NEPA AND THE WITCHES! STORIES BY SAM OKAFOR

Witchcraft needs to be refined and made more relevant to our daily lives like flying to avoid those hectic traffic jams. As it is in Nigeria, it is still practiced in a very crude form.

Can you beat this bizarre story?

I had engaged a friend on the topic of witchcraft and the evils they did to us growing up in the village then. He told me he never believed in witchcraft until i told him those stories and that someone he knew had reported this to him earlier:

It’s a family of 7, parents inclusive, but the head of the family died at some point and things became very rough. The woman became the bread winner just frying akara and selling it with pap to keep the family going. She was known as a hard working woman in their village and respected for her zeal in training her kids. The poverty level however affected the family and the first son couldn’t really go to school to the level he desired. But he enjoyed favours and also became somehow successful. He helped the mother in training the younger ones and in fact sent the third boy in the line abroad to ‘hussle’. He became a successful ‘hussler’ abroad with a regular paid job.

This third son owed so much to his eldest brother and hoped one day he would settle him properly. But that was not to be. His eldest brother suddenly died. He was devastated and came home for the burial. A year or so after, the second and last brother also died just leaving him with the 2 sisters. Again, he was home for the burial after which he went back to his base.

He soon recovered from the shock of burying his two older brothers almost a year or two part. One day, just relaxing in his house abroad, his door opened and his mother appeared. He was shocked. She came unannounced and he wasn’t aware his mother had any travel papers and literate enough to travel alone. She appeared to be distressed and had an important message for her son:

‘Son, I hope you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me. I actually killed your two brothers through witchcraft. I’m a witch, though I never set out to be one. My own mother was one and initiated me as a way of protection. But, every now and then, we are required to make contributions to our group and I had contributed your eldest brother, and when it was my turn again, your other brother. Strangely, my people are saying it’s my turn again and want you contributed. I have argued against this all to no avail. I should be making that contribution tomorrow and thought I should warn you upfront. I don’t want you dead and have come to share our plans with you’

Could this be a dream or hallucination?

The woman continued:

‘We’ll be here tomorrow and you must be strong. When we arrive, if you’re not strong, you’ll sleep off. But Son, ensure you stay awake anyhow. This is how you’ll know we’re here. At 12 midnight on the dot, you’ll see cockroaches just lined up creeping under your door. They shall be eight in number filing in a single line. I shall be one of them but I shall be the last cockroach, the eight one. I shall maintain some distance from the rest. All you need do is ensure before the 12midnight, have some water already boiling. Just pour the boiling water on the seven cockroaches and they’ll be dead. The women involved will also die physically in their various homes and villages. I can’t stand you dying my son. You’re my last hope’. She left.

What kind of experience could this be all the way in Europe?

Anyway, the man did as the mother instructed, whether he was dreaming or hallucinating no longer mattered. Exactly by 12 midnight the next day, 8 cockroaches filed in. The man struggling with sleep got the water and out of anger, poured the water on the eight cockroaches, including the mother. He would soon get news that the mother had died.

“So my friend, I actually killed my mother in retaliation for her killing my brothers. That’s why I refused to attend my mother’s burial. That trip was not worth it”, this man told my friend.

When I narrated this story to another good friend of mine, he branded it THE COCKROACH STORY and that there was no way it could be true. He posited that infact the man in question could have been in jail abroad at the time of the mother’s burial and had to cook up something. Or even, he might have been broke with no money to come back home. He told me just like the person that gave me the story that he didn’t believe in witches and witchcraft.

But I do! They’re there and they are real. How powerful? It depends on your spirituality and how you fight them off.

One major problem we had then in the village after the war was witchcraft. It was real and we knew them. They had attacked me. My mother was their regular target then and I had witnessed them attack her.

Then, after the war, there was no electricity and the best we had was ‘mpanaka’ (very local laterns). When the witches came, usually at night, the lanterns would suddenly go off and people who had been awake and gisting would suddenly sleep off. Then, they would descend on their target. If you’re not their target, you would wake up first to see their target struggling for breath. The best you could do was shake the person vigorously to wake her up and out of that trance. Then you would hear ‘amuosu dalumu’ – i’ve just been attacked by a witch. Sometimes, they’ll even leave visible scratches and marks on your body. I witnessed this several times over.

