Makueni was the first region in Ukambani to embrace Christianity — but for some, witchcraft still reigns supreme.
Christian conversions began more than 100 years ago with missionaries from Mombasa setting up camps in Kibwezi.
But in spite of the spread of Christianity the religion has failed to overtake completely the traditional beliefs.
“These are people who you will not find flocking to churches or mosques, but they are there alive and well”, said Mtito Andei town council chairman Festus Kyalo.
The traditionalists can be identified by their names. “They have nothing to do with Christian or Islamic names,” said Mr Kyalo.
Musembi Muema, 78, from Masongaleni in Kibwezi said he had never had a Christian or Muslim name for he does not subscribe to either of those faiths.
“I have never stepped foot on any of the religious bodies. As for my children, some are Christians, there is one who is a Muslim, and some are traditionalists”, he said.
His parents were the early settlers of Kyulu Hills before they were forced out by the British in the 1930s.
Mzee Muema said if he wanted to communicate with his God he simply went to a secluded place, “somewhere in the bush.”
And he went on: “I am not alone. We are many, especially of my age, and we have no regrets.”
The presence of witchcraft in Makueni is very much alive, just as it is in the counties of Machakos and Kitui.
Signboards announcing the services of traditional healers are common, even in small villages and trading centres.
Some of the most popular witchdoctors from the region remain the late Dr John Muia Kali from Salama and the late S.K Maingi from Machinery, Kibwezi who reigned supreme from Independence up to the early 1990s.
So famous were the witchdoctors that leaders seeking political office or other favours used to consult them for success.
A recent incident in neighbouring Machakos County saw two suspected thieves caught by magical powers when their stomachs reportedly started bulging after they raided people’s homes. Such incidents are not uncommon in Makueni County.
The presence of witchcraft is easy to detect.
Those who have visited witchdoctors display razor blade cuts on various parts of their bodies; others walk around carrying the paraphernalia associated with their beliefs.
“Believers in witchcraft normally have their homes treated – this usually involves a witchdoctor visiting the home at odd hours, going around the homestead either sprinkling the blood of some slaughtered animals or chickens and burying some concoctions within the homestead”, explained Anna Mutheu Ndunda, a famous traditional healer with a big clientele from the region.
She said this was believed to cushion any attack, be it physical or through remote control.
Ms Mutheu said confessed Christians and Muslims formed part of her clientele.
“Some of my clients don’t want to be identified but they are not small people,” she said, adding, “you will be surprised if you get their names.”
She went on: “On Sundays you see them in church leading proceedings, but by the end of the day they visit me and they leave with my concoctions.”
“The belief in witchcraft is rife in the region, in Makueni just like in other parts of Ukambani, we have Christians by day and traditionalists by night,” said the local Catholic bishop, the Rt Rev Martin Kivuva.
Dr Kivuva said the presence of signs guiding people to witchdoctors’ homes was a clear indication that Christianity and traditionalist witchcraft coexisted.
“Those who practise witchcraft are traditionalist and they are many,” said Bishop Kivuva.
“Witchdoctors are in business. They thrive because they have many clients. Unfortunately they don’t expose themselves when they seek their consultations,” he added.
Islamic preacher Imam Ali Anas said witchdoctors and witchcraft had remained part and parcel of mankind since time immemorial.
“They are forces that came into being to counter any good thing that God gave to mankind, both the Holy Bible and the Holy Quran talk about them and we should not be surprised to see the trade thriving”, he said.