Controversy: We Use ‘yath’ to Cure Coronavirus, Legio Maria Devotees Say
Some devotees of the Legio Maria church have been using Facebook groups as echo chambers to propel a controversy about the coronavirus pandemic.
The Cambridge Dictionary defines an echo chamber as “a situation (place) in which people only hear opinions of one type or opinions that are similar to their own.”
Legio Maria is one of the indigenous African churches founded in 1964 as a splinter group of the Roman Catholic Church; headquartered at Got Kwer in Migori, Kenya.
The Facebook groups are about ten in number. They include the LEGION MARIA AFRICAN CHURCH MISSION. TRUTH AND TRUTH, with 19 thousand members; and the Legion Maria of African Church Mission…KINDA ROSARY, with 14 thousand members, among others.
The believers, who debate mainly in Dholuo, say that they have a cure for all illnesses and that Covid-19 is not special.
On April 25, 2020, one Legio faithful Benard Omondi, posted in the LEGION MARIA OF AFRICAN CHURCH MISSION group and claimed that he had had a vision on how to treat Coronavirus.
“It was revealed to me that we need to arm ourselves with blue and green candles and boiled water, then pray through Mama Maria and Cathorina. I was told to give the boiled water to the priest to bless it before giving it to coronavirus patients to drink and bathe with for seven days… That is the coronavirus cure,” claimed Omondi.
Fourteen people liked whereas seven others commented on Omondi’s allegations in the affirmative, and the post was shared in two of the Legio echo chambers.
In Legio worship, there is a special water that is sourced from sacred places like Lake Simbi Nyaima in Homa Bay county and Mberere in Nandi county. The water which is referred to as yath or pii hawi in the local dialect is often sprinkled into the mouths of believers from a squeezed plastic bottle.
Speaking at Mberere Legio Maria shrine at the foot of Nandi Hills, along the border of Kisumu and Nandi counties a fortnight ago, 25-year-old Patrick Janes Odhiambo, a Janabi (or Priest) from St. Peters Church in Homa Bay, confirmed Omondi’s allegations.
“It is true that this water cures many illnesses. As Legio faithful, we have various departments and Cathorina is in charge of health. A Legio devotee should never be treated in a hospital, no matter the situation. Yath cures corona for us because this is what we use and heal. We only follow Covid-19 containment protocols because it is a government directive.”
He added, “We believe that water from this spring in Mberere cures even STIs and HIV/AIDs. All illnesses are curable in the name of Bikra Maria (Virgin Mary). Every color of a candle represents an angel. The green one is for Cathorina.”
At Mberere shrine, bodaboda operators trooped in, with 20-liter jerrycans to fetch pii hawi from the unique spring within – an indication of yath being in high demand.
The bodaboda operators were being sent by the priests who remained at a nearby market center, Kopere, for fear of being harmed by the local Nandi community which accuse them of ferrying Covid-19 to their village in Mberere.
“I have been to Mberere myself. The younger generation of Legio faithful is liberal. They know that there are things that you heal by faith and that there are things like Covid-19 that cannot be cured,” said Lawyer Okoth Opondo, a former Legio altar boy whose father was a close associate of Melkio Ondeto, the Messiah and founder of Legio Maria.
According to a 2009 academic research paper titled, ‘Believing in the Black Messiah: The Legio Maria Church in African Christian Landscape’, healing and exorcism play a prominent role in Legio Maria worship.
The paper found out that over 60% of those who join the church do so because they believe in being healed from witchcraft and ‘western’ illnesses. In Kenya, there are several people, both religious and secular, who shun coronavirus vaccines and protocol on grounds that it is a ‘Whiteman’s disease’, and so, a western illness.
“Masks are cheaper these days but I must not wear them because I am a black man. That disease can only harm wazungu (white people). Covid-19 cannot penetrate this dark skin of mine. The tough nature of my job also keeps the virus at bay,” remarked Vincent Otieno, 31, a casual laborer at a construction site in Oyugis town, Homa Bay county.
When Covid-19 set in, some locals clashed with the police for not wearing face masks over what they said was hard economic times. However, today many people wear the masks improperly, on their chin – some keep them in pockets, and only rush to cover their mouths when a police officer is spotted in the vicinity.
