03 August 2011
Arguments revolving around the ethics of critical thought maintain that colonialism, and in this case, the British, were responsible for the invention of superstitious insanity, diluting the traditional practices that African communities had within them during this time of exploration, notably, around the 16th century. Surprisingly enough, England was on top gear towards its preparations of free market ideologue, and industrialization was supposed to be the key linchpin in these celebrations, an endeavour that would initiate the global quest for superiority and capitalistic advancements.
Africa had no technology; it was a land of arrows and spears. A region where hunting and gathering was the effect towards a noncurrency trade, the tit for tat, the fairness of ethics and desperation as it existed within the control of nature at that time. But then came technology, a mystery to the normal savage, a superior form of bewitching than had been seen, yet the colonialists knew this was the ticket in to monopolize this superstitious stance into an academy of the west. In what way would the optical unconscious be known? Who would possess this acknowledgement of manipulating this magical knowledge?
The answer to these two intrigues was the greatest discovery within the game of spirituality as practiced by the African traditional elders, who proclaimed semi-divine status, foreseeing a lineage of adventures through time that was not within the sphere of their fellow savages. They had magic in their possession, they could tell time before it occurred, yet this changed when a more superior forecaster came, the white man from the west, with his technological amusement, thwarting the illiteracy of the witches and proclaiming monopoly with his clock. And as they say, politics is a game of numbers; these people from the west would forecast events as many as they were, while in Africa, only a few personalities possessed this dire quality of leadership.
Technology proved to be superior to the local magic, but sustaining this overt process needed a supernatural inclination, and this was the origin of missionary exploration, uniting the elements under a single roof of controllable spirits. Fighting their traditional phobia and imparting them with an even more superior hope of laziness and living, at least hunting was no more, for cultivated agriculture became the bone of civilization. The origins of religion came through technology and stayed embedded through politics. Islam might have originated as a more traditional way to fight the western norms as a counter-religious attempt to restore a balance in this natural world of change.
The colonial government came with guns and gun powder, an extraordinary glimpse into the powers of mankind, and taking lives was part of this agenda, for those who proven to be stubborn and skeptical were shot dead on the spot. They became ritual examples of what could happen to the rest of the community whence they disobeyed the supreme rule. More so, there was an element of medicine taken in small proportions but known to cure diseases that were known to trouble for days. This was just nothing as prophesied by the traditional witchdoctors; it was like a modern glimpse into a globalised bewitching.
We have the current problem of ritual killings simply because the survivors of the colonial intricacies tried to manipulate their status into also becoming more powerful than gun powder, trying to match the modern witching with their traditionally enhanced practice that also had sacrifices tied to it.
Traditional African medicine ranges from the use of tree branches to the common use of body parts, for example, in South Africa, where the dialect has originated, it is pronounced as ‘Muti’ a word which translates to mean tree in the Kiswahili dialect.
In belief that the ancestral spirit lives within the trees and at times invades live human bodies, the gatekeepers of life have often resorted to consulting on how to extract the proper proportions of the proclaimed medicine. Many times, they were found from a rare tree, the mwarubaini, which in Kenya was found amongst the Kambaa community. Then came the sophistication of discovery that human organs had different elevated powers, be it procreation or thought, and using them as a cause for advancement would mean greater utilitarian benefit for the community. Muti thence became not only a word meaning tree, but a piece of medicinal tool that could either be human related or veggies. Thus, organs are obtained from living human beings who are robbed of them alive in the belief that the screams of the victims being hacked enhances the potency of the medicine, which can be used across borders, in addition to making the medicine supernatural with the capability of solving any problem related to poverty and health. Mostly so, the organs as hacked are usually transported as far as Nigeria from Tanzania, Mozambique from Cameroon, and Sudan from Kenya; in the view that the practice is bridged with commonality and the tools of execution are similar in each tribal segmentation. Thus, the oracle of the Nigerian Juju might be different from the Kenyan Kamute, but the pronounced effects have similar end results, being either a potion for love, getting a job, increasing libido, killing a distant relative or preserving a husband in a polygamous union. This is just the African way of voodoo.
Ritual killings have been going on for decades and, in some cases, for centuries on various parts of the African sub-continent. The degree and extent and whether these killings have intensified or abated are questions that are not easily answered. This is because ritual activities are often shrouded by a “code of silence”, which makes reporting and the necessary prosecution and investigation more difficult. The silence in organ use and trading is made worse by the fact that the consumers of kamute or juju medicine often remain a mystery.
In retaliation, communities in Kenya and Tanzania have been reported to make the law of the mob applicable, amidst government ignorance of the same. Suspected witches have been lynched, their houses burnt and their families destroyed. There is no sanity when it comes to poverty and getting a glimpse of the better living standards, an initiative that is costly not only in Kenya but Africa at large.
