An Age is called ‘Dark’, not because the Sun refused to shine, but because people refused to see it – James Michener.
I’ve been meaning to write on this topic since forever. I know it will be controversial because I am sure we Africans don’t take criticisms in our strides. But this is a continuation of one of my recent writings in which I aver that one of our ignored real ‘natural resources’ include our traditional sciences, especially some of our local medical remedies. I suggest that we should standardise these ‘sciences’, apply modern scientific research tools in getting them to global standards and hopefully proceed to make money therefrom. I also push the argument which some of our gurus have pushed in the past: the need to separate our myths from our magic, and also from our science.
We had largely mixed these things together in the past. And many of us – perhaps because of our belief in superstition and the supernatural, as encouraged by our different religions – are wont to repeat legends about great things that defy logic, and other fantastic feats wrought by our ancestors. Some say they have seen these things done before their eyes. Some of us also practice juju on a regular basis, and still keep close contact with Babas (usually male) in villages who concoct different potions for different things – from love to success in business, through to the murder of enemies. Some get advice on a real-time basis from these medicine men, and many combine these advice with the ones they get from their pastors and imams. Some are permanently under such advice.
My goal is to point out some things that I believe don’t exist, and ways in which we have fooled ourselves in the past. Perhaps this will help those who believe in the efficacy of our magic, especially, to focus on the things they are sure of, and to take it to the level that the white man would have taken things to if they had the advantage in these areas. Most of us agree that one of our generational shortcomings is the inability or refusal to pass down knowledge of crucial technologies and techniques that were developed over previous centuries. The problem is that many of our people are content at playing the superstar to the detriment of society. At other times, this leads to people falsifying history to suit themselves and to look more competent than they are. After all, most of our history is passed down orally.
The other plank of this writing is to point out some serious wickedness and violence that some of our traditional beliefs have wrought on us, so that many of us will finally jettison some of these backward ideas. Note that not all of our traditional beliefs are backward, but many are. Sadly so.
Let me state upfront that I don’t believe in juju. Or voodoo. But I believe there is some science at the base of some of the practices. While some tree barks are used till date as medicine against different ailments and they sometimes work, others were discovered long ago, which are poisonous and are incorporated into some of the magic to achieve debilitating effects on their preys. If you believe in juju therefore, I will not let you come near me to test your juju. But I can dare you to test your powers via the internet. It will be nice to see how juju deploys over the internet, which is the oyinbo idea of juju (magic, genius). Which is greater, between oyinbo and African juju?
Anyway, lets go ahead and bust the myths. Please note that I will approach this from a Yoruba perspective, to capture the ones I have heard since I was a child, or at least a teenager. Every nationality in Nigeria has its own sciences, as well as its own delusions.
Some old men in the time of yore in Yoruba land were said to have powers to disappear and then reappear somewhere else. Some were said to hit their backs on any wall and appear anywhere they liked. Some people believe this, and they believe it still works. My challenge to them is that they should advance the ‘science’ quickly so that no Nigerian ever queues up at any foreign embassy, or even pays any airline for flights. Just let us keep hitting our backs against walls and appearing in the best suites in the best hotels in the world and sleep for free. Well, that is what the white man would have done with that resource if he had it. In fact, the white man would have been selling the technology to us in bits by now, for fortunes. As for me, I think this is… sorry.. hogwash.
- Money Ritual
This is a very interesting phenomenon, if it wasn’t so phenomenally evil. Some Africans believe they can kidnap a human being, kill him or her and cut off parts of his or her body – notably the eyes, breasts, head and genitals, and that they will become rich in today’s money as a result! I have heard about people who have the rotting heads of children in their wardrobes, which vomits untold cash for them each morning. I usually ask if the rotting head vomits fake currency, and if not, how that native technology manages to catch up with the latest and best of security features in today’s currency. I also ask if maybe the juju steals the monies from the vaults of banks at night. I still don’t understand this one. But as much as I don’t, dozens of people get kidnapped and killed for this purpose, all over Nigeria on a weekly basis! And there are thriving human parts businesses and markets all over Nigeria for this purpose. Politicians are known to order different human parts in order to win elections. Religious houses bury human beings or cows under the foundations of their buildings just to draw followers. There are no details of how many have been successful through these means. This one is however a very serious matter that government should stamp out in its entirety.