One day as a little kid, we were playing ‘felele’ football just at the quadrangle in front of our house. One old woman was passing along the main road. ‘E don tey me and bad mouth’. I saw her and just said ‘nekwe amuosu’ – see a witch. Yes, she was a witch and everyone knew her as one. She turned and headed straight into our compound and all the other kids took off and I just stood there. I don’t know what gave me that courage. As she approached, she asked ‘who called me a witch?’. I told her I was the one. What she said shocked me and the other little boys watching from a distance ‘Yes, I know I’m a witch, but that’s not the reason you must call me a witch walking on the main road’. She turned and left. Football continued.

There are so many things, some myths, surrounding witches and wizards.

We were told then and it is true, they turn into birds when going for their meetings at night or going for attack. The birds had a peculiar cry released while flying. Everyone knew the cry of a witch bird then like ‘nwiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii’. Once they get to the house of their target, the lanterns just go off and the person sleeps off. Then they attack.

We were told that they suck human blood and over time, could actually kill. They also make regular human contributions to their meetings, mostly their relations.

We were told that once you could catch and kill that bird, the actual person behind the witchcraft would die a physical death. I had seen a bird or two killed then and people would surround the bird to watch. I never attended any funeral around after those killings. Those witches must have come from distant places.

We were told that to avoid them coming to attack you, all you needed was to have ‘ede’ – tubers of cocoyam placed in your house or room. With benefit of hindsight, we should have just tipped a tipper load of ‘ede’ all around our compound. Hold some in our hands as we slept, the way many people put ‘aki unu’ (bitter cola) in their pockets everywhere they go because they’re told that once in their pocket, all weapons fashioned against them in the form of ‘juju’ or poison shall not prosper. Just do ‘stop and search’ on young men these days, you’ll be amazed at the level of ‘aki unu’ you’ll harvest.

We were told that if you could get into the house of the witch when it had left as a bird and just turn her (we knew mostly old women as witches) upside down, she would die. Upside down means moving her and placing her legs where her head was before she transformed into a bird. It’s not a bodily transformation. The spirit leaves as a bird, and the body stays unconscious until the spirit returns and re – enters. Once that turn happens, the spirit in the form of the bird gets confused upon return, cannot re – enter and the witch would die. I doubt if I heard where this turning happened.

We were told that parents could initiate their children and it was mostly through food. However, you do not need a witchometer to be able to isolate witches in the market. You could buy things from a witch in the market and once there is a consideration (exchange of money for the goods), you’re safe to eat. However, gifts put you at risk. I recall that after my mother’s funeral, one witch of great repute (a man this time) called me aside. We were just alone when he said ‘I really pity you. I don’t know what to do for you except give you this gift’. I thanked him and collected the gift. It was a shirt. Can you picture a shirt from a village old man to a 5th year University student? As soon as he left, I set it ablaze. Knowledge is power!

We were properly grounded in all the theories of witchcraft. No person from my family would have fallen ‘mugu’ to that gift because, at one time or the other, either you had been attacked or your parents would have been attacked. I’m sure before that man died, ‘e go don find me for their meeting tire!’. Just this Easter, I told one of my Uncles this story. He just told me ‘you’re lucky, you would have been a senior member by now’. Can you imagine that last year, in a burial, I met this man’s son and he approached and begged me for money. In my mind I was like ‘did your father leave a will for you? That you people must get me by fire by force?’. I didn’t give him a kobo.

Sometimes, the witches reveal their faces to you before the attack. You actually see the person attacking you. So why not just go for her head the next morning? Again we were told they could show you a borrowed face. Therefore, you might be accusing and attacking the wrong person.

Witches do not attack their enemies. They attack mostly unsuspecting family members, friends and neighbours. They are ever unsure of what their enemies could do. That’s why the old woman I openly called a witch couldn’t make me a mincemeat of me. Once you identify or suspect someone is a witch, also ensure the enmity is open and known to the witch. A relation told me recently she used that approach on a switch she identified as a fellow student in school. The attack stopped, prior to which they were friends and she suffered several attacks.

