Sunday, February 8, 2009

Witchcraft in Makala

Wow. I’d heard some stories of voodoo in Haiti, and was even friends with an American who had lived there long enough to believe in it as well. But never has my town come to a standstill due to la sorcelerie—witchcraft!

I was working up in a village outside of Makala when the witchcraft hit, so I didn’t find out the full extent of the story until several days after my return. The story varies depending on who you ask, but here are the basics. About 30 – 50 girls at two of the local high schools came down ill. Apparently it was witchcraft. They said they were “struck down” and someone had taken their hearts. The way it works is that whoever has cast the spell takes the heart out of the girl, and buries it under a tree. In order to regain your heart, you have to eat the dirt from under the tree where your heart is buried. Then you will heal. So a lot of girls were manically eating dirt, hoping to find their hearts, and regain their health.

Often, the school principle is blamed for instances of witchcraft. In a past case outside of Makala, a local marabout, or traditional healer, had determined that the principal was in fact the guilty culprit. And he went to jail for it!!! After two months, he was released, and apparently reinstated as principal because people were too scared of him to take his job away. I would love to see the written law that sets forth the punishment for witchcraft.

Here in Makala, the two affected schools closed down for most of last week. These students also felt that their principle was guilty of the witchcraft, and so organized a march on the Prefecture, demanding that he be brought to justice. When no action was taken, they went first to our Youth Center to riot there, until my co-worker Aboubakar chased them away. Then they went to a local cell phone store and broke all the windows. Finally, they stormed the principal’s house, trapped his wife inside, and burned the house to the ground! The wife escaped out a window, and the entire family fled to Maroua, the provincial capital! Apparently, this principal was a not-so-friendly and arrogant guy, who was from the south of Cameroon, so people had enough reason to not like him… but yikes!

Turns out, three of the girls had been “struck down” by malaria, and a fourth by a fun case of intestinal worms. Worms or witchcraft: you decide… as long as nobody puts a bad case of diarrhea on me!!

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