- Thunder/Lightning Strikes
The other day, Ambrose Shomide and Basiru Baba Gboin brought a Babalawo (Yoruba shaman) to their Yoruba show on AIT. The subject was to explore why lightning strikes people. The Babalawo stated that thunder only strikes and kills people who steal money. He also said the god of Thunder, Sango, will place the money they stole on their chests after striking them. Baba Gboin, in his usual hilarious self, then asked what will happen if the person has spent all the money. The Babalawo was a bit flustered but said the juju will put whatever is left of the money on the chest of the thief. Now stop! I am more interested in the criminality that seeks to keep a myth alive here. For example, if it was a Nigerian politician, with billions of naira under his belt, how much will Sango pack on his chest? Where will the money appear from? What effect do such monies have on money in circulation as tracked by the CBN? In my view, the truth is that human beings place money on corpses to keep the myth going. Human beings have been doing crazy things since creation.
Science, on the other hand, has documented why and how lightning strikes. Scientists recommend that when it is raining and thundery, people should try not to stay in open fields – there have been incidences where footballers were killed on a pitch by lightning while it rained. Scientists also recommend that one should not stand under trees, or any lone, unprotected building. Any agent that could conduct energy should probably be avoided in such scenarios. Science also recommends that when its thundery and raining, people caught outside should try and stay 50 feet apart else lightning can strike all at once. I prefer this line of thought to our own fixation on mythology. Imagine how many houses lightning would have struck in the years before colonisation? Imagine how many people would have died and been labeled as thieves. Now we have Benjamin Franklin to thank for inventing the Lightning Rod – a simple rod which catches the lightning and drives it into the ground while we sleep peacefully. How many people have been rubbished in death by this our myth?
- Ata – Cancer
Growing up in Akure, Ondo state as a teenager, I recall that on a few occasions, some distant relative got sick, with a part of their body beginning to rot, and it would usually be said that someone threw some evil alligator peppers on their shadow while they walked by. It is called by that name – pepper (Ata). A few Aunties were cooped up in their rooms, while the local Shaman used traditional methods to try to heal them. All of them died. Well, who wouldn’t someday? For the women among them especially, I now know that what they had was breast cancer, and it had nothing to do with someone shooting them with any evil arrow. My problem with many of these traditional beliefs is the amount of mutual enmity it breeds amongst our people, and how this is usually baseless. African traditions – especially the Yoruba one I know – revels so much in mutual suspicion and I believe this was partly responsible for the underdeveloped state of Africa when the while man came.
- Swollen Feet
Many people who suffered some sort of Edema (swollen feet), perhaps as a warning signal of Kidney disease or some bodily malfunction leading to the gathering of fluid in the legs, have usually attributed it to ‘stepping on juju’. They are convinced that someone put something evil on their path and they mistakenly stepped on it. Some believe that the juju was put in their shoes, which they ignorantly wore. Many live in morbid suspicion of their shadows forever after any such events. Some fall into the hands of fake pastors, imams or native ‘doctors’, many of whom help them to amplify their baseless suspicions. I have seen where men ostracise and brutalise their own children, wives, parents, siblings and close relatives, based on these suspicions – and of course on instructions from their ‘spiritual fathers’. I believe it is a sort of madness that befall these people, for they don’t believe they are doing anything wrong.
- Child/Adult Witch-Lynching
One man in Akwanga, Nasarawa State poured acid on his own teenage daughter because she was accused of killing his mother. The extremely beautiful girl is disfigured till tomorrow. Rudolf Okonkwo of Sahara Reporters brought this incident to the world’s notice, in his article “Turn Off The Dark”, about six years ago. Akwa Ibom State comes to mind too, where, in spite of the oil wealth, the practice of lynching children who are suspected to be witches, is quite rife. One girl had a six inch nail rammed into her head for this reason. She survived, but is no longer mentally-balanced. We saw recently how a white lady came and rescued a child somewhere in the East of Nigeria. The West is rife with these practices too. These ugly, mindless events have done much damage to the image of Nigeria as a country. It is probably an African thing though. That video that has been circulating on social media, wherein four old men and women were burnt to death by a mob, is from somewhere in Kenya.
