Monday, September 9, 2013

Traditional Medicine/Scary Witchcraft

There is a difference between traditional medicine and witchcraft.  But they both very much exist in my village.  I'd only every heard of it in passing while living in Bogo.  Here I actually tasted some concoction that could possibly cure every ailment ever to befall man (I made him and another bystander drink it before I'd try it.  He even washed out the glass between "patients", good on him!).

I've met a couple of traditional healers.  One of them actually comes into the clinic pretty regularly and has some basic knowledge of medicine.  Enough to refer people he can't help to us.  That a decent way to deal with these healers that are often pretty respected in the community.  Another one, who I talk to pretty regularly, is mostly a snake-oil salesman that sells some drink her makes out in the woods as a cure-all.  Everything from a cough to malaria.  That's less of a beneficial side to the coin.  They are both normal looking guys who just sell herbs and teas to folk.

They are nothing compared to the strange beliefs in sorcery here.  People take this dark magic very seriously here.  I didn't realize it at first.

I only know one sorcerer.  Honestly, he's not a bad guy.  I wish he's shower on the occasion, but other than that he seems harmless enough.  He walks around town blowing a horn to let people know he's coming around.  Children run terrified and hide.  Some adult women too.  They all hide around corners and such, because, while afraid, they really want to get a look at him.  Perhaps that's why we first bonded; children run terrified of me too.   

   
Meet our village sorcerer!  Terror of women and children both.
He wears different dirty clothes and ripped pants.  Never any shoes.  Horn and hatchet (in case any of those kiddies get close!) along with bag of assorted plants and animal bits.  Again, not the normal sort you run into stateside, but he could easily be a crazy homeless man.  He apparently can help people if they have been cursed or are suffering from someone who has cast a spell on them.  He can offer protection from curses and I've seen strange bags hanging over doors to keep your home safe.  I suppose he could help you curse someone else too, but he would not tell me if he did that.  I'm going with harmless enough.
 
Still, things crop up from time to time.  I ask where a road goes and am told it used to go to another village.  Wondering what happened, I am told that as an outsider I wouldn't understand.  I pressed and found out that people started dying there and were found drowned in the lake.  Many people moved; the rest died.  I walk by a burnt down house and am told a story about a sorcerer who killed children and used their bones to cast curses.  The community burned down his home and drove him out of the village.  There are more than one burned out house in town.  Recently, I've a few meetings in small villages cancelled;  people were afraid to go out.  Children were falling down in pain and crying out the name of their tormentor, a young man now branded sorcerer.  The Gendarme (sort of police) had to step in and hold him to protect the community.  What they told me is they were holding him for his own protection.  Mass hysteria or scared kids?

It is hard to reconcile these people's beliefs with reality.  My traditional healer friend really thinks his concoction heals people.  He's told me his grandfather knew a herb that could cure AIDS (told him to figure that one out fast and not only could we save lives, but probably get rich too).  The crazy sorcerer guy just wanted to take a picture with me because he wants to be friends.  Or possibly cast evil spells from a distance.  I don't know, but he SEEMED nice about it.  And also, I don't really want to piss him off.  Ya know, just in case.  But when these beliefs go deeper, they can really affect people's lives.  Villages disappear or people are driven out of the community for who knows what real reason. 

And most of all… I really hate having to reschedule so many damn meetings!  Already have to deal with the incessant rain…