One of the major highlights of 2016 was a story in which a 13-year-old girl who narrowly escaped death in Nakuru, after members of a church, get this, set her on fire “in a bid to exorcise demons” from her.
The girl told journalists that members of the church arrived at her brother’s house where she lives and wrapped her hands in a red piece of cloth, saying they wanted to pray for her. Never mind she is not even a member of the church.
Before she knew it, one of the church members poured paraffin on her face and set her ablaze, claiming that they were exorcising evil spirits in her body. When she cried, the faithful yelled at her, saying those were demons in her burning. The girl was rushed to Nakuru Level Five Hospital by neighbours who came to her rescue.
Do demons exist?
The million-dollar question is, do demons really exist? How about bad omens, evil spirits and the devil himself. How about witchcraft? Does it really work? Well, according to most Kenyans the answer to all the above questions is a big ‘yes’. But wait a minute.
Do you have colleagues who use the same handbag from January to December? How about a workmate who is always in the same coat or trouser, year in year out? Or one who is always in the same sweater or jacket, even when the weather is very hot?
How about those who never hug or shake others’ hands and prefer a clenched fist bump or exclusively wave when offering greetings? Do you have some who don’t take meals served at the office or from colleagues? Well, if your answers to some of the above questions is yes, chances are very high that they are superstitious or consult witchdoctors quite often. A case in point is one Kevin who tells this writer that he strongly believes that if a black cat crosses his way in the morning that will be a bad day.
Black cat and bad luck
“Where I come from, a black cat spells doom to one’s day. So whatever you do, try and avoid a black cat crossing your way,” he says, adding: “I’d rather stop it by chasing it away or use an alternative route, lest my day gets jinxed”. In this day and age, there are Kenyan corporate types who still stroll into interview halls with a talisman on their wrists or hidden amulet and lucky charms “to confuse or please interviewers to hire them or to get promotions at work”. Would you believe that?
Job security charms
“I have colleagues who are so reckless with work. They are irredeemable alcoholics. They skip work. They are lazy. Yet, unlike you who would be fired pronto if you tried such, they are never sent home. Instead, most of such types, some of whom are even rumoured to have dodgy papers, keep getting promoted! I strongly believe such people could be protected by juju or lucky charms from witchdoctors,” a superstitious Martin says. With the advent of education and strong beliefs in a supernatural being, you would have thought this trade would die down. But that’s not the case.
Dried lizard in handbag
During an impromptu search at a former company where he worked, Tom Yego says watchmen were left in shock after they stumbled on witchcraft-related paraphernalia in a woman’s handbag. “Our office had been losing toiletries, cutlery and stationery and a search was ordered by the boss. The watchmen found bones, suspected from a pig, a dried lizard, powdery stuff knotted in a nylon paper and a cow’s teeth in a female employee’s bag. It was suspected that she was superstitious and these items were meant to protect her,” says Yego, a Nairobi resident.
A top professor with a leading university is known to overly superstitious. The good professor once visited a magician at the coast to seek for charms to enable him get promoted at the university. Incidentally, the man was promoted. Surprisingly, though the professor owns three vehicles, he never uses any of them after he was warned by the magician.
The don would rather hike a lift from a colleague or use a taxi than ride in one of his vehicles. He once told a colleague that it was a sealed deal for him that the day he rides in his car he’d lie. The strange thing is that his family uses the same cars with no ill consequences. It will naturally baffle mind why a man known for his immense knowledge acquired throughout his academia life would become captive to witchcraft.
However, nobody beats Kenyan politicians when it comes to being superstitious. Most visit witchdoctors to win elections. A coast-based witchdoctor, featured on Citizen TV, told viewers many politicians consult him. He, however, refused to name names, fearing to scandalise them on national TV and consequently lose business.
Politicians who consult witchdoctors
In 2015, fear gripped the Bungoma County Assembly after it was discovered that owls live in the assembly’s ceiling board. Superstitious members skipped a couple of sessions, fearing for the worst. They claimed the ugly birds, associated with death and bad omen in most communities, had to be smoked out and rituals — in which a white bull was to be slaughtered — performed to cleanse the honourable house of bad luck.
Superstitious members are believed to have scared away the bird and called in a pastor to sanctify the assembly. A senior politician shocked staff in his office when, on being transferred to a new ministry, insisted that he must move with his office desk.
Pleas by senior ministry officials that he would get a new office desk in his new office, including refurbishing and redesigning the office to his taste and liking fell on deaf ears. It was later established that he had been moving around with the same office desk since the days he served as a civil servant in earlier governments.
It was alleged by staff who had earlier worked with him that before his meteoric rise, he had brought a juju man to his office who had stayed there overnight and had “fixed some stuff in the desk”. Ever since, the politician would not allow anyone to sit at his desk. Neither would he move offices without it, simply saying that it was protected property.
Pastors who use charms
Even preachers have not been left behind in this. A little-known preacher in Nairobi is said to be so superstitious that some of his church members wonder whether he truly serves heaven. It is said the preacher first seeks the services of a witchdoctor - to, among others, lure more faithful to his church - before he embarks on preaching. Some members left the church after they were incensed when they found him and the juju man planting some portions at the pulpit one morning. The members had gone for early morning prayers oblivious of the antics of the clergyman.
Businesswoman’s strange ritual
We took forays into Nairobi’s Kayole Estate, believed to be second to Kawangware Estate in as far as superstitious practices are concerned, and got interesting viewpoints on this matter. At Tushauriane bus top, we are told of a marked shopkeeper who enters her shop with her back. Residents claim the antic could be a strict instruction from a witchdoctor. “That woman never picks money from customers’ hands. Even if you try to thrust cash in her palm, she lets it spill on the counter where she collects it from,” says Paul Mwangi, a local. “She frowns at customers who give her money using their left hand,” he adds.
Wags in the area claim such occurrences are not new. They inform us that it is not uncommon in the locale to see people doing weird stuff. A case is given of a policeman in the nearby police station who was allegedly bewitched after he was caught red-handed with a local’s wife. He had resorted to walking around the place, shouting in Swahili that he was a woman snatcher.
The spectacle of a uniformed officer walking around shouting he’s a woman snatcher left many bewildered. One of his bosses approached the cuckolded man and negotiated a truce. “The man agreed to “unshackle” the officer after being paid a tidy sum of money.
But the moment the officer came back to his senses, he immediately got born again,” says Meshack Ngwiri, a resident. Ngwiri says the policeman was later transferred from the station, with his boss warning him to slow down on his race for skirts!
In Manyatta Estate in Kisumu County, a tale is told of a landlord who is counting losses after all his houses were vacated and have never been occupied for close to two years now. Apparently, ghosts used to haunt the residents. Push came to shove after ghosts allegedly laid siege on one of the houses, slapped members of a family, causing panic that saw everyone vacate the following day.
Yet still, a couple of years ago, this writer had a short stay in Nakuru at a time when a then-popular businessman in the town, with several chains of hotels, had introduced ‘pimped up’ matatus on some routes in the city. Not surprisingly, some residents would never board the vehicles, claiming the man was a devil worshiper and boarding his buses would condemn them to remain poor forever.
One wonders, in this modern world where experience and scientific researchers have shown the existence of no connection between good or bad luck with common events like a cat crossing one’s path, why are Kenyans still overly superstitious? We rest our case. Over to you. What say you?