It was very quiet as was usually the case at that time of a weekday morning. What with everyone trying to catch up with their e-mails and leftover work from the day before. Then out of the blues someone shattered our morning routine by shrieking: “Who has dropped this thing in the corridor!”
We all rushed and crowded around the woman who had raised the alarm. We jostled and craned our necks in order to see what all the hullabaloo was about. There really was something on the corridor floor.
No, it wasn’t a string of beads. Neither was it a packet of rubber. You and your lewd mind! On the floor lay a tiny beaded pillow. Someone had dropped a chithumwa, a tiny parcel of charms. Some smart pants promptly dubbed it a flash disk humana. Not an entirely surprising moniker in this age of miniaturised electronics.
Someone was at that particular time feeling the “nakedness” of being without their trusty totem. That much wasn’t in doubt. But who? There had been no visitors that morning, official or otherwise. So there was no question that the flash disk belonged to one of us. Yet we all kept pushing each other for a better view. I think each one of us wanted to be seen to be trying to satisfy their curiosity.
Questions were thrown around at nobody in particular but no answers were forthcoming. With our curiosity (genuine or feigned) not yet satiated, we milled around until someone gathered the courage to go and burn it.
Even though we couldn’t establish its ownership, the motive for acquiring the flash disk could easily be deduced. Our organisation was at the time undergoing a rightsizing exercise. One has to have protective armour against pink slips, you know.
Why waist time daily striving to put in an honest day’s work when we can as well use charms to protect our jobs and get promotions? Why should our employers expect us to go to our offices on time? Don’t they realise that we take longer than necessary in bathrooms so as to “wash properly” according to instructions issued to us by medicine men. Never mind that the said medicine men are living museums of poverty.
If things aren’t going very well on the work front, perhaps because some nosy auditors have discovered that we’ve been helping ourselves to too many pay days each calendar month, we rush to our villages to go and bid proper farewells, or as we say in our local lingua, kukasanzika. We return from the villages with our bodies laden with tattoos against any eventuality, including potential court cases.
When our marriages hover over jutting rocks, we don’t seek counselling. Why should we when we can consult witchdoctors who can prescribe concoctions with impossible ingredients? An ant’s heart is but one example. Whatever their ingredients, these potions are formulated to spark romance back into our marriages and steer well clear of divorce courts.
Instead of us sleeping to recoup our energies in readiness for the following day’s work, we jig about at crossroads in the dead of night, in our birthday suits no less, chanting nonsense to the four winds. Who needs gym membership to achieve fitness?
My fellow Malawians, let’s wake up. I know every culture in the world has been bequeathed its own beliefs and superstitions. But it’s the proportion of the Malawi population holding such deep-seated beliefs that’s alarming. For our own good its time we disabused ourselves of our entrenched belief in sorcery.
Otherwise our low life expectancy will remain low. You see, besides the obvious reasons attributable to poverty, our low life expectancy results from the fact that we go to hospitals only after the prescriptions from sing’angas have failed. What’s more, in some of our villages old people are “assisted” to die because longevity is equated to guruness in witchcraft.
There’s almost no natural death in Malawian villages. Of course, that woman didn’t die of ovarian cancer, you dim wit! She died because “…our daughter was doing very well at work. In fact she was a mzungu. She was going to get promoted so her colleagues implanted something into her stomach.”
In Malawi accidents don’t happen because of bad roads, drunk driving and other factors. No way! They happen because one or more of the people involved get bewitched. The high number of accidents at some spots on our road network can be easily explained. Witches have established sacrificial grounds at a number of spots along our roads.
Instead of wasting time working on plans to boost our businesses towards their IPOs, we spend resources on charms and lotions administered by medicine men who are themselves infested by abject poverty. Without charms, our earnings get spirited away through a technology called chitaka. As every Malawian knows, the chemistry of Malawian business economics is the direct opposite of osmosis. Money flows from a business without talismans to the one equipped with them. As simple as that.
