Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Juju - The other African Magic

Juju is strong medecine -at least in the eyes, heart, mind and other organs of many Nigerians. Ask a Nigerian to swear on a holy book - no problem, but ask them to swear an oath on the relics of a family member in a family or village shrine and they will not go there. A fervent belief and fear by some in the power of the dark arts is evident in everyday life. Some taxi drivers display beads, tangles of hair, bits of bone and other objects from their rear view mirror - if they have one! - presumably to ensure the safety of passengers and to ward off evil spirits and rogue policemen extorting naira.

I have previously written about children who, having been beaten by their parents almost killed them by poisoning, having followed the advice of a 'herbalist'; other pupils had a curse placed on fellow pupils who stole their mobile phone, for which they were soundly beaten. There are also those who, before setting out on a journey, make offerings of food and drink to appease the spirits of the road and/or rogue policemen extorting naira, to ensure a safe and trouble-free journey; occasionally you see small roadside shrines set up for this purpose, which in concept is not very far away from wearing a St Christopher medal.
Many such traditional practices lie just beneath the surface of established religious observance, but some are difficult to credit: there is a juju that is apparently effective in encouraging conception or driving away a childless or barren wife. Wives who fail to conceive are verbally abused in public and their husband urged to take another wife. Neighbours will continually harangue the poor woman, trying to force her out of the marital home.
In some parts of the country wives are required to sleep with the corpse of a deceased husband and the following morning, the body having been washed in preparation for the funeral, drink the washings. If she dies soon after, it is proof of her inadequate signs of grief. Either way, the widow loses everything and in order to survive may have to sleep with her late husband's brother in order to secure patronage. She becomes a family slave to all intents and purposes. Any offspring are entrusted solely to the male side of the family - they may lose all contact with their mother.
We have been told of women who, having been told they cannot have children by a doctor, have consulted a herbalist and after medicinal concoctions and rites, have conceived very soon after.
On a slightly different tack, we have had warnings from neighbours and colleagues against answering certain phones calls that begin with a particular number - if we do we are likely to soon die. Serious people seriously believe that answering these calls will mean your imminent death. I'd tell you what the number is so you can avoid using it, but I may not live to see another dawn if I do!

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