There is no science behind Legio Maria’s yath. The World Health Organization has not announced any cure for Covid-19 yet, thus the Legio narrative remains to be controversial. However, various vaccines have so far been developed and approved for use.
Raphael Adika, a Pope of a faction of the Legio Maria church, has been on the record calling on the government of Kenya to obtain vaccines and urged members to follow Covid-19 containment protocols.
Lately, the church has experienced bloody leadership wrangles and believers in the other faction, led by Pope Lawrence Ochieng Kalul, take no instructions from Pope Adika. Not much is in the public domain from Pope Ochieng on matters Covid-19 containment and vaccines.
The Legio Maria church claim that they are the true Roman Catholics, only that their worship doctrines have been Africanized. Elements in the Roman Catholic church have been on the record opposing the use of vaccines.
“The Legio recognizes the pope of Rome. They conduct their services in Dholuo, Kiswahili, English, and Latin; just the same services as in a catholic church. When Pope Francis visited Kenya, the Legio church respected and followed the proceedings,” Lawyer Opondo explained.
We took samples of yath at Mberere and have proceeded to a medical laboratory to establish the possible medicinal value of it. Watch out for this in our next story. Also, we will be interacting with Legio leaders and faithful who have contracted the virus; and families that have lost their loved ones.
Listen to the podcast of the same story below.
This story was produced as part of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting’s Africa Resilience Network (ARN) program, administered in partnership with the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR), the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR), and Africa Uncensored.
I survived Covid 19 While Battling TB and Living With a Disability
Serile Awinja popularly known as “Senje” is a 79-year-old woman from Riruta Satellite, Dagoretti South Constituency in Nairobi Kenya. Senje has been living with a disability since 1989 when she was attacked by her nephew in her home in Huruma. Despite being paralyzed from the waist down she has beat the odds and overcome life’s challenges to sustain herself as she has no husband or children.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Senje used to make a living using her skills in dress-making and tailoring in her shop located in Riruta Satellite along Kabiria Road.
With support from the local community, she could supply uniforms to both public and private schools in Dagoretti and also embroider labels on the uniforms and other designs.
“I always give thanks to God even though I lost my ability to move around and do tons of the businesses I was used to. But God gave me the skills on my hands for a purpose.”
Like other persons living with disabilities after the Covid-19 pandemic struck, Senje was forced to stay home due to her old age to limit contact with other people and this dealt a huge blow to her livelihood. She did not relent, she kept working from home and was able to make a living even though it was very small.
“After this pandemic began, I was not able to do business like before because of the lockdowns and quarantine. Most schools closed and orders were not coming in like before. “
“Life was very difficult, I depended on friends, well-wishers and my brother for food and sometimes even struggled to pay rent. “
“In 2021 I developed a serious cough and after seeking treatment was diagnosed with TB. After sorting treatment from the local dispensary at Kivuli and the Mbagathi Referral Hospital, I was cured but I did not give up I continued working.”
The Covid 19 pandemic forced everyone to switch from their normal way of life and adapt to sustain themselves.
The third born in a family of 6, Senje has been able to use her skills in dress-making and crocheting from the traditional way of sewing and embroidery. She has been able to be innovative despite her old age and the competition brought about by the digital revolution due to the connections and network she has built. Through funds that were disbursed by the government during the pandemic to the vulnerable in the community, she was able to purchase an electric machine. This assisted her in the production of sweaters, beanies, and masks in large numbers on order.
In early 2022 her tailoring business went down and Senje was not making enough money to sustain herself. She then moved to selling sweets through hawking using a wheelchair. This at least could earn her some money.
“Through Psycho-social support from my doctors and social groups with my neighbors I was able to start vending sweets. This was the only way to survive. I depended on one young man and a few neighbors who used to push me on my wheelchair. It was never easy especially when there was no one to help me, narrates Senje.
Peter Wekesa, a 17-year-old boy narrates how he supported Senje through her daily struggle.
“Every time I am free, I would push Senje on her wheelchair as she sold sweets. When I was busy I would leave her at the stage and call her in the evening after football practice to bring her back home,” Peter noted.
