A friend e-mailed me a link to this article in the Telegraph.
A snake used by a South African fortuneteller to “control” the progress of teams in the World Cup has been seized by animal welfare inspectors, a spokesman said Monday.
The nine-foot-long Burmese rock python was being used by a sangoma in a Cape Town township to communicate with the ancestors, to ask them to intercede in World Cup matches, said Sarah Scarth, spokesman for the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
SPCA wildlife inspectors were alerted to the snake on June 30, she said.
“They found the snake was being kept in a shack and in back of a car, and was being used allegedly by the sangoma to speak to the ancestors,” she said.
“People were paying the sangomas to ask the ancestors to help their chosen teams advance in the tournament.”
There's more at the link.
My friend wanted to know whether this sort of superstition was really still rampant in Africa. I had to tell him that sadly, it's as strong as ever, despite a few generations of Western education. Consider just these few reports from across the continent, that I was able to find in only a few minutes of searching:
- Gamblers wanting to bet on World Cup games are "smoking dried vulture brains, believing it will give them the power to predict match results";
- In South African soccer, 'muti', or 'medicine', a charmed or enchanted substance produced by witch-doctors or sangomas, "is used at all levels of the game, from players kicking the ball socially on weekends to managers of top-flight clubs";
- Still in South Africa, children are being murdered so that their body parts can be used to make 'muti';
- In Kenya and Tanzania, old women "face being hacked to death as 'witches', blamed for every virus and sickness blowing across the savannah";
- In the Central African Republic, "about 40 percent of the cases in the ... court system are witchcraft prosecutions";
- In Sierra Leone, sick people are believed to have been shot with a 'witch gun'. "The National President of Sierra Leone Indigenous Traditional Healers Union, Dr. Alhaji Suliaman Kabba, ... said a person who operates witch gun would never be perceived by the ordinary eye adding that such people only carry out their evil acts when they are in an invisible state";
- In Nigeria, some fundamentalist Evangelical pastors are preaching that many children are witches, or possessed by the Devil, and conducting appalling exorcism rites that torture and in some cases cause the death of the children concerned;
- In 2005, the BBC asked: "Is witchcraft alive in Africa?" The responses to the article (you can read them at the link) overwhelmingly demonstrated that belief in witchcraft is as strong as ever.
Some of these reports are several years old, but don't let that fool you. The situations they describe are as real today as they ever were. I used to work in Johannesburg, the commercial heart of South Africa. The Stock Exchange (the biggest in Africa) used to be situated on Diagonal Street; and around it, one would find 'muti' shops, selling amulets, 'medicine' and other products to produce 'good luck' or 'good fortune' for the day's trading, or to ensure that one's 'enemies' (i.e. rival stockbrokers) would experience the opposite that day. I've accompanied brokers with multiple graduate degrees as they entered the building . . . but not before they'd bought their 'muti' for the day. To do without it was unthinkable to them, and they used to regard me with some pity for my lack of understanding of the importance of the 'spirits'.
It's hard for me to convey just how deep this spiritual blindness runs in the average African. There are, of course, those who've broken free of such superstition; but they're in the minority, I fear. For example, you and I might see lightning strike a tree, and watch it burst into flames. We understand that the enormous heat generated by the electricity in the lightning bolt has caused the fire. On the other hand, the average African might believe that the spirits of the trees had been fighting, and the spirit of that particular tree had just been zapped! If you try to argue against that, he'll look at you with sorrow, pitying your blindness to the obvious.
It's a different world in Africa. Sometimes it's a bloody unpleasant one, and deadly dangerous. Those dangers give rise to primitive superstitions, which in their turn make it more dangerous still.