When I first arrived to the village my boss instructed me to take my time when asking about juju because it’s something that most westerners find strange and even slightly humerous but in the eyes of local people it is a serious matter. And now I understand why she gave me such a warning because although many people claim to not believe in personal juju, it is feared by all.
Juju (Witchcraft) (July 2011)
Apparently there are three types of juju: juju that is used to protect, juju that is used to harm, and juju that is communal. People seek out special juju men that have been forced to go into quasi-hiding as a result of Christianity. As a result of Christianity, most people will openly reject juju though this is usually on a personal level. They will still fear juju and adhere to communal juju practices. An example of communal juju is the belief that if an Iko Esai man sees the blood of an Agoi man’s blood, they must make a sacrifice or face the dark juju consequence. This was apparently cast onto the two villages as a way to prevent war between the two. I kind of laughed at his but my main employee insists that he once saw a young boys blood and tried to pretend like he did not. A few days later he claimed to be going blind so he promptly executed a goat and his vision was restored.
One of my friends has some unique facial scarring as a result of juju. She says that when she was a young girl, about the age of 4, she had a sickness that lasted weeks. ‘Modern medicine’ did not prove effective (though I would argue it was not properly diagnosed or treated, more on that in another post) so her family consulted the juju man. He cut two marks on her cheeks and a few between her eyes and on her lower forehead. The juju man claimed that there was a spirit that was taking over her body so the physical marks were made to confuse the spirit.
People will tell me stories of juju men who had the power to kill people or harm others. I have not witnessed any of these (yet) but I have seen that people still believe. A man in the village had a large amount of money stolen from his house and our Chief, who just so happens to be a dark juju man, made an announcement that if the money was not returned by sundown, he would cast a juju spell on the thief. The money was soon found in an unmarked envelope in the middle of the village square.
The most common type of observed juju is that regarding juju that protects. Most times that I hear a goat or chicken crying out I find out it is sacrifice related. And seeing how scarce meat is in the village, it really exemplifies the deep seeded belief in juju. The sacrifices are not always with animals and sometimes people are told to sacrifice things into the river. This includes money, pieces of hair and packages of biscuits to name a few. People will also build shrines, in fact the Chief has built a shrine in the village to protect the land and make the surrounding farmland fertile.
When all is said and done, I don’t believe in juju anymore than I believe in any other religion. At the same time I am not going to challenge juju anymore than I am going to challenge Allah. I do think a lot of juju is used to explain the unknown, things like physical disabilities and freak weather. The strangest thing to me is that everyone he claims to be a devout Christian yet strongly believes in the power of juju. In the book, “Mountains beyond mountains” Paul Farmr talks about this same issue in Haiti. He reports that the people also share in this complex and seemingly contradictory belief but to native people it is only a matter of their cultural context. I believe that here the situation is similar in that there are issues that Christianity and prayer can address but other local issues that must depend on historical beliefs. I also believe that a lack of education also contributes greatly to some aspects of both beliefs.