Mon | Aug 3, 2020

‘Those demons’ have taken my niece - Woman chronicles brainwashing power of MoBay Yahweh congregation

Published:Thursday | November 7, 2019 | 12:52 AMJanet Silvera/Senior Gleaner Writer
The Qahal Yahweh compound. File
The Qahal Yahweh compound. File


“I must obey Avyhwh Yahweh. I must obey Avyhwh Yahweh leaders. I must obey Avyhwh Yahweh authority,” were the lines written by a 49-year-old mother after being kicked out of the controversial Qahal Yahweh Church in Norwood, St James, last December.

She repeated these lines and many others daily, just like a high-school student serving detention, pining to return to a family of elders to whom she had ceded guardianship of her 15-year-old daughter.

Ibuntu Nyari* had discarded her biological family, withdrawn her daughter from one of western Jamaica’s most prestigious high schools, been awarded a man as a husband, and was now living in a communal compound that was a hotchpotch of tents, shacks, and unfinished buildings, her sister Nadyia Small told The Gleaner.

Small said that she has spent the last year relentlessly trying to get her niece out of the compound. On Wednesday, she went to the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse to make another report, hoping that this would be the end of a long road of absolutely no results.

“I went to three police stations –Falmouth, Freeport and Barnett Street – and I also went to the Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA) in Montego Bay and Falmouth,” said Small, after realising that her 15-year-old niece had been out of school since September.

She said that she was promised by the Falmouth personnel that someone would make contact but waited for two weeks to no avail. So she decided to visit the Montego Bay branch, where she was assigned a male CPFSA worker who she later found was an affiliate of another Yahweh denomination.

“Because of his affiliation, I felt it was a conflict of interest where the case was concerned, so I asked to be assigned another case worker,” Small told The Gleaner.

A report was eventually taken by the CPFSA, said Small, but she was warned that owing to the fact that the mother was still alive and the father was deceased, a doctor would have to deem her sister unfit in order for the family to take charge of her niece.

“I was very concerned because she was living in a communal setting. By age 16, they are married, so I was worried about her being abused,” the aunt said.

The police, on the other hand, had initially said it was a church matter that was beyond their purview, Small told The Gleaner.

Direct approach

Not prepared to give up, Small went to the Qahal Yahweh compound last November, trying to get access to her sister and niece, but was barred from the facility.

By December, her sister was kicked out of the congregation and cursed for death. She was shaved bald by the church elders, a way of shaming members.

“She was told she would die, and she was convinced she was going to die. She called us and told us where she wanted to be buried. She asked not to have embalment fluid used on her. She spoke about her life insurance and who the beneficiaries were,” said Small, who defied the odds and took her sister to a psychologist.

Nyari was forced to leave her 15-year-old daughter with the elders. She also wrote a letter giving leaders Omar Thompson and Vera Woolery legal guardianship until her daughter reached adulthood in the event that she, Nyari, died. The letter was signed by a St James-based justice of the peace.

Small said her sister returned home with her family after being kicked out of the religious sect, however, she refused to eat from anyone in her family except for one sister. “She said we were sorcerers and unclean, so she didn’t want anything from us,” Small said.

Nyari returned to the Yahweh compound weeks later.

On Wednesday when Small visited CISOCA, she was told that the matter was being investigated and that officials were doing everything possible to take into custody the children residing on the compound.

“I have not given up on my niece. We are a praying people, and we know something will have to be done to those demons,” said Small.

* Name changed