When Daniel Gachanja was offered a job as caretaker at the Mt Kenya Masonic Lodge in Nyeri seven years ago, the Standard Eight dropout wondered what it would be like working at what many local residents call “the devil’s place”. He said he felt obliged to accept the offer from S.S.Mehta, a local contractor and member of the lodge who had given him construction work before, because he had received “a call from God.”
“God had spoken to me and said I would get a job on a construction site, and when I found a job here, I knew that God was fulfilling that promise,” said the 42-year-old father of two. But today he wonders whether he should have followed his instinct and turned the job down because the ensuing years have brought him nothing but misery.
He said he has lost friends, neighbours and family members who have shunned him because they believe he is a devil worshipper.“Some of my friends have tried to kill me many times, but God always protects me,” he said. “I live an isolated life, but I work just as if I am working for God.”
When British settlers brought Freemasonry to Kenya in the early 20th century, the myths and superstitions surrounding the organisation, whose origins go back to medieval England, came along as well.
Originally begun as independent spiritual and welfare associations of master stone masons who built the medieval castles and cathedrals in England and Scotland, Freemasonry is not a religion but a membership organisation open to men of all faiths who profess belief in a “supreme being” and who seek to lead moral and useful lives.
However, this has not stopped some organised religions, including the Roman Catholic Church, from being openly hostile to Freemasonry. The original Mount Kenya Masonic Lodge, one of nine in Kenya, was built of local stone in 1932 on a piece of land in King’ong’o in Nyeri County. About a decade ago, unidentified arsonists burned it down.
Lodge secretary Mahan Harmesh Mahan called in the police, who said they would investigate, but nothing came of it.
But Mr Mahan, another lifelong Nyeri resident who has been a lodge member since the 1980s, said although some local residents may covet the land to which the lodge holds title, he didn’t think there was any organised effort to grab it.
When the lodge was first established, all the members were British, he said, and it wasn’t until after Kenya became independent in 1963 that non-Europeans were allowed to join. Since then, most of the members are Kenyans of South Asian origin, but he stressed that membership is open to all.
Mr Gachanja takes care of the new lodge that was rebuilt in 2009 with stones from the old one. He says he knows of a number of previous caretakers who didn’t last as long on the job as he has because of fear of threats from the local community. Many of those people, he says, believe that in order to become a member of a Masonic lodge, you have to sacrifice a child, relative or a close friend in order to raise money. So they couldn’t understand why he had agreed to work for such people unless he had become one of them.
Many of these beliefs emerged at the time of great religious upheaval in Europe when so-called “freethinkers” were beginning to question the absolute authority of monarchs and religious authority. They were often labelled devil worshippers and suffered extreme punishment.
Mr Gachanja recalls vividly how his problems started immediately after he began to work at the lodge. His father blamed him for making him ill in order to take his money. Ranjit Sagoo, a building contractor who was born and brought up in Nyeri and joined the lodge in 2007, is worried that the myths and rumours are doing harm to the group that devotes much of its time to charity.
He said the lodge’s several core members, who include Christians, Sikhs and Hindus, are trying to come up with ways to help people understand Freemasonry.
(source: BONIFACE MWANGI, Sunday Nation, http://www.nation.co.ke/Features/lifestyle/Ostracised-by-society-because-of-working-for-the-Freemasons-/-/1214/1898562/-/item/1/-/13b8v3jz/-/index.html)