On a sunny day in my African town (Enugu, Nigeria), a friend agreed to take me to visit a witchdoctor who was known to hex enemies, heal afflictions both natural and supernatural, remove curses and confer wealth, love, peace, health, fertility, invincibility, invisibility under danger and whatever wild desires clients harbor. I was seeking for first-hand knowledge to aid my African Horror writing and couldn't wait to finally experience my first real encounter with this mysterious, fearsome, powerful and revered superman, an African witchdoctor!
Except, it turned out to be a superwoman, not a man as was usually the norm! That was when I realized that both men and women could hold that exalted position as long as the gods and ancestors conferred the powers and rights on them and their lineage.
One would expect a person with such wide-ranging powers to be living in decadent luxury. After all, they have the power to invoke wealth at will. So, imagine my surprise when we arrived at a red-mud thatched hut at a remote village, surrounded by trees and poo-deluged cassava farms. The only signs of wealth I saw were goats and chickens milling around the sandy grounds of the compound. I certainly saw no evidence of abundance in the scrawny old woman weighted down with beads and amulets, who took us into the hut to cast Ä€fà, which is the mystical science used in consulting the oracles, known only to these powerful witchdoctors. I made my payment and stated my request to her, then watched intently as the divination process was carried out.
At the end, she gave me some powerful anointed pebbles and instructed that I cast those pebbles into a certain deep gorge, the notorious Milliken Hill, along our return route. I was to repeat, "Spirits take these in place of my life" with each pebble I threw into the gorge. I was assured that my actions would ensure I didn't die in a plane crash on my way back to England….yes, that was my request; that my plane didn't crash. I had to ask for something from the witchdoctor to make my visit valid. After all, I had asked my GP in England to prescribe sleeping pills to enable me crash-out in the plane in blissful oblivion. One doctor was as good as the other. Since I was terrified of flying and faced the awful prospect of flying back to England after my visit, I decided to make assurance double sure.
My plane did not crash and I am here writing this article, a testament to the powerful efficacy of this mighty witchdoctor!! So, question is, was she the real McCoy, a good and helpful witchdoctor or a shameless fraudster who duped this "gullible" idiot and just lucked out? My research has led me down a mind-boggling route which has revealed some of the vilest charlatans posing as witchdoctors, as well as some of the wisest practitioners of their art, not to mention some bumbling idiots who just go in for the ride without a clue of what's involved.
Belief in sorcery, witchcraft, bad juju and other superhuman forces has continued to thrive in most African cultures and as a result, the stock of witchdoctors has continued to rise in the market index. We read about evil witchdoctors who abuse their powers for their evil goals, carrying out child sacrifices where the bodies of their child victims are mutilated, their body parts severed and harvested to make the clients supposedly richer and more powerful.
This gross abuse of powers will make the ancestors and spirits shudder in repulsion as that is not what the craft is all about. History has shown that witchdoctors who engage in these forms of evil, are inevitably struck down in one way or another by the ancestors and spirits. My latest African Horror book, The Sleepless , reveals the consequences that befalls one such vile charlatan. I like to believe that indeed our ancestors are still watching out for us and punishing those who harm us. It makes me feel good in a world full of uncertainty, evil and fear.
On the other extreme, we have what I call the bumbling idiots, those who claim to be witchdoctors and carry out the trade by the innovative and ingenious tricks they employ to convince their clients they know what they're doing. Watch this video link on youtube and see how the client is healed of his sickness by the witchdoctor. He literally has the sickness slapped out of his head. Bet you this chap will be sicker than he was when he arrived at the witchdoctor's for his divine remedy.
Finally, we have the good, the wise witchdoctors, who practice the art as it is meant to be done. They are usually of a long genealogical line of diviners and would have undergone rigorous training from birth to prepare them for the arduous task ahead. They are trained in the arts of root-healing, meditation and divination. They are everything to their communities - doctors, judges and arbitrators, shrinks and priests, soul-healers positive-thinking gurus, in fact, the consummate customer service wiz-kids. They are like the so-called "white witches" in the West, the psychics who dish out personal horoscopes, the herbalists who run clinics on natural healing/eating and the catholic priest who listen in confessionals and counsel their flock on how to serve their Christian gods, from God to His son, Jesus, to His mother, Mary and finally to The Holy Spirit. The good African Witchdoctors, as in the Japanese Ryukyuan religious practice, teaches their flock how to venerate their ancestors and the gods of their lands. You will not get them asking for human sacrifices or hexing enemies. They do not engage in flagrant displays of arrogance and power as witnessed in the charlatans and the evil witchdoctors. They are wise counselors, who advise both the ruling elders and the youngest members of the community.
I hope that this article helps educate my readers about the importance the African Witchdoctor plays in the community and why no African Horror story can be complete without reference to these omnipotent citizens of our mysterious continent.
Nuzo Onoh is a British Writer of African descent. She holds both a law degree and a Masters degree in Writing from The University of Warwick, England. Nuzo has two daughters and lives in Coventry, from where she runs her own publishing company, Canaan-Star Publishing. Now recognised as the front-runner of African Horror, Nuzo is the author of The Reluctant Dead and Unhallowed Graves both collections of African ghost stories. Her latest book, The Sleepless will be published on 28th June, 2016 and is now available for pre-orders from Amazon - http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sleepless-Nuzo-Onoh/dp/1909484865/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1457613562&sr=8-1&keywords=nuzo+onoh+the+sleepless