“In the Middle Ages people were convinced there were witches. They looked for them and they certainly found them” (Hans Blix).
Every African village seems to have at least a witch, and wizard. Some villages are rumored to have as many as a dozen who are said to be responsible for all the ills and evil that befall such communities and individuals. In some very backward societies, this phenomenon is taken very seriously wherein most headaches, food-poisoning, accidental and sudden deaths and natural disasters are attributed to the shenanigans of these supposed witches. In the mind and worldview of the typical African, witches are everywhere, living amongst us.
I have been told about witch-conferences taking place in the supernatural world; and have also been told about how witches have the ability to conduct surgeries i.e. making barren men and women who were once fertile; and about how witches are responsible for vehicular accidents, plane crashes, drowning and other fatalities. Witches, I am told, have the ability to do good and magnificent things, but would rather dabble in evil and injurious acts. A friend once told me of how witches in her village travel to the UK and other countries without securing visas and passports because “they have the ability to fly across oceans, unseen and undetected.” I fell off the stool laughing in disbelief.
If something like this was possible, well, I’d like to be a witch and be able to, for instance, fly or walk into a bank’s vault and do away with billions of dollars. At my convenience, I’d be able to attend the best Operas in the world, attend world cup matches, see the best movies and Broadway plays. For months now, I have been meaning to travel to Australia, Indonesia and Singapore. I have friends in all those countries — friends I have wanted to visit but without the wherewithal. If one could fly, why not? It would mean no more immigration, visa and airline hassles.
In African villages, medicine men and women are tolerated and applauded. Sorcerers and fortune-tellers are hailed and held in high esteem. Magicians and those claiming to have telepathic ability are also highly regarded. But witches? They have the misfortune of being blamed for real and imagined calamities. In some societies witches are branded and excommunicated or, in some cases, sent into exiles, beheaded, or bunt alive. The cost and implications for witchery are expensive and far reaching.
For instance, witches are generally never accorded the dignity of land burial as their remains are usually thrown into the river, or allowed to rot in some corner. The children and immediate family members may also suffer from public ridicule and suspicion. They may be maligned, shunned and disassociated from village events. To be thought of as the children of a witch carries heavy penalty. Your friends and others may wonder if (even you) have been “contaminated and afflicted” and have the power to do them in.
Stupid stuff, you’d say. But you see, belief in witches and all such phenomena is a product of deep-seated fear, backwardness, illiteracy of the mind and soul, gullibility, self-loathe and an inability or refusal to take responsibility for ones stupidity, failings and shortcomings. Sadly, even some of the most educated amongst us believe in such nonsense.
Cities like Lagos, Port Harcourt and Kaduna are replete with open gutters and cesspools. We don’t wonder about the implications of living within close proximity of or of selling cooked and raw food near or around such contaminants. Furthermore, food vendors sell expired and decayed food. The aforementioned are some of the source of our illness. Most motor vehicles operators do not have the license to handle vehicles — most of which are not road-worthy, anyways. In these and many cases, we blame the witches when fatal accidents happen. And how many Nigerians have access to good medical care? We die like flies and like chickens — by our own hands and doings — and then blame the witches.
As is the case in backward societies, people feel the need to blame others for their own ignorance and imbecility. Nigeria is not different in this regard: if your car malfunction, you blame the witch; if you have heart attack or stroke or other medical conditions, you blame your father’s second or third wife; if you do poorly in school or if you are denied
admission to the school of your choice, you blame the woman down the road who, in your disturbed opinion, has been looking at you the “wrong way.” Oh, if you get infected with HIV/AIDS, it is not your fault for being licentious or for refusing to use condoms — it is the fault of the witch next door. Witches are to be blamed for everything!
May be most Africans, and indeed, may be most Nigerians do not believe that there are consequences to the actions they take or refuse to take, hence the need to blame others.
One wonder how many men and women — especially women — who have been accused of evil, and who forever lived a lonely and dejected life? Even in death, they are slandered. For generation thereafter, their children and grandchildren may even suffer from such lies and hate.
Pastors have now taken the leading role in pointing accusatory fingers at the innocent. The white-garment Churches are especially notorious at these. In today’s Nigeria it is difficult to tell the difference between some Churches and voodoo practitioners. Pastors are engaged in black magic, sorcery and the sort. Additionally, they peddle dreams and hope and sell salvation. If you can’t find a partner, there is a pastor ready to pray for you; if your wife is not ovulating, there is a supernatural reason for that; if you lose your job, there must be someone or something behind it (not your poor job performance or as a result of sound business decision).
Sound reasoning and sound judgment are increasingly becoming alien to our society. There is fire where there is none; fear where hope is called for; cowardice where courage is needed; denial where blame should be apportioned; death where there should be life; instability and commotion where peace and serenity should be; and selfishness where altruism should be the watchword. Individually and collectively, most of us no longer take responsibility for our personal failings. Something or somebody is to be blamed when we should have taken an honest look at ourselves.