AFRICA & SUPERSTITIONBy: Brou KOUAME (Abidjan – Ivory Coast) Vice-president of the ASR (Alphabetization and Health in Rural Areas) NGO Vice-president of OPGE (Organization for the Protection and the Management of the Environment)
Our african societies are often immersed in beliefs such as soul eaters, bewitchment…
School failure is often interpreted as caused by the jealousy of a third party who has accomplished a transfer of intelligence from one person to another…
At the beginning of the 21st century, though science has managed to explain, rationally, phenomena that, for a long time, were considered to belong to the metaphysical domain, Africa, for its part, still remains tied to certain beliefs. Though we certainly do not want to adopt a iconoclastic (1) attitude, we believe that it is the right time for evaluating certain futile beliefs, that nowadays can be called superstitions, and that have acted like a psychic poison on many Africans.
Though the governments have been able to draw borders in order to encircle populations tightly in certain determined territories, that did not actually build a tangible barrier between cultures and beliefs. Consequently, many African societies present similarities, on the historical, religious and cultural points of view.
From belief to superstition
It is a fact that African societies are organized in a community-style manner. And, when a child is born is such a society, he or she belongs to the entire community, from which he or she receives education. The life of the community, its social organization and its balance are based on both proven and unproven beliefs. Most of the times, these beliefs stem from tales and legends that are completely unrelated to direct experience.
In certain societies, the children of the same generation receive an initiation in a supposedly sacred forest, with the purpose of making adults out of them. It is said that they are transmitted knowledge that come from a long line of ancestors, though the keepers of the tradition certainly have an influence on that knowledge. That is why children grow up surrounded by multiple beliefs. Often, the candidate is not allowed to ask questions, for fear of frustrating the initiators or provoking the wrath of the ancestors. The individuals live in that fear. They are told of the existence of certain forces, of all kinds of genies, of a totemic system, of evil sorcerers who, when the night comes, transform themselves and eat the soul of innocent persons; and many more things.
In my village, located in the center of Ivory Coast, precisely in the town of Bouake, it was formally forbidden to fish in the river that ran across the village. However, because of the war, soldiers have made delicious soups out of its fishes and nothing wrong happened to them…
The irrational perception of the real
In Africa, the perception of the supernatural seems so natural that it is the natural that becomes supernatural. The consequence is that everyone always tries to find an irrational explanation to every phenomenon. And, when a satisfactory explanation cannot be found, the cause is attributed to the mood of a divinity, annoyed by the infringement of a customary law.
That is why an epidemic that strikes an entire village is considered as a sanction for the violation of a totemic system. Since 1997, in the west-central area of Ivory Coast, more precisely in the town of Daloa, cases of the Buruli ulcer (2) have broken out, provoking the invalidity of several children. The local populations have put down the cause of the disease to sorcerous spells rather than to a microbe living in nearby pools of water where the children bathe.
In Burundi, there have been massacres of albinos (3) because of the belief that certain of their organs can make one rich.
Today, the sudden death of an individual that appears perfectly healthy is put down to the works of a brotherhood of soul eaters; failure of a clever child at school or at an exam, is considered the responsibility of a jealous co-wife or uncle who has stolen their chances.
With the sole intention of finding an “irrational reason” to such events, people often have recourse, usually to confirm their own views and suspicions, to the services of a marabout, a medium or a komian (African priest) who often cannot be trusted. Consequently, it is not rare to hear people say: “I knew that it was so-and-so who was responsible for all our troubles”.
Sometimes, the deceased have to designate the persons they hold responsible for their death before being buried. So, today, in many African villages, the body of the deceased is carried around the village so that they can point out the individuals that have caused their death…
The consequences of superstition
– On a psychological level, we face a twisting of reality and a deviation of behavior in certain populations, including high-ranking executives who refuse to go back to their native village, under the pretext that a secret brotherhood will steal their soul.
– On a social level, any kind of failure is interpreted as the action of an occult hand: whether it is school failure due to a dysfunctional system of education, failure in the realization of a project, unemployment…
– On a global level of development of Africa, superstitions play an important blocking role. As Africa is still trying to comprehend certain subjects that are understood clearly scientifically in the West. Corollary to the above, Africa ends up outstripped by discoveries that would have allowed it to start a genuine development based on indisputable knowledge.
We feel that the development of Africa must start with a change of beliefs. And that this new beliefs should be based upon experimental data, rather than on speculations drawn from popular imagery.
We feel that the development of Africa must start with a change of beliefs. And that this new beliefs should be based upon experimental data, rather than on speculations drawn from popular imagery. It is also necessary to probe our inner world to discover by ourselves the divine potential that will allow us to know what is REAL.
To sum up: though certain beliefs have brought balance to our societies, many more have enslaved them. And the diffusion of Dr LEFEBURE’s magisterial works in our generation, will doubtlessly shatter certain taboos but will also contribute to the awakening of all Africa and of the new African.
(1) Iconoclastic: who attacks violently the established traditions.
(2) Buruli ulcer (BU): disease provoked by the infection of Mycobacterium ulcerans, is among the most neglected tropical diseases, though it can be treated. The causal agent belongs to the same family as the bacteria that are responsible for tuberculosis and leprosy.
(3) Albinism is a genetic disorder. This affection is characterized by the non-pigmentation of the skin.