Accepted paper:

Kitui "culture" as the Other of the modern monoliths: development, religion and the obscure material culture of Andu Manthi


Maarten Onneweer (Leiden University)

Paper short abstract:

In the Kitui district Kenya, ritual cults offering at natural shrines are labelled only in contrast with Christianity: Andu Manthi, Worldly People. I describe the diffuse and sometimes obscure(d) material culture of Andu Manthi and how ‘modern’ elites seek to use this for retraditionalisation or proselytisation.

Paper long abstract:

'Andu Manthi' is a label cultists in the Kitui district derive from their status as the 'other' of the modern monoliths. It is the inverse of Christianity since Andu Manthi means "worldly people", but the people under this label are also called "the culture", or "the tradition" as opposed to modernity and development. In my presentation I will discuss the role of materiality and immateriality in the Andu Manthi of natural shrines (Mathembo) to discuss the ambiguity of the Andu Manthi status and its role in retraditionalisation and proselytesing. Local elites increasingly seek to appropriate Andu Manti practices, either in a positive quest for or indigenous or traditional ecological knowledge to retraditionalise society, or as benchmark for proselytesing, as satanic 'other' used by Christian congregations in the district. Interestingly, most outsiders know little about ritual practices and ritual places, and use the labels Andu Manthi, 'the tradition' or 'the culture', indiscriminately and speculatively. Few people know where Mathembo shrines are, what they look like and what goes on there. The lack of visible cultural markers, the intermittent character of rituals, and the regional differences has frustrated knowledge on the shrines and ritual practices, but is also made outsiders propose the presence of biodiversity, witchcraft and an elusive red mercury. I show that the speculation on the natural shrines and the practitioners provides the Andu Manthi with the power of obscurity, which seems constitutive of the distinction by other religious and societal groups.

panel W064
Interpreting religious diversity: conversion, syncretism and religious practice