Embu and Mbeere - feature articles

The White Stone of Kathigagaceru

Reprinted by kind permission of Compassion International, on whose website this was first published. It is reproduced here in its entirety. The article concerns a former Mbeere shrine at Kathigagaceru, and appears very much to have been a sacred grove (matiiri; read the section on Nthuke age-sets).

The White Stone of Kathigagaceru (Mbeere), by Sammy Kaunga

The White Stone of KathigagaceruKathigagaceru is a village in Kenya's Mbeere district where Compassion's Kathigagaceru Child Development Center (KE-202) is found. The village's namesake is a two-foot-tall stone called "Kathiga" or "The White Stone," which rests about 50 feet from Compassion's partner church and its project facilities. But, why is this community named after a quite ordinary and unassuming rock?

Long ago, the Kathiga served as a meeting place for Mbeere warriors who congregated there to plan their next attack and offer sacrifices to the spirits. The White Stone was revered because it was believed to be a stopping point for the spirits. They would pause there to drink from a nearby stream late in the evening. In passing, the spirits presumably cleaned and painted the Kathiga a pearly white - accounting for the stone's radiance when viewed in the early morning.

Behind the White Stone, a dense forest once stood undisturbed. This forest, too, served as a shrine to the spirits, and there was never any mention of disrupting either the forest or the stone. To the local villagers, these proclaimed "monuments to the gods" ensured the village's protection.

But the late 1980s brought about a remarkable transformation throughout the village - namely the emergence of the Christian church. Christianity was a radical concept to many, and converts to the faith defied all that was once regarded as sacred. Where rows of trees once stood, a church was erected to counter the influence of evil spirits and to dissolve the community's belief in Kathiga's power.

The village elders laughed about what the Christian church first set out to accomplish, and they threatened retaliation by the spirits. While the church experienced some initial success, including the building of a Christian school, the elders' warnings finally seemed to take hold. Not long after the school's construction, a whirlwind ripped through the area and blew away the classrooms' rooftops. Iron sheets and other debris were carried miles away, and the elders declared, "The spirits have taken their own revenge against those who interfered with their shrine."

Holding to a higher purpose, church workers reconstructed the classrooms and encouraged the children to return to classes. For a second time, strong winds came along and carried away not only the roof, but the walls as well. Parents fearfully withdrew their kids from the school, but church members remained focused on the task of rebuilding. Christian workers later made an impassioned appeal for parents to return their children to classes, proclaiming Jesus as the "Chief Stone" who is greater than any small stone.

While the community's elders warned parents of the dire consequences of angering the spirits, the church prayed for God's wisdom in overcoming its attacker. The revelation soon came to plant trees along the wind's path to prevent its destruction. Despite the inclement weather and unfertile ground, the trees took root and the winds were thwarted.

Over one decade later, the White Stone still remains, but the formerly mystical rock now sits dejected - dwarfed by the magnificent church behind it. Whenever I see this stone, I am reminded of the power that God has to break any stronghold. Our children now sit on Kathiga without fear. They know that Jesus is the true Cornerstone and unlike this moveable object, His Word will stand firm forever.

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