Yet another of Uganda’s many sects with complex doctrines

Kampala, Uganda - It started as a small group amidst strong opposition and criticism. 40 years later, the Abasimuki are increasing significantly and are still committed to reviving “dying” Christatian values

It may be hard for many of us to relate voting in an election with sin, knowing that there are Ten Commandments, which God gave Moses and nowhere in the Bible is voting mentioned as a sin. But to the members of Abasimuki (the awakened ones), a religious sect, voting is a sin and if a member of this sect votes, he or she is ex-communicated.

The Abasimuki think they are the holiest and do not want to involve themselves in any earthly things. They say voting is an earthly thing, which their members should not be involved in but only pray for the candidate of their choice.

Although the Electoral Commission announced more than 10 million voters for today’s (February 23) presidential, parliamentary and local government polls, the numbers that belong to this sect will not vote for fear of being ex-communicated.

This religion is spreading at a fast rate in the country especially in pastoral areas of Nyabushozi, Sembabule, Nakasongola, Masindi, Luwero and Isingiro especially among the Banyankole living in those places.

According to a book, Okudda Obugya Okwo'mwoyo mu East Africa, this sect was started in 1960 by a member of the Anglican Church called Peter Kigozi who was traversing Uganda preaching the gospel and received a vision from God about the dying of Christian values. Kigozi reportedly called 14 people who went to Entebbe Botanical Gardens on June 26th, 1960 to pray to God in order to get an answer to their problem.

These were Erika Mugwanya, Yona Mondo, Eseza Mondo, Dr. Leokoboamu Kafeero, Joyce Kafeero, Besweri Nyonyitono, Kezia Musajjaakawa, Kezekia Musajjaakawa, Kezekia Matovu, Peter Kigozi, John Kajubi, Faith Kajubi, Joshua Ntate, Yowasi Musoke and Akisofera Ssekwanwagi.

Troubled start

The same book also reveals that this sect started in Buganda and was opposed in Bunyoro because of the traditional difference between the two kingdoms.

"In Bunyoro, many never welcomed this sect and they started talking badly about it," says the book. Due to increased opposition to the sect in Bunyoro Kitara diocese, the Christians were divided and later the sect was banned by the central government. In Bunyoro, Reverend Swithin Nyarubona, Yowasi Musoke, Yosamu Tibeijuka and Mesusera Kaheeru who introduced the sect to the area were branded 'rebellious church members who wanted to divide the Church of Uganda' by the then Bishop of Bunyoro Kitara Diocese, Dr. Y.K Ruhindi.

These four church members were despising their fellow Christians as being 'spiritually asleep' and Ruhindi reported the matter to the central government.

In a letter dated May 30th, 1973, the District Commissioner Bunyoro district, A.M Wangolo wrote to the above four persons thus: "It has come to my attention that you are planning to hatch some divisions in the church of Uganda, Bunyoro Kitara diocese with your Kuzuukuka sect. Your activities are viewed with serious concern by the government.

The dangers of division in the church of Uganda are only too fresh in our minds and the government's efforts and success smoothening relationship in the church should not be taken lightly and will not be allowed to be brushed aside," says the letter which was copied to the Commander of the Uganda Army and the Bishop of Bunyoro Kitara, Ruhindi.

After Ruhindi received the above letter on June 12, 1973 he wrote to the same people and told them that the government had banned all religious sects that may cause religious divisions. "Government only recognises the three established religions which are Islam, Roman Catholic and the Church of Uganda," he said.

Of course the story is different today, with the flourishing of religious freedom and Pentecostal churches.

After one month, Nyarubona wrote to the Archbishop of Uganda, Rev. E. Sabiti, denying that they had 300 followers in Bunyoro as was alleged by Ruhindi. He said Okusimuka (re-awakening) is not a sect but revival of the Christian values.

"It is a revival and a call to Christ's followers to re-dedicate themselves afresh to Him in a new totality of commitment," Nyarubona said.

Over 40 years later, the sect has spread to Toro, Acholi and Ankole among other areas. In Kiruhura district, the senior members of this sect include Simeon Kanjungu, the father to the late Brigadier Chefe Ali and Lazarus Rutetebya.

Complex doctrines

The Abasimuki call those who are not members of their church abagwejegyezi meaning "the asleep". Members of the sect justify their name by arguing that when it comes to giving testimonies in the churches, they declare every sin they have committed including saying names of persons they have committed adultery with.

And in places like Nyabushozi and Kazo and elsewhere this sect is gaining ground, many marriages have broken down because of exposing names of the adulterous people. "If you don't expose a sin and the person who has committed it, then that's not Kusimuka," says mzee James Bakyenga, a senior member of this sect from Kashambya in Mubende.

He says when one becomes Omusimuki, they abandon everything that can tempt them into sin. Bakyenga says voting can make one get angry if the candidate they support loses. "For sure you will get angry and you even can fight," he says, adding that getting angry or quarrelling is a sin, which their sect avoids.

It is not only the openness in their testimonies or evading voting that make the Abasisimuki unique from other Christians. They also don't ask for bride price and gifts when giving away their daughters.

They believe that it is God who creates people so they can't 'sell' a person who is created by God. "Bride price inconveniences our children to look for cows as dowry and this could tempt them to commit sins," Bakyenga says.

Basimuki daughters are not supposed to plait their hair, wear trousers or pierce their ears. The sect disregards all this because they see them as sins and attempts to attract men for sexual intercourse.

And if a daughter cohabits with a man, her parents cannot sleep in her house or receive anything like money, a drink or eat her food because they see cohabitation as a sin and receiving anything from her means committing a sin.

Immediately after the giveaway ceremony, the bride is supposed to leave her father's house and sleeping there again means committing a sin.

So for them the giveaway and wedding ceremonies are supposed to be held on the same day if both families are from this sect.

But if the groom's family does not believe in this sect and holds the wedding ceremony the following day, the bride has to look for somewhere to sleep, from where she can be picked to go for the church service the following day.

The Abasimuki have remained in the main stream Christian churches but have their own internal principles, meetings and are now building their own head church in Kilokole, Kawempe where they meet on the first Sunday of every month.