Juju the talk of the village

2009-09-12 12:33

ADAMAH is a short man with a head that is

shaped like a bus. I don’t ­remember him wearing anything else but indigo jeans

and a variety of wax cloth shirts. He carries a black laptop bag even though he

doesn’t own a laptop.

Adamah is also never without his beautiful, small snake skin man

purse hanging around his neck. Inside it are his favourite things: cowrie

shells. The shells were previously used as currency in Africa, today they are

mostly used in jewellery and adornments.

West Africans love the shells so much they even have cowrie shell

belts and ties. I once saw a cowrie shell vest; wearability be damned. But

people seem to be craziest about the shells when they are used for ­telling

fortunes. ­Adamah even has a ritual for it.

He opens his purse and pulls out an aspirin container containing

the shells. He pops the container open and pours the shells into his right hand.

Someone brings him a small wooden stool on which to throw his shells, which he

does repeatedly ­before dishing out the news.

According to the shells, I will have a lot of money, two children,

a good marriage, a good job and a beautiful house. This is what the shells

­always say to almost everyone. Still, they must have something going for them

­because they are the daily bread of faith after organised ­religion.

Everyone claims to be able to read them ­though there are champion

readers like ­Adamah. He is not a sangoma, mind you, merely a guy practising a

gift that people ­appreciate so much that they make appointments to have their

fortunes read. They go to him looking for hope and answers.

Take a woman torn between two lovers, ­another one journeying to

Senegal or an Abazz wanting to know if he will ever get a Spanish visa so he can

join his wife there.

I like the reading because it is full of drama. The telling

involves frequently rubbing the shells on your forehead or chest and kissing

them for good luck. A little money also goes a long way in bringing good news,

so there have to be coins and sometimes a note lying around the shells.

The message, which is never sombre, is ­never received with a

cheerleader’s enthusiasm. An affirmation like, “Lerato you will travel a lot,”

is acknowledged with Inshallah, the Arabic expression for “If Allah


News that something is not right is accepted by declaring God’s

supremacy in everything.

Furthermore, problems are delivered with solutions: buy an egg and

throw it onto the street. Buy a kola nut, take a bite, spit it out and throw the

rest on the street. Take milk to an imam who will pray for it and thus set free

a departed soul that is not yet resting in peace.

You can give a little money to boost your chances of having

identical twin girls (so my womb can be fit to breed). Others have received

recommendations such as giving eggs and beans to boy children and others to

slaughter a guinea fowl for a “happy marriage” and such.

It’s a long list of superstitions. Some are basic like never

showing the soles of your shoes and others are grave, like a recent death that

was attributed to black magic. That was in Ghana.

A fisherman dived into the sea close to shore and never came up for

air. News of his death came with a rumour that it had not been natural; he had

been “cursed to the water” by someone he had pissed off. Due action had to


That night the beachfront was deserted as “frightened” people hid

indoors while a procession of people walked on the shore chanting and ­offering

libations for the return of the body. They repeated their ritual for three

nights ­before the body surfaced on shore, eyes and nose eaten by fish.

Meanwhile, juju became the talk of the ­village. People did not

dispute that black magic was afoot. They talked of its potency, how to possibly

protect someone from black magic and where they had seen it in action.

True or false it shows how important magic is here. So much that a

dinner with a person I really like can apparently turn into so much more. If

only I’d seen an imam about it.

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