"This realization brought with it a new understanding of the importance of witchcraft among my people. We were, I knew, a needy people. We could not afford to be answered in abstractions. We could not afford to separate doctrine and life. Even our language reflects this need for the concrete. 'Truth' for a non-westernized African does not refer to a statement's correspondence with a fact. Truth is a quality of things. A mango tree is true if it bears sweet mangos, a house is true if it is upright. A man is true if he knows how to meet difficult situations without losing his head, if he knows how to run his home, control his temper, resist gossip.
"A religion is true if it works, if it meets all the needs of the people. A religion that speaks only to a man's soul and not to his body is not true. Africans make no distinction between the spiritual and the physical. The spiritual is not a category among categories but the lens through which all of life is viewed. A tribesman from my village knows that cutting a tree, climbing a mountain, making a fire, planting a garden and bowing before the gods are all religious acts. He lives in the presence of the gods, and he knows that without intervention from them, without baraka, a blessing, there is nothing. There is no coffee harvest, no wood for the fire, no wife, no children.
"For such people, people who live their lives in daily hardship at the edge of nothingness, witchcraft is not a set of beliefs. It is a way of life. I have never heard a poor or needy person discuss the philosophy of witchcraft. Their only concern is what it does, that it works. A well-educated Ugandan once told me, speaking of his visits to a witch doctor, 'I know it is diabolical, but at least it is substantial.' A young lady, trying desperately to recover from a nervous breakdown, told me that if God could not help her mental instability she knew a goddess who could. At that time I found these remarks offensive, but now I understood that both of these people had one thing in common: they were needy people. They were not looking for a worldview but for a power to transform their lives. If Christianity could not help them, the witch doctor could."
A Distant Grief, by Kefa Sempangi 90-91.
Friday, July 28, 2006
A Distant Grief excerpt
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