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Keiyo elders turn to culture, cast spell on Covid-19

By Stephen Rutto | April 16th 2020

Kapterik clan elders from Epkee location in Elgeyo Marakwet County practice traditional rituals to curse the deadly coronavirus. The elders, ranging from 80 years and above, claimed that the disease will never cause death to Kenyans and in the world in future. April 14, 2020. [Peter Ochieng'', Standard]

The clock struck midday as 80 grey-haired men gathered under four trees on the Keiyo hanging valley in Elgeyo Marakwet County.

After about three kilometres down the rocky escarpment, The Standard team finds the elders sitting on a vantage ground, watching the magnificent Kerio Valley and rolling Tugen Hills in the neighbouring Baringo County.

The trees provide the much-needed shade from the scorching sun.

It was not an ordinary day for the elders. They spoke in low tones and there were no unnecessary movements.

A small group of less than 10 men sat behind the old men whose ages ranged from 72 to 91.

The elders were here for a specific mission – to curse the Covid-19 pandemic in a solemn traditional ceremony, which they believe, would ward off a disease that has caused over 120,000 deaths across the globe and infected over two million people.

The venue, the old men said, was a holy shrine where elders ran to whenever pandemics broke out.

The last time the Keiyo elders gathered at the sacred location was in 1984 when a drought ravaged the country, leading to a deadly famine.

But on this day, the elders were at the Kapterik holy grounds to specifically seek interventions from the community’s deity (Asis) to banish coronavirus.

It was a brief and succinct ceremony, where everything was done with military precision.

A big pot that contained about 20 litres of traditional brew popularly known as busaa was placed at the centre.

Alongside the traditional brew was a brown sheep.

Immediately, a fire was lit at the centre of the community shrine and the half-naked men started the ceremony.

The shrine turned into a ground of chants as the elderly men walked around the smoky fire lit using leafy branches.

They went round the fireplace seven times cursing the Covid-19 pandemic, praying that the viral disease gets out of Kenya.

"Kakile wendii Corona anan mowendii? (Are we declaring that coronavirus will go away?)," Christopher Tuitoek led the chanting as the other elders responded: "Wendii!" (It will go!")

The chanting was repeated several times as the elders slowly walked around the fireplace.

At some point, 91-year-old Michael Kandie, the oldest of them all, was spotted spitting the traditional brew towards the east, a move he says signified blessing of their land to protect it from the killer disease.

The elders were drawn from the three clans of Kapterik, Kapkomol and Moiyek. 

"Cursing is an age-old tradition and it has been passed down generations. It is a last resort whenever there are pandemics including disease outbreaks and drought among other tragedies. Pandemics have been warded off whenever we resorted to cursing," Tuitoek, who is also a retired chief, said.

According to Tuitoek, a cursing rite conducted on the same 'holy' grounds in 1942 ended a leprosy outbreak that claimed hundreds of lives in the area. 

He predicts that the elders' prayers will be followed by heavy rains that will "wash away the coronavirus" out of Kenya. 

"This pandemic (Covid-19) will end when elders have cursed it. It will rain and it will go away," he says. 

Another elder, Kipserem Cherutich, 86, says during the 1942 leprosy pandemic, victims were separated and their bodies left to be eaten by hyenas when they died. 

Cherutich says the sheep and the traditional beer was the community's sacrifice to their ancestors. He says the ancestors were the community's intercessors when pandemics strike. 

"Other ceremonies are done at rivers early in the morning. God has listened to elders in all cursing ceremonies," he says. 

William Cherombos, an elder who took part in the rites, claims there was a time a sexually transmitted disease rocked the area and it was banished after a similar ceremony. 

After the chanting, the meticulously executed ritual ended in a feast of roasted and boiled meat after the brown sheep was slaughtered. 

The elders and the small group of middle-aged men savoured the meat and soup before dispersing. 

As the Kapterik cursing ceremony was underway, another group of elders were conducting another rite in another sacred location in Nyawa village, about 20 kilometres away.

Cherombos said elders were planning other ceremonies in Cheptebo and Soy South areas. 

"The rituals will take place until this pandemic becomes history," he said.

The elders also said they will curse the locust invasion in the region during the ceremonies. 

Elgeyo Marakwet County Health Executive Kiprono Chepkok, however, cautioned the elders against failing to adhere to coronavirus preventive measures while conducting the ceremonies.

Mr Chepkok cautioned the elders to wear face masks and sanitise their hands during the rituals.

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