- Ayeta (Native Bullet-Proof)
First off, a local medicine man recently refused for the bullet-proof he prepared to be tried on him. Then a few years ago, one OPC member got himself killed when he tested this native bullet-proof on himself. Now, I should say I would be delighted if such a technology will work at all. All that needs to be done is to arm the Nigerian Army with this bullet proof, and we would have the greatest army in the universe. We can also turn such a technology into the greatest foreign exchange earner ever. That is if it worked. I don’t see why it cannot be mass-produced. Imagine how much the Americans will be willing to pay us per soldier? Why don’t we ever dream big? Why must such a wonderful technology remain bespoke under some thatched roof in some stinky environment? I will not belabour this one, but I urge those who believe in it to be careful and not test it on themselves.
Usually, what makes a technology credible is the ability to explain how it comes to work, no matter how complex the process. For example, even though Nigeria has not developed the capability, many of our aeronautical engineers have the general idea of how planes are manufactured. It is not voodoo. That is why we also have a handful of pilots. In general we must be able to explain how our technology works, otherwise it remains on the fringes and science trumps it.
- Abiku/Ogbanje (Early Child Death)
We went through school reading eloquent poems – by no less than Prof Wole Soyinka and John Pepper Clark Bekederemo – about the bad Abiku child that lives up the Boabab tree and keeps coming round to torture his/her parents. Our minds were too impressionable then to question these beliefs. Chances are such ideas will not fly with our own children today. But this belief tells of our trajectory as a people. Let us be humble and admit that we were not – still are not – at par with the white people. In precolonial times, we suffered great shortcomings in knowledge; our knowledge base wasn’t just robust enough. Because we lived in environments where almost everything we needed was cheaply available, we weren’t compelled to think deep about many issues. Anyway, our women were fertile, and so no one thought of family planning. Many of the children died at birth – from all sorts ranging from breaches, to jaundice, to fevers, to Rhesus compatibility issues and many more things that we are only just learning about. Many mothers died in the process because there was nothing called Caesarian Section. Look at us today? I hope no one still believes in Abiku/Ogbanje, but who is to tell?
- The Rain-Catcher
At a recent event, I overheard a village chief mutter loudly that he will ‘deal with’ the local rain-catcher for not catching the rain after he had been paid for the job. It was in the high of the rainy season, and so at that event, it rained cats and dogs. I had a good laugh. Well, there is some science to this one. The white man has made his own plain. A simple Google search reveals that when Silver Iodide is sprinkled in the clouds it can cause rain. A Wikipedia page also catalogues that this technology – rainmaking – was ‘pioneered’ in the USA around 1940 and is today used in Indonesia, UAE, Kuwait, China and India among others. And I guess there is a way of dispersing rain clouds too to prevent rainfall. I will find out and revert. You see the difference between us and them? They make theirs available on Google, but we keep our knowledge in dark places, and prefer monopolising them, surrounding them with thunder and fire, and great mystery. We threaten anyone who shows curiosity, with death, disease and everything evil. I wouldn’t be surprised if I get threatened by all sorts for writing this article, but it is what it is. Again, the white man can come here and learn some of what we have, go back and add to his own, and come back to sell to us as ‘science and technology’. The average African should not be afraid of sharing knowledge. That is the only way by which knowledge grows and can be prospered from; through sharing.
This one is controversial, for the fact that most Africans are fixated on sex. The story goes that some men die after having sexual knowledge of someone else’s wife. But it doesn’t stop there. Sometimes it may be an unmarried woman. Sometimes, it could be their own wives. They say sometimes the man gets up from the woman, crows like a cock three times, slumps and dies. Some say the man gets up, somersaults three times and then dies. Some say the man gets up and develops this unquenchable thirst, finishes a drum-full of water, then slumps and dies. My favourite filmmaker, Tunde Kelani, made a touching movie of the same title years back, featuring Yemi Sodimu and Uche Osotule (where is she these days?). I have two issues with this Magun theory. First, it must have been deployed in destroying many a woman. Since these things are not verifiable, they are left in the realm of conjecture. Then out of the shadows step the ‘protectors of mythology’, who keep the fear going – like they do in the lightning strike story.
If a man has a heart attack resulting from much stress or other underlying heart disease in the process of sexual intercourse, in the days when ‘heart attack’ was not in our dictionary, it will be called ‘magun’, right? If it is with someone else’s wife, the credibility is enhanced. If it is with a girlfriend, the woman will be accused of being promiscuous and it will be said that someone who suspected her put the magun on her. If it is between a properly married couple, it will be said that the husband must have suspected the woman. In short, since this phenomenon happens mainly to men, and till date it is men who often die in the process of, or after heavy sexual activity, I believe at least half of the magun cases are fraudulent and like the thunder/lightning business, this phenomenon has done much violence to the reputation of innocent people. It just cannot be fair.
