Inside the world of Akorinos and their changing identity


Dr David Wachira is a financial specialist at the World Bank who has recently made a number of interesting appearances on the Kenyan media scene. He happens to be Mukurino, belonging to a Christian community in Kenya historically unique for fusing Kikuyu traditions with the Christian faith. Indeed, he is known as the American Mukurino.

Boasting 100 years of existence, the Akorino community is known for its distinctive sartorial style which, depending on one's gender, includes a turban or head cloth, the most conspicuous symbol of the faith to outsiders.

That symbol marks the Akorino out for stereotyping and discrimination, as Dr Wachira described earlier this year during an appearance on the Citizen TV talk show Jeff Koinange Live. He gave sobering anecdotes of what his turban says to people in this country.

During a formal meeting, for example, he has been presumed by fellow attendees not to be one of the participants but rather the waiter supposed to be taking round the beverages, being asked to bring over a cup of tea, please, will you?

His spouse, Cecilie Olaussen Wachira, is a successful Norwegian photographer. "They think I'm her driver a lot," Wachira said of Cecilie, who accompanied him to the show. They met in Washington DC, where they both worked. "You can drop her off here and park over there," Wachira was once informed as the couple pulled up to the entrance of a Nairobi hotel in his car. By engaging the media to talk about these issues, Wachira does a wonderful service to people of his faith who, while exercising their religious and cultural liberty, shouldn't be subject to these unjustifiable prejudices. None of us would enjoy them.

The couple's cross-racial union is also something to behold. We're every now and then treated to cringe-worthy displays of interracial pairing on TV and social media, where the main attraction is supposedly the exotic nature of African-Mzungu love. Not so with Wachira and Cecilie.

Besides their successful careers and charismatic personalities, listen to them talk and you sense they're in something wonderful. He appeared to be a gentleman and a supportive partner to Cecilie, not shy throughout the interview to applaud her distinguished achievements, which include working with Pope Francis and four US presidents. Cecilie, on the other hand, seemed quite fond of her husband's heritage. They gave the impression of a happy union that is healthy and reciprocal.

The other union Wachira's heritage represents, however, is of a historical nature. If the appearance of Kikuyu translations of the Bible in the early 20th century brought about a revolution of independent African churches in Kikuyuland eager to free themselves from missionary control, the Akorino did it in a rather unique way. While other independent churches retained the forms of worship introduced by missionaries, the Akorino rejected some of the liturgy of the Western church and used the Bible to create a new contextually African, theologically Christian faith.