I recently located a book, written in 1997, that tells Thomas Muthee’s tale of Mama Jane, the “witch” of Kiambu.
The book is by George Otis and titled, The Twilight Labyrinth: Why Does Spiritual Darkness Linger Where It Does? It’s published by a division of Baker Book House, a well-known fundamentalist book publisher. On pg. 295 of The Twilight Labyrinth the author states the following:
Another riveting example of godly spellbending was related to me by Kenyan pastor Thomas Muthee. In a series of interviews between August 1994 and February 1996, Thomas described how God used a handful of intercessors in a grocery store basement to bring revival to one of the most spiritually oppressed communities in East Africa.
According to Otis, Muthee’s “spiritual warfare,” exorcism, and witch hunting career started in 1988:
The story began in 1988 when Thomas and his wife, Margaret, returned to Africa from post-graduate studies in Scotland. Back in their native Kenya, the couple settled in a banana-producing area called Karuri. From there Thomas launched out across Kenya as an itinerate preacher. In addition to holding crusades, and teaching seminars, he also ministered in high schools and colleges. (295)
Before long, Muthee and his wife were led to start a church in Kiambu, a suburb of Nairobi.
In Muthee’s telling, Kiambu was, even by Nairobi standards, impoverished, crime-laden, and violent—and not very receptive to fundamentalist Christianity.
Kiambu was “a notorious ministry graveyard” (295).
Then the Muthee’s moved in, discerning the community’s problem: witchcraft.
Here are Muthee’s exact words to Otis:
After several months of prayer and research, we discovered that many of the things going on in Kiambu were linked to a powerful woman named Mama Jane. As we sought the Lord for understanding, He revealed to us that Mama Jane was a witch. Although she tried to pretend she was a Christian, even going so far as to call her divination house ‘Emmanuel Clinic,’ her business was pure witchcraft. And her business was not done in secret; it was widely known that she was visited by very senior people in both business and government. Mama Jane was feared: that was her power. (296)
Notice in Muthee’s telling that Mama Jane did not, herself, accept the designation of “witch.” It is something that Muthee claims was “revealed to us.” In fact, Mama Jane told people that she was a Christian, and even gave her clinic a Christian name, “Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.”
Thus what Muthee called Mama Jane’s “pure witchcraft” was probably some sort of New Age syncretism practice.
Perhaps Mama Jane was doing traditional fortune telling and combined this practice with Christian and native pagan cultural elements.
In other words, she was simply engaged in eccentric religious practice which Muthee and his followers did not approve.
Muthee’s belief in mysterious occult powers is displayed in his interview with Otis:
What originally drew us to her were the accidents. In our research we had discovered that a disproportionate number of fatal automobile accidents were occurring on the dusty road in front of her clinic. Not a month went by without somebody losing his life. In many of these cases, people were hit and killed but you did not see a drop of blood on the road. Naturally we wanted to know what was behind this phenomenon. (296)
As can be seen in the above passage, despite Muthee’s formal graduate training in Scotland, his beliefs are not informed by academic modes of reasoning, or the European Enlightenment. He believes that witches exist, and that they can make cars crash simply by being in proximity to them. He even believes that car crashes, caused under the occult force of witchcraft, can result in no blood being shed by the injured or killed drivers.
And, in his telling of his story to Otis, Muthee is not even able to say for certain whether Mama Jane is really a human being. She may, in fact, be an animal or devil of some sort:
When we began to recognize who—or what—Mama Jane was, Margaret and I set ourselves to prayer. (297)
You did not misread this. Muthee thought Mama Jane might not be human.
Talk about demonizing your opposition—literally!
As Muthee’s movement in Kiambu grew, he claims that Mama Jane used “to come around the worship center at night to perform her witchcraft rituals” (297).
He then claims that his parishoners, come morning, would then find her evil spell-casting materials strewn about:
On Sunday morning we would find ashes spread around with pieces of special cloth, animal horns and cock feathers. Our services became very oppressed. People would try to sing, but they just couldn’t. (297)
If Muthee’s story sounds positively medieval in its primitivism, it gets still worse, for Muthee’s cult begins to pray collectively and earnestly that Mama Jane convert or leave Kiambu. Three days later another tragic accident occurred along the road near Mama Jane’s clinic, killing three children. Muthee says:
The people were furious because they suspected that Mama Jane’s witchcraft was linked to the accident. Some were clamoring that she be stoned. When the police were called in to quell the uprising, they found a huge snake in one of the clinic rooms. Startled, the officers drew their weapons and shot it. After this Mama Jane moved to the town of Mathare, about two hours north of Nairobi. Interestingly enough, the same ‘bloodless accidents’ began happening there. Now rumor has it she has moved on to a place in Ngongo. (297)
Muthee claims that Mama Jane’s exile from Kiambu has resulted in prosperity and a reduction of crime:
Now that Kiambu has a good name, people from Nairobi are flocking to get houses here. The population is up by thirty percent. (298)
With regard to his own group, Muthee says:
Everyone in the community now has a high respect for us. They know that God’s power chased Mama Jane from town. (298)