Witchcraft, sorcery and magic among the Kenyans

The first time I encountered talks about the magic I was in Langas, the place where I conduct my research. I was pointing out to my Kenyan colleague how strange it is that the slum is full of free ranging chickens - so I did ask: doesnt anyone steal them? She opened her eyes wide as if I have just said the most stupid thing ever and she kept speechless for a while. Then, realising I wasnt understanding, she explained that no, no one would steal a chicken, because otherwise you will be turned into a chicken!

So I did ask: what if you steal a gas cylinder,  would you be turned into a gas cylinder? Of course, she said. "Or the gas cylinder will be stuck in your back, like glued to a point that you cant remove it. The only solution is to go to the daktari that gave you the juju (witchcraft), and pay him to remove the punishment".

I was astonished - but that was just the beginning of a long path of discovery into local belief around magic, witchcraft and oracles. I felt immediately the urge to dress the clothes of Evans-Pritchard and to understand more of what this system of beliefs means for Kenyans.

I will soon discover that almost everyone - even educated people, even Publich health officers and doctors, believe in Juju.

Juju is 'the magic'. It's like a curse that can be given to you in case you do something wrong to someone else, e.g. if you steal something from your neighbour (a cow, some fruits, but also electronics or technology! - interesting that magic applies to a 2.0 millennial level ;-) ).

The victim of the injustice can go to one of these traditional doctors, "daktari", and ask them to punish the criminal. Usually the punishment rely upon similitude, as described above and in a kind of Dante Alighieri's Inferno law of "contrappasso". If you stole a speaker, the speaker will be stucked in your back. If you stole some honey, a bunch of bees will chase you - this is what seems to have happened in Langas few weeks before I came to Kenya.

the bees chasing

But the juju can also act by creating mysterious illnesses to the criminal or to a member of their family. It's not necessary about stealing. Reasons to be "jujued" are jealousy,  envy, etc.

I heard stories of kids affected by mysterious illnesses that cant and dont have to be treated by Western Medicine, otherwise they will die. The ill person needs to go to the Daktari to be heal through traditional medicine and ritual.

These daktari are strange characters,  that no one has ever seen but of who everyone is scared. They offer their services by putting their banners on lamp streets and pylons at the edge of the street. They say "Daktar Mwanza, treatments for love, money, enemy". 

I asked many time my colleagues to bring me to one, but they alway refuse, admitting to be scared. In addition, seems that these daktari ask the weirdest things as payment: a cow with 3 legs, a white chicken, a goat with orange eyes.

Obviously for an anthropologist all this is so fascinating. As Evans-Pritchard, I can affirm that the witchcraft and the magical are totally embedded in the system of value and beliefs of Kenya society - and never really in competition with religion, which is actually very strong.

Kenyans believe in both - showing how the Christianity anchored on previous traditional african religion's elements without ever cancelling them. Missionaries were good in not suffocating local beliefs - maybe because they acted as a tool for social control (e.g. to prevent crime and robberies?).

I am still collecting stories. Lots of people are talking about a snake carried by an eagle who entered the car of some man to bite him, and then was taken away by the eagle again.

the snake policemen 

One of my participant, a hilarious man of an exciting past, showed me the scars of a "juju vaccination": he had two holes in his back were a cut was opened, some ashes put in, then covered with banana leaves. This apparently was enough to protect him from being jujued by anyone. 

I will keep digging, but you, what do you think about witchcraft?


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