I suppose if you were to open the brain of the African (and especially a Kenyan), you would find a processing centre labelled in golden letters: MAGIC. This would be the centre responsible for such tasks as pyramid schemes, miracles, elections...and witchcraft.
Witchcraft, along with miracle supply, is the basest form of conmanship. But Africans just love it; they enjoy the delicious horror it plays to their insecurities and irrational belief that “things just don’t happen”, somebody must have cast the evil eye.
I don’t know why this whole saga of naked men running in the streets of Mombasa with a snake around the neck reminded me of two Ugandan friends.
The first was Dr Ben Bella, our News Writing teacher. An expressive, dramatic giant, he managed to frighten us with stories of a man returning home to find his bride putting “de powdered roots” in his tea.
That evoked images of our darkest fears (or maybe memories) of blood ceremonies in the depths of Congo Forest with naked, entranced natives dancing around a hypnotic shaman with a necklace of skulls around her painted neck.
The second is the more rational Charles Onyango-Obbo, who finds witchcraft stories so revolting and demeaning of Africans that he would never publish them. I wonder what he made of our breathless coverage of the Mombasa incident.
Here is how one national newspaper introduced this important piece of news: “A witchdoctor has begun the cleansing of two suspected thieves he reportedly caused to dance naked on Bamburi’s streets earlier on Wednesday.”
You would imagine the paper was reporting on a doctor treating a patient.
The two men had stolen a car, whose pretty, photogenic and sophisticated owner sought the intervention of Daktari Taichii aka Tachu aka Tachiu. They then parked the car in front of a clinic, said it was getting too hot and completely disrobed. They showered and washed the “stolen” car in filthy water. I wonder whether anyone checked the registered owner.
Enter the snake, stage left. The reptile had been following the thieves, apparently. So, they picked it up and took turns at carrying it around their neck and speaking to it. (I think I am quoting).
Enter Daktari, stage right. Unlike most witchdoctors, he wasn’t an old, wrinkled man or a middle-aged woman: He was a young man, dressed like a metal worker in a blue dustcoat or overall. According to the media reports, the “cleansing” started with Daktari clothing the suspects and then hitting them “ceremoniously” (quotes from original text).
Enter witchdoctor’s assistant. Assistant is holding a black hen. Daktari sprinkles the chicken with a white powder, then violently beheads it. As it writhes in the throes of death, Daktari whispers to the black hen. The black hen dies.
Standing in front of a big sign, written “Daktari Taichii”, Daktari puffs his trade (and here I quote): “I am called Tachiu…. I can reach anywhere you want me. I deal with many issues. Just call me.” If on following the story thus far you didn’t load what was happening, I don’t blame you. The magical is grossly more attractive than the real.
The incident comes hot on the heels of another in western Kenya involving a man who also had stolen something and was found wandering, staring fixedly at a snake.
The owner of the snake, a Ugandan witchdoctor, rescued him and the snake slithered into her backpack (again, I could be quoting) and lectured thieves to mend their bad ways.
Daktari, his assistant and the two thieves have been arrested and charged with some offence or other at the Shanzu Law Courts in Mombasa.
The Ugandan witchdoctor and her snake, I suspect, have slithered back across the border, where, no doubt, they continue their campaign against theft.
I don’t feel bad that folks have been fooled by these magicians from Mombasa.
The people of Mombasa love magic drama and the place is awash with stories of cats that are not really cats.
One day I was walking on the beach near Pirates during a public holiday, when the whole city empties onto the public beaches, much of it in hired swimwear, and I found a crowd lining up to enter a makeshift shelter.
What’s going on? I wondered. “There is child turning into a snake,” they said in horrified delight. They were paying to go in and see. Maybe I should have gone inside, too, but the queue was long and the sun hot.
I choose to remain positive in the face of this proof of what we have always feared, that witchcraft is a racket.
We now know that even those “stuck couple” events were marketing events designed to convince fearful couples that the witchdoctor has the capacity to “lock” and “unlock” illicit partners.
Spare a thought for folks who depend on these magical interventions to keep them content. How will they keep their spouses honest? Equally, let us also pray that providence turns her attention to those befuddling areas of voodoo—politics, miracles and pyramid schemes—so that, in that business too, we may find a rational resolution.