I returned to Nyumbani last week refreshed from vacation and ready to tackle finishing the rainwater harvesting tanks and installation of the first water filters. Upon putting down by bags and getting my news update from John, the guest house cook, I was informed that the elder members of the village were given a goat from management to be sacrificed for the rains. I was confused by approval of the head of Nyumbani village, Sr. Mary, to so willing give a goat to the villagers who are, from my understanding, all Christian. Upon querying staff, I found out that animal sacrifices are a common part of Kamba culture/ religion. Going to church and praying for rains wasn’t enough for the villagers, some thought that in order to bring rain to these “cursed” lands, they needed to revert to their traditional practices of sacrificing to God. Since Nyumbani does not discriminate against religion, the elders are free to practice whatever they believe.
Now this is my understanding of events. The sacrificial goat has unfortunately caused much unrest among zealous Christians in the village and those who are okay with continuing Kamba tradition. I’ll give you a summary of each camp’s opinion on the sacrificial goat.
Camp 1: Management
Nyumbani village strives to maintain Kamba culture. Father D’Agostino, the founder of Nyumbani Village (who is treated very much like a saint here), supported the Kamba tradition of sacrificing a goat therefore Sr. Mary sees nothing wrong in donating a goat since Fr. D’Agostino did it. Now I didn’t ask Sr. Mary directly about this since she’s a very busy woman, but every time I asked someone in management about the goat, they would revert to the excuse “Fr. D’Agostino did it so Sr. Mary is doing it.”
Camp 2: zealous Christians
These Christians in the village believe the elders have sacrificed to their evil spirits on Nyumbani land and have therefore cursed the land, brought no rains, oh and we’re all going to hell since we knew about the sacrifice and didn’t stop it. Maybe I forgot to mention that Kambas are known, back in the day, to practice witchcraft. It’s no longer a common practice but there is still a strong belief that Kamba land is witchcraft land. Take for example my recent return to the village last week. I was with Becky, a Kenyan volunteer, when unfortunately one of the tires of the matatu burst on the way back. As we shuffled out of the matatu so the driver could replace the tire, Becky leans over to me and says, “The old woman who was sitting in front of us witched the matatu. That’s why we got a flat.” As crazy as this explanation sounds I’m sure Becky was not the only one who thought this. I remember seeing the su-su (grandmother) in the matatu happily bobbing her head to the music and I thought, poor woman, everyone thinks she’s a witch.
The priest and seminarians who live in the village also fall into this camp. They were most offended by the sacrificial goat so much so that the priest made an announcement before mass ended on Sunday that no one was allowed to make any sacrifices on Nyumbani’s land. I got the impression from speaking with a seminarian that they believe the elders are praying to evil spirits. They are therefore preparing for an increase in exorcisms to vanquish said evil spirits.
Camp 3: the moderate Christians
These Christians see nothing wrong with the elders practicing their traditional religion. This is how their ancestors worshipped God and only when Christianity came around, this practice was seen as evil. To them, sacrificing a goat is just Kamba culture and we shouldn’t feel threatened by this since they worship the same God.
Camp 4: me (all alone, by myself, solo)
Climate change anyone? Deforestation? Do any of these things ring a bell? No? okay, I’ll just keep my thoughts to myself for now since every time I talk about this with most of the staff (excluding management) I get skeptical looks. I could almost see how easy it is to believe that “witchcraft” practices have cursed Nyumbani land. Where we’re located is very flat and you can see in every direction for miles, therefore you can also see different weather systems for the different regions. I’ve witnessed heavy rains in every area around Nyumbani village but Nyumbani village. No wonder they think the elders have cursed the land, I probably would too if I never learned about climate change and just watched every where else get rain but my village. It also makes sense why the Kenyan government was willing to give 1000 acres in this area to Nyumbani Village since historically this land has very short, unpredictable rains. Nyumbani village has become the biggest village here since most Kenyans, given the choice, would relocate to lands with more rains. For those living in Nyumbani though, relocation is not an option and in order to cope with the lack of rain they need to blame something/someone. Unfortunately the easiest targets to blame are the elders who practice the traditional religious rituals. Just like the su-su in the matatu, the unknowing elders in the village are conferred blame, which probably wouldn’t be the case if the average level of education in the village was higher.
Until education levels improve though and people are more aware of what’s happening on a global scale I think I’m going to join in with the rain rituals. I’m off to find a drum to beat, some chicken feathers and a horn to blow. I’m going to come up with a powerful muzungu (this means white person, Westerner or foreigner) rain dance and cheer everyone up, or just scare the zealous Christians in Camp number 2!