Religious specialists include Medicine men / healers, Herbalists, Diviners, Mediums, Prophets / Seers, Rainmakers, Priests and Elders. Religious specialists were given power by their parents who taught them religious duties. Others received divine call through dreams and visions.

A few learnt from experts via apprenticeship. This is learning by observing and practicing what one sees the master teacher doing.


Roles of the medicine women/men in the Community.

Medicine women/men are healers who were and are respected by the community. This is because they were and are able to:

1) Treat and heal the sick

2) Solve serious and complicated chronic illnesses

3) Give medicine in form of powder, herbs, minerals or liquid form and observed patients swallowing, drinking, sniffing, and applying on the skin.

4) Offer prayers and sacrifices to God.

5) Give charms to protect individual persons from evil spirits.

6) Perform specialized medical roles in some communities in spite of the fact that we have modern hospitals, counselors and psychologists.

Elders were and still are community leaders.

They were not religious specialists but the community gave elders duties, which made them close to religious leaders.


Herbalists and their relevance.

Herbalists were synonymous with witch doctors. They cured people through herbs just like the medicine women/men. Communities’ belief: that herbalists are witchdoctors and possess magical powers. Herbalists continue to be consulted as ‘witch doctors’ or “waganga”.


Today herbalists do religious tasks that were traditionally done by diviners. Diviners were able to find hidden secrets and knowledge; reveal witches and thieves. They communicated with spirits and enhanced the work of healers and medicine people. They worked as medicine people and were healers of people.


They used magic powers and predicted future occurrences. They used items such as pebbles, water, bones or gourds in divination. They also warned of future calamities. They were mediators between God, ancestors and the people. To be a diviner, one had to be trained. There was a specialized curriculum prepared by diviners.


Relevance of diviners in modern society.

Diviners (‘witchdoctor’“mganga”) are not popular today and are hardly consulted. But the unfortunate people consult them who: need a job, promotion, and children. This consultation is secret. Mediums were channels of communication between the living and the spirits of people’s ancestors.


The ancestor spirits possessed mediums and through them ancestors gave information and messages to their relatives. Priests were religious leaders and functionaries. They were intermediaries between people, ancestors, spirits and God. Their work was to make sacrifices and give offerings on behalf of the people.

They officiated during planting and harvesting rituals. They offered prayers and blessed the needy. They cared for the shrines and poured libations to the ancestors. They led the community in public worship. They were political heads and judges. Today, traditional priests are not relevant since most Kenyans follow several religious practices like Christianity, Hindus, Islam and many others.

But there are however, a few traditional priests who take care of community shrines. Prophets / Seers predicted the future. They foretold events such as invasions, wars, drought, and epidemics.

They gave advice.

They also performed religious duties.

They could bless and curse.

Religious prophets are common today but traditional prophets are not common. Rainmakers were responsible for bringing or withholding rain to a community.

They interpreted weather conditions.

They performed certain rituals like asking God for rains.

They were highly respected in the society.

Modern science has replaced rainmakers. Meteorological departments have made the rainmakers redundant.

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Elders were custodians of community values and secrets.

They acted as educators. They gave punishment to offenders of social norms/rules. They acted as counselors and guided the youth on matters of sex and marriage. They helped in maintaining roles for important religious functions, such as rites of passage.

They were political leaders in the community.

They were negotiators and solved conflicts since they settled family disputes especially agreements concerning land.

They were custodians of the traditional values, customs and history of the people.


Elders are relevant in modern society.

They are referred to as village elders and are recognized by the government of Kenya.


See also






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