Would our football be entertaining without what some fools think are farcical pre-match rituals. Our tattooed players have to clamber over stadium fences. They have to get off their buses and cross bridges on foot. They have to do all this is to neutralise their opponents’ spells. Football coaches are a total waste of money, if you didn’t know. Our teams’ losses can be easily explained: their opponents had more potent juju. Or some members of the losing teams didn’t follow all the instructions prescribed by the witchdoctors.
Even basketball can’t be played without consultation. A story is told of a basketball team that went to a sing’anga to proof itself against defeat. The team was assured that it would triumph 2-1 as long as all its members faithfully subjected themselves to all the rituals that had been prescribed!
How I wish we could purge the Malawi nation of such beliefs. Sadly, they won’t go away in a hurry because local media houses are doing all they can to preserve and ratchet up our fears of the unknown. Our newspapers and radios are full of bizarre stories. One day the headlines scream about trade in human body parts, the next it’s about crown jewels that have been locked into impotency because of missing passwords. One day the buzz is about a woman who has been made to deliver a stone, the other it’s about a witchdoctor who has brought back a man from the dead. And on yet another it’s a foreigner who’s been spirited away on Mount Mulanje.
We’re inundated with stories of magic planes that plummet onto yards and roofs armed with herbal anti-aircraft missiles, HAMs for short. In fact, some of you may recall Malawi’s biggest air disaster. A few years back a nocturnal plane was reported to have been plucked out of the sky in Ntcheu killing all three hundred sorcerers on board. Of course, we never questioned why there was no national mourning despite the demise of such a large number of Malawians.
That isn’t all. When we go to our homes in the evenings, we relax by watching Nollyhood fares that are usually witchcraft themed. Our children watch with us. They marvel at the wizardly. And what they see on TV they believe.
On Sundays we go to churches where our pastors’ sermons revolve around the children who were being taught witchcraft but whose parents had decided to seek spiritual help. The sermons over, we go into nonsensical recitals, “speaking in tongues” in churchspeak, to exorcise the evil spirits out of these young innocents. The kids’ redemption attained, we break out in song and dance. While dancing we’ve to tightly clutch onto our flash disks in our pockets, purses and on our bodies lest they embarrass us by dropping onto the floor. Don’t be naïve, you think deaconship is just bestowed.
My fellow Malawians let’s be serious. Is this the culture we want to pass on to our children? Be honest now, what pestilence would plague Malawi were we to cleanse ourselves of this unhealthy belief in sorcery? What would happen to you if you didn’t indulge in those rituals you do every night? Would you be fired if you didn’t have those tattoos? Would your marriage crumble if you didn’t use those potions or apply those lotions? Would people not elect you if you didn’t have those amulets?
If there’s any trait that parents would rather not pass onto their children, it’s bed-wetting, occasional or otherwise. Hey, you former bed-wetter, come on out of the closet and back me up here, will you? OK, I give up. I should’ve known better.
Be that as it may, if it were all left to me, I would rather children turn their beds into Jacuzzis night after night than have their generation blighted by a strong belief in witchcraft.
By the way, if you’re a witch don’t bother casting spells on me. I can assure you they won’t work. You see, I’m armed to the teeth against them by a very healthy dose of skepticism. In fact, I’ve a fair idea of what I'll probably die of. Lung cancer is one possibility. Zijazi is another. Do I really need to spell it out that I mean those illnesses that are related to something else that is itself not a disease but a mere decrease of something in our body?
Incidentally, given a choice, I would want to expire the same way Sani Abacha did. But only one would do for me, not two as was the case with the late Nigerian Military dictator. Phew ... two of them! That was an overdose of happiness, if you ask me.
This talk of Abacha has put me in the mood to attempt to die happily. Let me put off this cigarette right away. There are more important matters at hand.
Where were we, honey bun? Mmm …mmm …
Witches please don’t bother visiting me right now because I’m too busy trying to die a happy man.