The Kisii district is located at the North Western part of Kenya, found in the Nyanza province, and they have a specialty of being the world’s most natural stone carvers in the history of this universe, where the talent rotates within the blood ties, perhaps because it is the only source of income (i.e., mining soap stone and making commodities out of it). As such, the level of imagination within these community dwellers is just beyond the ordinary average of most Kenyans who fail to see the superstition in this critical thought as displayed by the items of trade from this region, the mute silence of the villagers and the greatest level of illiteracy as documented on historical statistics, vis-a-vis development within commerce. Kisii is doing well agriculturally in comparison to other provinces that border it. The word of mouth has it that the farmers practice enhanced rituals using human body parts, wild animals and rare plant species to effect beneficial progress in their produce. The price of their success is usually a related funeral of a friend from a neigbouring village or suffering by the orphaned children left behind, who ultimately either become another chain of sacrifice or rendered homeless for failure to be able to control whatever is left for them to salvage.
In 2007, the Humanist and Ethical Union of Kenya was getting into its current state of hibernation. It had members working for the media houses, with tactics of getting a story aired and informing the public of how unethical our lazy government was becoming. Thus, under the leadership of Mr. Samson Mochoge, the Nation Media Group published a short film of their investigative series around Kisii district and the intense of superstitious development in the region. Most of the recordings were in the Kisii vernacular but translated into English subtitles. The interviewed participants were the elderly, those who the communities thought had seen it all. Apparently, some of those interviewees were practicing witches themselves, and for the reason that they were being paid to give information they never minded the camera, light and action that came with the good stipend. This story was aired in August 14 of 2007, a few months before the Kenya’s proclaimed dates of general election. It documented how members of parliament went to consult with the witch doctors on how to go about their campaigns, how the politicians sponsored ritual killings in order to access them organs needed for strategic medicines. The public was just outraged and at least three weeks after the date of broadcast there were frequent lynching of suspected witches in Kisii. The residents organized into a vigilante group, a gang of about 100 people, that moved from house to house, tied up their victims and set them ablaze. They also torched 50 houses in Nyakeo village, located some 300 kilometres (180 miles) northwest of the capital, Nairobi. Neither HEUK nor NMG had anything to do with these lynchings.
As if this was not enough, the witch doctor practice trickled into Tanzania, the hotspot for albino medicine, and the quest continued. This unimaginable evil is driven by the belief (in some areas of the country) that the body parts of the albinos possess magical powers capable of bringing riches if used in potions produced by local witch doctors. Thus, between 2007 and the present, official reports indicate that 68 people with albino have been brutally attacked, their body parts hacked off and sold to witch doctors. Of the 68 attacks, 59 were murders and 9 are mutilated survivors. Imagine that the beneficiaries of such ritual medicines still proclaim to be either Moslem or Christians!
About ten million Kenyans believe in witchcraft even though they are deeply religious, a survey shows. They also believe that the world will end in the next 39 years. According to the survey conducted by The Pew Research Center, a U.S.-based organisation dealing in religious research, Kenyans are ranked 11th in Africa and 16th in the world as the most religious people, with nearly nine in every 10 people stating that religion plays an important role in their lives. But in spite of impressive religious credentials, strong belief in one god, and in heaven and hell, the survey found that sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya included, leads in the worship of alternative gods — witchcraft, evil spirits, sacrifices to ancestors, traditional religious healers, and reincarnation.
Kenya is ranked 15th in Africa in its people's belief in witch craft, a few points behind the Democratic Republic of Congo, and way ahead of Ethiopia, Nigeria, Zambia and Rwanda. A quarter of Kenyans, both Christians and Muslims, confessed they believe in the protective power of juju (charms or amulets) and that they consult traditional healers. A number admitted to revering their dead ancestors and treasuring animal skins and skulls or knowing of friends or relatives who identify with these faiths. Tanzania leads the pack in believing in juju and other superstitious objects, with six in every 10 Tanzanians confessing to sacrificing to spirits and dead ancestors.
It will take much more than basic science to transcend the continent into rational thinking. There is a need for organized atheism, a transnational approach to issues of human rights and a secular stand for the protection of those to whom the tradition is discriminating upon. Blaming the colonial governments for not eradicating witchcraft malpractice will do us no good, it will just create corrupt expectations of forget and invent. We have to acknowledge now that we have the statistics and demographics of where these offenders are stationed. There is a need for atheist-related organizations to have a global say at the United Nations, for only then will the African governments listen to our thought system, for they have so much hope in the U.N. declarations that they forget their own internal constitution, which in a real sense, must be a making of the people.
Mr. Boaz Adhengo is the Programs Director at Jahwar Amber Fund–Humanist Fund On Campus, an AAI affiliate. He is widely known as the founder of the Institute for African Ecology and Philosophy, a subsequent project from the Humanist and Ethical Union of Kenya in the year 2006. Adhengo works as a consultant for Digital Communication and Business for the Arts. His latest contract was terminated for reasons related to organizing of the first ever atheist conference in Kenya.