Many years ago, I could still recall how a man was nearly killed by a mob, in a village market. Someone raised an alarm that a man had ‘stolen’ his penis. That was all it took to convince a mob that swung into action.
The man was not even trying to explain his innocence – he was only trying to save his life. An old man who appeared to be respected in the market, was the only voice of reason that sunny afternoon. The accused person’s life was saved, but he was severely beaten, with blood all over his face and shoulders. Scars from that day will definitely stay with him for the rest of his life.
Newspapers often report such incidences, and in many cases the accused lost his life, even though at the end of it all the person making the accusations is always confirmed to indeed have his genitals intact.
Across cultures people hold many superstitious beliefs. While some cultures continued to discard superstitious beliefs, they evolve, others are stuck. Many superstitious beliefs are just beliefs held by people, based on traditions. They are means of expressing fears and anxiety. They are also peoples naive response to complexities of life.
Modern life, especially urban life, compel people to live alongside people that are different. That is where the fear comes from. Uncertainties of life made human beings prone to superstitious beliefs. In a poorly managed country with huge population, everything has to be fiercely competed for. This competition makes everyone to believe that the next person can do anything to have an upper hand. In real terms, many problems can be solved, with concrete solutions, but where there is no energy or capacity for resolving problems, the supernatural pseudo intervention comes in handy.
Elements of superstition like ‘magic’ have no real explanation. Infact, many people are lured to believe nonsense because of lack of explanation about how it works makes it believable. And this is one of the reasons why many people find solace in them. Fear of the unknown feeding the power of unknown. Sometimes, it all revolves around expecting magic and mystery to make possible what may appear, in real terms, daunting.
Whenever elections are around the corner in Malawi albinos are haunted and killed. According to reports, people in Malawi superstitiously believe albinos body parts have magical powers – meaning they can guarantee success at the polls, getting rich quick, getting that life changing contract or any other material gain.
In Democratic Republic of Congo at least one thousand people have died as a result of Ebola. Many health workers keen at work to tame spread of the disease were killed by local militia who believe that Ebola itself is a ‘conspiracy.’ Ebola treatment centres were attacked at least 100 times. Meanwhile, the disease is killing more people.
Across northern Nigeria it is familiar to hear old women and often old men attacked on suspicion of being witches. These things always happen in the villages. Many were killed in this way. There was a case of a boy who was severely sick and almost bedridden. He was not referred to a hospital because the family and people of the village believe he was under the spell of an old woman suspected of being a witch. One day a mob attacked the old woman and nearly killed her. But when the boy was admitted to hospital, tests showed that he was only suffering from chronic Tuberculosis. But people in the village still held on to their belief that the old woman they accused of witchcraft was behind the boy’s ailment.
In 2016, Akwa Ibom state took attention of the world when many children were rounded up and dumped in a place where they are expected to die. These children were accused of being witches. In this case, it is parents that, on their own brand their own children witches, based on baseless assumptions and fears. Many took the children to prayer houses where pastors identify them as witches. Many of the children died, with bruises as a result of severe beating. Many died of malnutrition, as they were deprived of food. This cruelty unleashed on innocent children was based on superstition. Subjecting children to such unprecedented cruelty threw Akwa Ibom state on the map of infamy.
There is enough evidence to link superstitious beliefs with poverty and failure of the state. Where there are no good hospitals or the cost of medical treatment is ridiculously expensive people easily give in to superstitious explanation of their ailment. Abject poverty coupled with a failure of government to make people look for answers from mystery and magic. When people work hard and still suffer, they tend to see their suffering as mysterious. They begin to suspect – maybe their neighbour or extended family is responsible for their suffering. On the surface, superstition is consoling. But when examined critically, side by side with reality, facts and concrete evidence, superstition and those who believe in it can profoundly shock.