Do You Believe in Juju?

Juju, native medicine, black magic….call it

whatever you want, but do you believe in it?

In a country as deeply religious as Nigeria, there

is still great belief in non-Christian/Islamic supernatural forces. Nigerians

seem to have a two-tier belief system. On the one hand they believe in

God/Allah, and attend church/mosque. Yet they still believe in the power of

non-Biblical or Koranic spirits to cause harm, misfortune, death or heal

sickness, with the same conviction that they believe in God/Allah.

When Chief of Naval Staff Vice-Admiral Victor Ombu retired

from the navy in 2004, he gave his peaked navy service cap to his successor

Rear-Admiral Samuel Afolayan. Ombu noted in a newspaper interview that Afolayan

“took it, tried it on. It fitted, and today that is what he is wearing…He

didn’t bother that this Ijaw man could have put juju round the rim and he could

start barking”. The willingness of the most senior navy officer at

that time to comment publicly on his surprise that his successor took an item

of apparel from him without fear of it being contaminated with Juju speaks

volumes. Ombu made these comments publicly because he was dealing with a public

that accepts the existence of Juju as a given fact not in debate. Even

our beloved Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s world acclaimed novel Half of a

Yellow Sun contains a love making passage that was instigated by the use of

Juju which incited a married man to commit adultery.

The belief in Juju extends to all nooks and

tentacles of life. Nigerians often turn to native doctors when certain ailments

or illnesses defy Western medicine. In some Nigerian communities, it also seems

that the term “coincidence” does not exist. Every misfortune, act of

fate or surprise is often treated with suspicion, and regarded as the end

result of evil supernatural activity by an enemy, or more frequently, by an

aggrieved family member or in-law. How many of us have/or know someone who has

blamed a family death, marriage break up, business failure, or illness, on the

use of Juju by a jealous or evil person in their community or

compound? Why is it that Nigerians are

so quick to blame Juju for any negative intervention in life? However it is not all about battle and evil

purposes. There is acknowledgement that Juju can be used for holistic

medicinal purposes too. Recently I was told first hand accounts of the power of

native Juju practitioners to heal and remedy illness with miraculous

speed.

Can Juju Make You Bullet Proof?

In the past year alone, we have heard stories about women

supposedly turning into cats, goats committing crimes, eggs being thrown at

buildings then transforming into deadly bombs in flight, which set entire buildings

ablaze, and genitalia being put to deadly use. Each of these transformations

was attributed to Juju. It seems that even in battle, Nigerians require

the intervention of the supernatural. The various armed militias that have

operated in Nigeria

over the past decade have all relied on supernatural cosmology. Members of the

Oodua Peoples Congress, Bakassi Boys, Boko Haram, and Niger Delta militants

carried amulets and charms supposed to make them bullet proof, impervious to

pain, or invisible – to varying degrees of success. In the case of the Bakassi Boys, their charms

not only gave them protection, but also allegedly allowed them to determine

which of their suspects were or were not guilty of criminal conduct.

I do not want to dismiss belief in Juju as a

symptom of lack of education. The educated believe in such cosmology too.

Remember the Okija shrine and body parts scandal? Many of those that are

accused of using Juju are ironically the rich and powerful members of

society. Many Nigerians suspect that the rich and powerful obtained, and

maintain their privileged status with the assistance of ultra powerful Juju

practitioners. The growth and popularity of “prosperity” churches,

with prayer and sermons centred around economic success, should also be seen in

this context. Many educated Nigerians (even those living abroad) partake in

rituals involving the dead, ancestors’ spirits, and blocking the entrance of

evil spirits into this world.

Juju and Politics

It is instructive that allegations of evil manipulations

of Juju often arise in the context of regime change. New regimes in Nigeria often

derive legitimacy by denouncing their predecessor. Who remembers the lurid

stories about the alleged use of marabouts, and human body part rituals that

followed Abacha’s death? Remember the Uba/Ngige scandal in Anambra state? The

alleged video of Abia state Governor Theodore Orji at a shrine? These stories

were accompanied by lurid tales about the use of Juju.

Does Nigerian society’s reflexive tendency to explain

events in the context of the supernatural provide metaphors and discourses

about the public’s perception of corruption and the acquisition of power? Nigeria is a

society where some people get very rich, very quickly. The super-fast

accumulation of unexplained wealth from unaccounted, invisible sources, leads

to the suspicion that it cannot have been obtained without supernatural

intervention.

Juju and Religion

What of the other instances of Juju I gave above,

such as the accusations of Juju often levelled against mothers in law,

neighbours, and even children? Do those pose a more fundamental question about

the nature of Nigerian religion? Religion existed in Nigeria before the arrival of Islam

and Christianity. Did these Abrahamic religions reinforce, rather than replace

the pre-existing indigenous African beliefs? Nigerians believed in evil spirits

long before the advent of the Koran and Bible. However what seems to have

happened is that Nigerians hold the words of their holy book in their front

pocket, and supernatural indigenous beliefs in their back pocket. It seems that

traditional religion is the option of first recourse and Juju is kept in

a box marked “please use in an emergency”. Belief in evil spirits, Juju

and magic seems to have been incorporated alongside traditional Monotheistic

religion. The existence of these supernatural forces have been re-explained in

traditional religion, as agents of the devil.

So I repeat my question….do you believe in Juju?

Written by
Max Siollun
Join the discussion

3 comments
  • I believe in JUJU. Some of the rituals conflict with my Christian belief, however Spirituality is real. Evil and Godly. There are Demons let loose here on Earth to reek havic. Also the Holy Spirit is here. We can pray to either. That is my thinking. Good will always win over evil.

  • i was in point noir in cabinda in 1992. while i was there i bought a juju stick in town. every native african i saw while i had this stick in my possession told me that i must give it away as this was something that a white man must not have. i was working offshore at the time. even though the company i was working for was an american company, we employed a “consutant” who in fact was a witch doctor to aid in dealing with the local labor force.

    the second night i was on board this man came to my room and asked if i did in fact have a stick and if he could see it. i showed him the stick and he examined it carefully. he asked me how i came to have it, and i explained the circumstances how it came into my possession. he then asked me if anything untoward had happened since i had aquired it. i told him that i had dreamed about it, that it had been in my dream with me. he sat back and said that he had never heard of such a thing, that a white man owned a stick. he then told me that this stick was made with magic, that when the stick was new it was laid beside a man and the man was killed and the mans spirit was put into the stick. he told me that many people would try get me to give the stick to them but that i should keep it because the stick had come to me and would always be mine.

    i left the stick in africa because i i knew that i would not be able to get through customs with a cultural artifact. two years later i received a phone call telling me that they had my juju stick in ft. worth and would i please come and get it because it was wierding them out.

    this story is absolutely true and not even almost the whole story.

    you cant make up stuff like this.