Just like Senje, most persons living with disability rely on formal support from assistants or service providers or informal support from relatives/friends. Services like one-on-one counseling were not and still are not easy to find as most PWDs are impoverished.
Despite this she was lucky enough to get support from her social worker Pauline Mwende, from Kivuli Dispensary.
“I used to go visit Senje almost weekly to help her with house chores, cooking even bringing foodstuff for her. Fortunately, Senje is very hardworking despite her old age. She is not one to always go begging on the streets. Even when she feels low, she would tell me; Mwende my daughter today I’m feeling down. We could have a cup of tea and tell stories.” noted Mwende.
Theresiah Wangui a mental health expert at the Mutuini Level 4 Hospital explains that people living with disability especially women were severely affected mentally by the pandemic with the loss of their jobs or source of income.
‘’During and after the pandemic, we dealt with a lot of cases whereby one is dealing with depression and trauma because maybe he/she lost a job. What we did more was to help them recover.’’
According to an ethnographic research report done in Kenya and Bangladesh by the International Disability Alliance in Kenya alone, more than 92% of respondents said their daily lives had been affected, pinpointing factors such as limited transport, restricted movement, lack of available necessities, lack of contact with others in schools, church, and other social functions, reduced income and the loss of their job or income.
A disability-inclusive crisis response will better serve everyone in the future, by providing more inclusive, accessible, sustainable, and agile systems that are able to respond to complex situations and reach those that are most in need.
This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Stephanie Wayua and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.
I am Journalist with a keen interest on stories around women and children
Lake Nakuru Fishers Still Adamant Despite Ban on Fishing
Residents say fishing in flooded area has thrown them a new economic lifeline
When Lake Nakuru burst its banks in March 2021, the distraught residents of Mwariki, Barut constituency had to move to safer grounds. Over 200 families were displaced, and their farming land was rendered useless.
Today, things are different as the residents turn to fish in the expanded lake to eke out their living.
“When the floods came, we had to look for alternative places to live. Some of us had to demolish our houses and close down our businesses. It was a hard time for us,” says Freshia Muthoni, a resident at Mwariki who was displaced from her home by the floods.
Freshia says now fishing has thrown them a new economic lifeline since most farmers whose land was submerged by the floods have invested in boats and fishing nets.
The fishermen go fishing in the wee hours of the morning to secure their catch. Fishing in Mwariki has since become a booming business despite the government’s efforts to curb any fishing activities in Lake Nakuru. Scientists are blaming the flooding, which has expanded the lake to people’s homes and farmlands to climate change. Years of environmental degradation, pollution, and deforestation are affecting the biodiversity of Lake Nakuru.
However, the residents see the flooding as a blessing in disguise. Florence Waruguru, another resident of Mwariki, says that fishing in Lake Nakuru has been a relief to those who lost their land to floods.
“Our land is submerged underwater. We can no longer grow anything on it. Fortunately, the water came with plenty of fish, which we now sell to meet our needs. The fish helps us to feed and even educate our children,” she says.
However, fishing in Lake Nakuru has not been without its challenges. The residents complain of the policemen’s harassment as they confiscate their nets and fish.
“We do not understand why they take away our fish and nets. Some of them demand bribes and when we cannot pay them, they take away our fish. For us, we plan to continue fishing until the government relocates us to other places,” says Freshia.
Early this year, the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (Kmfri) banned fishing in the lake, citing that the fish in Lake Nakuru is contaminated with toxic components.
According to the Kmfri report, the fish in Lake Nakuru can cause adverse effects on humans if consumed over a long period. This is because of the sewage and runoff water from the county drains into the lake.
The fishers, however, will hear none of this, saying that they have consumed Lake Nakuru’s fish for a long time without any harm. Some fishmongers at the lakeside have come from different counties to earn a living in the now extended lake.
Even as the fishing continues, there is doubt on its impact on the exotic species of fish in Lake Nakuru.
‘Holy Water’, Covid-19 Cure Controversy
There is a division in Legio Maria of African Church Mission after some of them alleged knowledge in Coronavirus treatment. Here is a story of how extremist belief in religion has propelled Covid-19 disinformation.
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