Prayers through caning: Inside churches where demons are ‘beaten out of believers’


 To put the faithful on the "right path" some churches in Nyanza and Western Kenya use the cane to exorcise demons.

Photo credit: Courtesy | Shutterstock

The practicality of the old adage, spare the rod and spoil the child, is well understood by some pastors of African traditional religions in Nyanza and Western Kenya.

In an effort to put the faithful on the "right path", as some like the Ka Mama Susanna Church in Siaya County have done, religious organisations have coined corporal punishment, where "possessed" believers are subjected to the cane to exorcise demons "as directed by the Holy Spirit".

In Nyanza and parts of Western, other traditional religions have a ritual that forbids women in their menstrual cycle from approaching churches as it is considered dirty and evil.

Other groups have private offices on church premises, the contents of which are known only to the pastors and a few followers.

However, devotees of ritualistic religions see nothing wrong with these practices, describing them as part of worship in preparation for their journey to heaven.

Kapiyo village in Bondo sub-county, Siaya County, is home to one such sect, where demon-possessed worshippers are beaten with canes.

Ka Mama Susanna Church is the name of the sect, a breakaway from the Roho Church, which is still located in the same area.

The Ka Mama Susanna Church is growing and now has several branches in Siaya County.

While its ritual practices are many, the ritual of beating members is the most prominent.

Ms Elizabeth Awino, who worships with the religious group, says the whipping is used to exorcise persistent demons.

"There are some demons that are very notorious. It takes a lot to drive them out of their victims' bodies. We pray, we fast while we whip the possessed," says Mrs Awino.

She affirms that it is believed that whipping a possessed person makes it unbearable for the demon to continue living in his or her body.

But retired Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAG) pastor Rev Simon Muhindi says the rituals and the clerics who promote the culture of caning are evil.

Mr Muhindi tells Nation from his home in Mbale, Vihiga County, that it is wrong to use the cane on Christians and calls for regulation to tame the vice.

Caning, he says, is not biblical and should not find its way into the church as a way of cleansing sinners.

"Jesus Christ only used the cane when he found that traders had turned the place of worship into a market place. We have never seen him use it to cast out demons," he says.

"I have heard of a church in Kiboswa, just after Nyang'ori, where Christians are being beaten to get rid of demons. This is absurd and should be stopped. Beating is evil in itself and those who do it are the demons. They need to be regulated," he added.

But Awino reiterates that there is no other way of exorcising demons other than continued caning because it is uncomfortable for the demons to continue living in the body that is being whipped.

"You will not understand. There are people who can't get enough sleep because the demons won't let them rest. These are the people who need to be helped, and flogging is the solution, even as we pray for them," she observes.

It is not just any other believer who is allowed to administer the cane.

She says exorcism is a ritual reserved for the officials who wear grey robes, a church garment.

"If you visit us, you will find other officials with dreadlocks. These officials represent some of the prominent prophets in the Bible, such as Elijah and Jeremiah," she adds.

Members dress differently, and this is particularly evident during Sunday services.

Ms Awino says regular members wear white robes and white caps for men, while women wear white dresses and white scarves.

Leaders wear blue robes while officials wear yellow, with the colours representing spiritual rank, she says.

During prayer sessions, members are expected to jump up and down while carrying flags of different colours.

A few kilometres away, in Odiere village in Mbita sub-county, Homa Bay County, is the Jerusalem Mowar Church.

Here, the church is considered one of the holiest places, according to its members, so much so that menstruating women are warned not to attend prayers because they are considered 'unclean'.

The African Israel Nineveh Church, which has a strong presence in Nyanza and Vihiga, has a similar ritual.

Menstruating women have been instructed not to attend church meetings during their menstrual cycle to avoid making the holy place dirty and evil by shedding blood.

Mr Achuodho Kachuodho, a member of the Jerusalem Mowar Church, says that anyone who enters the building is considered to be in the presence of God.

The church compound is also considered sacred and most activities that take place there are guided by the word of the church's founder and self-proclaimed prophet, Joseph Chenge.

Mr Kachuodho says the founder receives messages directly from the Holy Spirit and all prayer activities are guided by him.

He defends the ritual that forbids menstruating women from entering the church, saying it is biblical.

Without quoting the biblical passage, he says women are considered "unclean" during their menstruation and should not come before God.

For the African Israel Nineveh Church, Bishop Betty Onyango, barring menstruating women from the church is part of the traditions they have upheld.

For them, such women are not allowed near the pulpit.

And today, women clergy are not allowed to perform certain priestly duties during menstruation.

"You will notice that the majority of women serving as pastors and bishops are older women, aged 50 and above," she says.

Back at the Jerusalem Mowar Church in Homa Bay, worshippers say the mabati wall is sacred and should be respected.

Christians are required to remove their shoes when entering the structure, with Mr Kachuodho linking the practice to the biblical burning bush, when God told Moses to remove his sandals because the ground he was standing on was holy.

Mr Kachuodho is one of the assistants to Mr Chenge, the self-styled prophet.

In the church, the self-proclaimed prophet has a special place where he sometimes holds private prayers.

The faithful simply call it the Prophet's private office. It is located in a building that serves as his residence, where visitors sit while waiting to see him.

It is a few metres from the church and people are not allowed to enter the office.

Mr Kachuodho says only those who want to pray are allowed in.

The church has coined it's name after the burning bush and the faithful call it bungu mar lamo, meaning the bush of prayer, with members comparing it to the Western Wall in Israel where Christian believers visit to pray.

For them, Saturday is their day of worship as they link it to the biblical Sabbath in the Old Testament.

- Reporting by Kassim Adinasi, George Odiwuor, Elizabeth Ojina and Derick Luvega