There is a video trending online of Battabox, a group of young guys, who went to town interviewing people about this Magun business. Some people said they can use it on their wives. Some said no. What is noteworthy is that it is totally about preventing female promiscuity. What about male promiscuity? You see, ours was a chauvinistic society where women were often cheated. To my alarm, in the video, a man from Akwa Ibom was interviewed. He said they don’t have things like Magun in his area, but that when a woman cheats on her husband and does not confess, she will die trying to give birth to that child. You see, the only thing wrong with us is the way we think and nothing more. I have devoted myself to trying to alter that thinking. Imagine the number of women who have died during childbirth because of carelessness and bad understanding of antenatal care, and have been put down in memory as being unfaithful to their husbands. Africans can be a wicked and ignorant lot.
- Death – A Time of Great Stress
The average African really fears death. And that reflects in our reactions when people around us die. While the white man mourns almost silently, black people wail at the top of their voices. When people die, all sorts of stories and theories begin to come up. People die at 90 years and are said to have been killed by their enemies! But in some societies, worse happens. Women and children bear the brunt. In some of our societies, irrespective of her career or livelihood, a new widow is expected to shave her head and wear black only for 40 days. Some are expected to starve. Others are expected not to bathe for those numbers of days. The worst is where women are subjected to drinking the water used in washing the corpse by the husband’s family. They want proof that she didn’t kill her husband. If she dies after drinking, she did. If not, she did not. Then the extended family of the husband swoops on her husband’s belongings, stripping them of everything – with some even confiscating the woman for their own use. Is posterity punishing us for some of these evil deeds?
Female Genital Mutilation and Breast Ironing – It is the excuse that gets you. They say they don’t want the females to enjoy sex too much and so rip off their clitoris. Must the males alone enjoy? That is why I believe a lot of our practices are simply conspiratorial and discriminatory towards women. And it can only be borne out of the fear of women, whom time has shown, are actually stronger – mentally, emotionally, and otherwise – than men. Many of our older women have never known what an orgasm is. Yet they bore 15 to 20 children! Then there is breast ironing – though not really practiced in Nigeria. Why would anyone want to iron the breasts of a woman until it is flat!? Imagine such ugliness? But it exists; somewhere in East Africa.
Modern Vs. Traditional Societies
I write this because we will not make sustainable progress except we affect and change the way we think. If we think with the mentality of the 18th century and refuse to challenge our thought processes, we will keep running around in circles, beating ourselves up and wondering what hit us. If we merely progress such unverifiable beliefs into modern-day religions too, we do ourselves no favours. Now, not all traditional beliefs are wrong. The trick is to separate the myths from the science. We have science. Science is what will get us respect into the comity of nations. We should build that science and not allow them to be stolen from right under our noses, repackaged and resold to us. We should be humble enough to admit when our beliefs don’t work. It takes nothing off us as a people.
African Brain Surgery
To close, I bring to you evidence that Africans have always done brain surgery. I ran into this video on Facebook after I had almost concluded this article. So what is wrong with our own procedures? It never developed, that’s what. This is a video taken by a British videographer, sometime in the late 1950s, which has helped us preserve this memory. We never keep anything of our own documented properly. Not we. We are constantly on the look out for ‘what we will eat’. And we eat everything edible in sight. We don’t believe in conservation. Not of history, nor wildlife, nor water. And we don’t bother developing anything or taking things to the next level. The other day, someone showed us in Badagry, a grindstone that the ancient people used for 1,000 years! Why should any people use a single grindstone for a thousand years? And why would the world wait for such a people who refuse to innovate?
Anyway, in this clip, we can see that no anesthesia was applied. No painkillers. No disinfectant. All they used were leaves and things like that. Not even a clean rag or mop was anywhere in sight. And they split open the skull of that patient, tampered with her brains and tied her back up with banana leaves. I imagine the pains the patients must have gone through – during and especially after the surgery (for the rest of their lives). Africa was indeed a place of pains. The head was left to heal itself, with some leaving gaping holes forever. It left the patients totally ugly, and I doubt if those patients would have been healed of their sicknesses or if their situation would have been merely compounded. I favour the latter. But I blame us the offspring of these surgical Africans here, who have refused to take this technology to the next level. Instead, we revel in more ignorance and are not learning from anything or anyone around us.
Now my heart is lighter.