WANJURA: Could So Many Be So Wrong In Believing In Witchcraft?

WANJURA: Could So Many Be So Wrong In Believing In Witchcraft?

According to one of the many versions of the story, the Lutheran pastor was sleeping besides his wife when he heard sneaky steps in the house.

Theirs is a rural house without electricity. So the pastor reached out for his torch that he kept under the pillow and next to the bible since getting “saved” several years ago. That he chose to have the two next to each other was borne out of his practical appreciation of their related roles: to his mind, both items served to light the world.

His bishop had also advised him to place his head over the bible at night to cure his insomnia.

The pastor then grabbed his panga that he had bought a fortnight ago at the open market in Iringa. He then jumped off his bed and, in rapid movements, flashed the torch on-off in different directions of the house. He also tightened his grip on the panga.

The idea was to scare the intruder with the light that he hoped would reveal his armed status.

As a man of God, he was averse to shedding blood if he could avoid it.

He didn’t see anyone or anything. And after checking all the rooms to his satisfaction, and after confirming the main door and windows were locked from inside, he recited Mathew 4:10- “Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only”- loudly and went back to bed.

His wife was in the middle of grumbling about him interrupting her sleep by hearing his own things when the pastor reportedly fell down screaming while clutching his right shoulder.

Seconds later, he was rolling on the floor and foaming at the corners of his mouth. His twisted face and profuse sweating betrayed obvious pain.

Between his whimpers, he pointed to a spot on his shoulder where he insisted something had hit him hard. But despite the wife illuminating the particular part of his body with the torch, she didn’t see anything.

To be certain she wasn’t missing something, she lit the kerosene tin lamp and held it so near the spot that she felt its heat on his skin. But still, she saw nothing.

She had heard from fellow women how men sometimes feigned illness or exaggerated simple ailments to get their wives attention and concluded this was an extreme case of the pretence.

Her heart lightened up from the initial burden of the guilt of having prematurely accused him of hallucinating.

But there was a problem. Minutes after the incident, the pastor was still lying on the floor.

The time ticked to an hour and his whimper graduated to deep, throttle groans of a dying man.

He claimed to have completely lost the sense of the affected arm that now lay alongside his torso like a detachable appendage. When the wife touched the fingers of the affected arm, they were cold and limp.

She panicked and started screaming.

Neighbours who rushed to their home found her narrative of the events of the night unintelligible and incoherent. Ironically, it was her turn to be accused of hallucinating.

At the local hospital, the doctor couldn’t figure out what was the problem apart from confirming the pastor’s arm was numb and that he was now delirious.

Neurologists were also unable to cure him.

After a few days, however, the pastor overcame the fever well enough to repeat a first-hand account of the incident to more disbelief.

He never recovered the use of his arm until two years later, and only after a pastor in the mother church arranged for a complicated surgery in the US.

The pastor’s ailment may have baffled doctors in Tanzania and beyond. But to the residents of his sleepy village in the outskirts of Iringa town, the diagnosis was a child’s play. Even to a hardcore Doubting Thomas, a naked answer was surely there for all to see!

It was deep into the night of the day he was discharged from hospital when the pastor heard knocks on his door and frantic calls from his relative.

The latter was visiting to commiserate with him and had been sleeping in the stand-alone kitchen that also served as a store.

When the pastor opened the door, his relative pointed to an old woman lying a few meters from the main house. She was completely naked and muttering gibberish!

She appeared mad and famished. The pastor’s wife covered her with a blanket and ushered her to the house. She then made the old woman some porridge and dressed her in one of her clothes.

The couple was not alarmed by the incident, as it was not uncommon for strangers to stray into its compound. But when they woke up in the morning, the old woman was gone, leaving behind the blanket that was neatly folded on the sofa she had laid on. The door to the house remained bolted from inside. And so were all the windows!

It sounds stranger than fiction. But the story is part of a rich collection of “real-life” incidents compiled into a book on post-colonial witchcraft in Tanzania by a Danish professor in anthropology.

If, like me, you tend to regard witchcraft accounts as grandma’s fireside stories or snake oil salesmanship, the narratives offer thought-provoking hypotheses.

The scholar refrains from offering his own conclusions on the stories. But there are suggestions that the woman is a witch with mythical powers.

Might she, for instance, have been the one who attacked the pastor with a witch gun that is, of course, invisible?

Tanzania witchdoctors’ fame is well known.

Kenyans, including prominent politicians and businessmen, are among their regular and faithful clients.

This week for instance, Sigor MP Philip Rotino went public with claims that a Morogoro-based witch doctor had confessed to being contracted by his political opponents to “finish” him.

An Ilala court also sentenced a famous witchdoctor to three years for obtaining nearly KSh500, 000 in a failed “resurrection” bid!

It is tempting to dismiss Rotino as a typical case of a politician approaching an important issue with an open mouth. But witchcraft and politics are familiar bedfellows.

The bizarre levels that leaders are willing to sink to consult occult powers were laid bare in Musikari Kombo’s infamous khulia silulu” oath-taking When a newly-elected Ukambani MP car was swept away by floods, he perished alongside a famous witchdoctor!

This relationship is jealously guarded. When cartoonist Maddo caricatured the imaginary assembly of charms, trinkets and amulets hidden under Savile Row suits in Parliament, MPs reacted with the collective fury at the insinuation.

In Meru, when the famous witchdoctor, Kathata, recently died, his funeral was literary a roll-call of politicians from the region. The sentimentalism in the eulogies, even from part-time preachers, suggested the deceased was not just another old man.

When it came to viewing the body, several of the politicians excused themselves to pick suspiciously timed phone calls.

Even in his death, it is said few dared look Kathata in the eye!

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