When you run into someone in the village and he lies to you about his intended date of departure from the village, please don’t get upset. We were told that witches could wait for you on the road and cause an accident for you. So, many people would tell you they are leaving by Wednesday and by Monday, they are gone. They no deh write witch for face and you could be one!

Then, the one that will make you break a witch’s head, where ever you see it, is that we were told they could ‘tie women’s wombs’ and they would not have babies. For those that have and the children die, we were told the witches ‘eji golu fve tuo utu’ – used them for contributions. Usually, mother in laws and grandmothers, suspected to be witches, were ‘the accused’.

So rife and widely believed was this, that one woman, our neighbour then, ran away from her matrimonial home, with all her kids, into a Sabbath Church. She was running from her mother in – law ‘who she claimed was bent on killing all her children through witchcraft. She told all that cared to listen. Incidentally, her mother inlaw was the one I openly called a witch. Why not? When her daughter inlaw had so branded her. Sabbath churches were to the rescue then. Forget the later day Catholic and Anglican Priests that claim to be powerful these days. They were ‘powerless powers then’. So, when next you’re unable to procreate, or the kids keep dying and you have ruled out ‘Ogbanje’, talk things over with your mother in – law and grandmother. If they prove stubborn, try ‘oke lie onwuo’ – rat poison on them (being careful your attackers could have borrowed their faces) or send them to a South African University to modernise on their methods. If all fails and you finally have to embark on that medical tourism to Israel, ensure you provide the Doctor with your ‘medical history’ insisting you have cleared all ‘spiritual angles’. This is important because if you meet a ‘born again’ Doctor, he can refer you to our brother who is relocating. After all, cases abound where Doctors claim certain ailments are not medical and that they found nothing. The churches now become places of ‘last resort’.

I am not yet a witch and unable to convert all the above hypotheses into theorems but I’ll tell you what I know:

There is witchcraft.

Back then, we believed they are categorised as follows in the order they are dreaded:

‘Amuosu’ – a floor member

‘Amagba’ – a senior witch. Elders in the group

‘Eze Amosu’ – the king of the witches.

Then the most dreaded:

‘Ikwikwi’ – this one comes in the form of an owl. This is regarded as very dangerous and is the most feared. It is not known to engage in routine attacks but only comes to take the spirit of the sick away and the person dies. So once someone is sick and this bird comes at night and perches on a nearby tree with that their ‘hoot’ – (sound of an owl), the end is feared to be near. You’ll just hear ‘hoo hoo, hoooooooh!’. It used to be very dark at night in those days and I had woken up severally in those dark nights without seeing my mother. Then, I would hear her voice outside and quickly found my way out of that dark room only to find her, with a ‘bible igbo’ in her hand, rebuking those owls perching nearby with their hoot. She would quote the Bible for them, standing on all the promises of God she could recollect. Soon, other family members would wake up, come out and start throwing stones at the owl until it flew away. Incidentally, when I googled recently ‘Do owls fly at night?’, I got this result – “Unlike other raptors, owls are mostly nocturnal, hunting at night when the other raptors are sleeping”. Ok oooh! But why hunt around our house and always make my mother quote from Genesis to Revelation all in one night? Since when did that little bush near our house become a hunting ground? Besides, how do you hunt by perching on that tree just next to our house with somebody sick in there? It always scared us that it had come to accept a soul and we always acted accordingly – chase the damn thing away after Bible quotes.

After recounting all these to my ‘unbeliever’ friend, the one that termed the obvious case of witchcraft above a COCKROACH STORY, he came up with an ‘examiner’s question’: so if witches could put off lanterns before attack, can they put off electric light before attack?

It then started occurring to me that NEPA might just not be responsible for our woes. The way NEPA (abi Disco) light goes is the same way those our ‘mpanaka’ went off before attacks. We just might be under serious attacks by the witches. I smell a rat!

Note: Rejoinders are welcome but please do well to state your status, whether you are a witch, an aspiring witch or you have tested negative to witchcraft.

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