by: Mary Getui
Undoubtedly Africa is a vast continent geographically, culturally, and in the expressions and manifestation of the rich and vibrant religious heritage. Equally, the women are of diverse backgrounds – ethnic, social and rural-urban and again religious leaning. This scenario calls for a broad and general approach in responding to the topic at hand.
I take religiosity to mean the people’s relationship with and response to God, to themselves and others and all there is around them.
We shall take some day to day experiences of some categories of Kenyan women to highlight: how they are in touch with God, how to relate in, with within and to the African religio-cultural heritage.
A young Gusii mother and her baby are lying by the fireside. The young mother is too ill to nurse her baby. Her relatives seek help from the doctor-the village medicine-woman. The doctor arrives and assesses the situation, and immediately sets off to the fields to look for the medicine. She turns down an invitation to have a drink. She returns equipped with an assortment of herbs, but laments that the fields may sooner or later not be able to yield any medicine because they have been abused – they are polluted, overused, fenced. She then administers the medicine to the patient. After a considerable period of time, during which she engages in general conversation with the relatives of the patient, she checks on the patient and notes that the medicine is beginning to have a positive effect. She requests the people to give her the drink they had offered her earlier, how could she have eaten before treating the patient and before seeing some signs of recovery? For several days the doctor visits and nurses the patient. The later makes a quick recovery and soon resumes her normal duties. The family sends a token of appreciation to the doctor, and will continue to do once in a while. A strong bond of friendship is established between the medicine woman and the relatives of the patient. If need be they will call on the doctor again, she will respond.
The elderly Luo Christian woman is busy winnowing grain in the courtyard. Her concentration is disrupted by the arrival of her urban-based daughter who is accompanied by several friends. She breaks into a Christian chorus as she leads the visitors into the house. She prays and thanks God for their safe arrival; for their comfortable stay, for their occupations and abodes in the city, for their entire lives. She then greets them heartily and offers them seats. She prepares a meal, all of which she places before them, and shares with them. The visitors have to leave. She appreciates the gifts they have brought her by giving them some of the grain she was winnowing. Some of the visitors are not familiar with the grain, but she tells them to go and show it to others and if possible make a meal of it and share with others. She also points out that despite dietary differences we are all one, we are human, created by one God. She then prays for journey mercies and thanks God for quick means of transport, and recognizes that human development may be vast and fast but she emphasizes that all things and people originate from God, and all honour and glory should be due to him.
There is a multitude of people in this open church ground in Nairobi. They are drawn from many races, ethnic backgrounds, social classes. They have been gathering as early as 6 am so they are assured of a place and in order to have a glimpse of Mama Mary Akatsa, the leader of the Jerusalem Church of Christ one of the African Instituted Churches. And finally, Mama is here. She stands to speak to them. She addresses those issues that touch on each one of them in one way or another – economic hardship; domestic relations; sickness; death; unemployment; political uncertainity. At the end of the service, Mama distributes some soap and some clothes. She also organizes for transport for those who need it. She announces special programmes for the coming week. Many of them go home feeling Mama understands them, knows where and how they are hurting and has made an attempt to respond to their needs. They have experienced healing.
The same can be said of the male and female tele-evangelists and other crusaders whose audiences and meetings are often full to capacity. What is interesting is that majority of the attendants are women, as in the case of mainstream churches. Why? The answer many of them give is that they have to pray for their families, especially their stray husbands and children, or to find good husbands. They also have to pray for the country – for peace and prosperity. They have to pray that God may intervene in a sinking and swaying society. They also attend “keshas” – overnight prayer sessions often accompanied with fasting.
The young protestant woman feels a strong call for ministry. There is a lot of resistance from the family, friends and the church, for priesthood is not for women. But all the same, she manages to go to theological school. But she is all the time reminded by her colleagues and even staff that she is in the wrong place. Anyway, she manages to go through. But where is she going to be posted? The invitation finally arrives – she is to be in charge of the women, youth and children’s department. These are very important departments but her calling and her training are for “pastoral” work. Somehow after a long time she gets ordained, but there are those including fellow women, who resist her services, simply because she is female – how will she be able to serve when she is menstruating, pregnant, nursing a baby?
Her catholic counterpart envies her for going this extra mile; but both of them opt to obey their calling, to serve in the capacities they are assigned and continue to strive on.
These diverse experiences of African women go to show that their religiosity is real and goes beyond religious affiliation barriers – all of them are concerned with and involved in a search for and concern for promotion of well being and meaningful life for themselves, the people, the environment, society. Their religiosity is in their being able to provide services and leadership. African women’s religiosity is in their struggles against many odds in their hope, in their rejoicing when they share, when they overcome. African women’s religiosity is in their questioning of old and new ideas – how do they promote their and others meaningful contribution to life. African women’s religiosity is their call for acceptance, for recognition, for appreciation of what they have to offer in the search for meaningful existence within the African contextual milieu, and even beyond.