The community I live in is almost entirely Christian though nearly everyone believes in ‘juju’, aka black magic. The simultaneous belief in two somewhat opposite belief systems is commonplace in many developing countries where deep rooted traditions exist in the shadow of western religion. I’ll spare you from my personal beliefs but highly recommend the classic book ‘Things Fall Apart’ byChinua Achebe. This book is by a Nigerian author and is based in the same region that I am living. I reread the book since moving here and I feel it is the best story addressing the complex issue of traditional versus western religion. It hit me particularly hard since the cultural setting is exactly the same region that I am in now and I can see fragments of many of the traditional beliefs and traditions the author describes.
Juju vs. Jesus (July 2011)
A few years ago there was a man here who claimed to be a prophet. I can’t get any information from people on why he was so divine but the climax of his activities convinced everyone to reject(at least in public) juju.
There are several secret societies here and they are all based in juju. There are times in the year when people who do not belong to the society are not allowed to leave their house when the society is performing rituals. One of the most prominent is the Ekpe society. They exist in a few of the other communities and in ours they have a small building in the center of the village. It just so happens that our village’s traditional Chief is the leader of Ekpe society and a feared and powerful juju man. Ekpe hall contained several shrines and juju artifacts and was closed to the public. Apparently the prophet entered the shrine and destroyed all of the shrines and artifacts. The Chief heard about this and the two engaged in what was described to me as ‘a lord of the rings battle’ with each standing across from each other casting spells and prayers with their staff. The prophet was viewed as the victor, seemingly because he was not affected by the juju. My friends tell me that this was the turning point and from then on juju was publicallyshunned and Christianity embraced.
So from that time Ekpe hall has remained vacant and unused. And then one morning as I went to buy some breakfast I saw a young man with a staff tearing off the doors and windows to the hall. He was shouting Christian dogma and moving with purpose. Now when something, well nearly anything, of interest happens, there is a huge crowd that tends to gather. Now this was a bit beyond the norm so the crowd was massive. After sometime the traditional Chief emerged with his staff and began chasing the boy. My friends informed me that this boy was the prophet’s apprentice and that he was rejecting juju yet again. The Chief and pseudo-prophet engaged in a stand off with the Chief shouting Iko and the prophet spewing dogma. I kept asking my friends what was happening but everyone was so engaged and didn’t want to miss a minute. The prophet was a bit timid and kept walking away from the Chief and the Chief challenged him saying, ‘If you are God, enter the hall and see what happens!”.
After a few more staff waving confrontations the Chief left to get the local police and the boy was arrested. In fact, the Chief used his power to take the man all the way to a real police station about an hour away. Our police station is little more than a small board house where ‘prisoners’ hang out with their friends until they are bailed out. It is little more than a symbolic action to arrest someone as the real punishment comes in the form of a fine from the Chiefs council.
And then it was done. I was pretty excited to have witnessed such an epic clash of religion yet came away a bit unimpressed with both. I will write another entry onjuju because it deserves more explanation than I gave it here but hopefully this was an interesting introduction. And yes, moments like these remind me that I do indeed live in a small Nigerian village.