was inspired by the Holy Ghost: the [Roho adherents] said they could understand what was written and carefully preserved the writings" ( Rawcliffe 1954: 27-28). This secret or special language is a feature of Roho religion that has continued to intrigue observers, but surprisingly little is known about it. The language is called Dhoroho, which literally means "language of the spirit." The 'chief priest' mentioned by Rawcliffe was in fact Roho prophet Paulo Rang'eng'a, one of Mango's followers from Ruwe in Ugenya. Roho members believe that shortly after Mango's death in 1934, Rang'eng'a was selected by God to reveal a unique, sacred tongue as proof of the Roho community's divine selection. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Rang'eng'a devoted all his time to translating Scripture and song into a new tongue, but his associates soon protested that the words sounded too much like English, the language of their colonial and missionary oppressors. Rang'eng'a prayed over the matter and tradition has it that a year later, in 1935, the Holy Spirit gave him another language-- the current Dhoroho--that did not at all resemble a European tongue and was therefore acceptable.

In the strict sense, Dhoroho is not a language at all but rather an encoding of Dholuo. Every discrete sound in Dholuo has a corresponding sound in Dhoroho. Vowels correspond to other vowels, consonants to other consonants. For example, a in Dholuo is o in Dhoroho; o is i, ny is j, y, is sh, and l is r. Words are therefore translated letter for letter. Thus Nyasaye ("God" in Dholuo) becomes Jongoshu in Dhoroho; polo ("heaven" in Dholuo) becomes biri.

The founders of the Roho community emphasized the importance of learning Dhoroho. From the late 1930s through the early 1950s, Roho adherents from various regions sent their children to stay in Ruwe--the headquarters for one branch of the Roho church--for extended periods in hopes of exposing them to the fundamentals of Roho religion, including Dhoroho. The young people would assist their host families in farm work and domestic chores in return for instruction in the basics of the Bible, rudimentary reading and writing skills,

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

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents xi
  • Introduction xiii
  • NOTE ON ORTHOGRAPHY xix
  • NOTE ON THE ROHO (HOLY SPIRIT) LITURGICAL LANGUAGE xx
  • KEY FIGURES IN THE ROHO HISTORICAL NARRATIVE (In alphabetical order by last name) xxiii
  • 1 - The Early Phase of the Roho Movement 3
  • 2 - Rejection and Crisis 40
  • 3 - Roho Expansion and Church Formation 78
  • 4 - Sacrifice and Redemption: The Roho Worldview 119
  • 5 - Quiet Wives and Questing Warriors: The Public and Hidden Transcripts of Roho Women 172
  • CLOSING REMARKS 206
  • Appendix 211
  • Notes 215
  • References 243
  • Index 253
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