WH Chronicle No. 1.16


Carved from the largest watermelon at the market.

Happy All-Hallows-Evening from your favorite crackers on the Dark Continent, were jovially dressing-up like a monster is one of the “Top Ten Ways to Get Yourself Beat-to-Death with a Broom”.

There is no sense of humor when it comes to demons, ghosts and witchcraftery in Africa! Hence, definitely no Halloween in Tanzania!

“And why is that?” You might ask.  With the population of Tanzania being a third Christians, and a third Muslims, that leaves a whole one third in a tribal catch-all category that really spice up the spiritual waters.

Just as we saw in Disney’s Pocahontas and Lion King, they practice animism and totemism by worshipping the spirits of the fires, ancestors, stars, and whatever else might be controlling good and bad fortunes.  Occasionally, deceased ancestors might get upset that you’ve ignored them and send an angry rhinoceros in your direction. 

One recently popular evil spirit was Popobawa (bat wings) from the Islamic island of Zanzibar.  The story originated in 1970 when an angry sheikh released a djinni to wreak havoc on his neighbors.  He lost control of his djinni (maybe the leash slipped) and it went even further to the dark side.   It is said that the story is an ‘articulated social memory of the horrors of slavery’.  Reciting or holding the Koran will save you from its evil clutches.  I’m not sure what the Christians should do... (it's not uncommon for some missionaries to believe in evil spirits and curses, and I avoid walking under ladders).

It is up to the tribal witch doctor to ward off the evil spirits and to heal his people.  Sounds romantic and makes one nostalgic for Pride Rock and Rafiki.  In the name of religious tolerance and good Halloween stories, why would anyone feel the need to alter a system of beliefs thousands of years old?

Of course, I had to ask. Here’s what one modern man from the proud Maasai traditions told me:
Once the Maasai depart from their ancient traditions and accept Christianity, they agree to certain modern concepts that help them assimilate into more global traditions. 
Here are some examples of how their lives change (though many retain their traditional dress):
  • They promise to take their sick children to the hospital and not the witch doctor.
  • They agree to stop circumcising the young girls.
  • They take care of the sick/elderly instead of casting them out to die (by hyena) for fear of contamination and subsequent mandatory destruction of the boma
  • They learn about and agree to monogamy with their current wives, and agree to not take any more new wives.
  • They agree to not ‘share’ their wives and daughters with their male friends in a gesture of hospitality.
  • They learn that stealing (many cultures have no possessive, everything belongs to the earth) is a sin and not to be revered.
  • They learn that killing and rape are a sin against God and not to be honored.
  • They learn the value of education and literacy and will send their children to school.
  • When baptized they receive new Christian names. 

And, hopefully, the whole love, cherish, kindness thing is thrown in as well.
Why the heck the new names?  I asked that, too.  Some of the children have the original charming names of ‘Problem’, ‘Last One’, ‘Brother’, ‘First Pain’, ‘Hunger’, ‘Drought’.   They are offered a new name as an upgrade, if they desire.  I'd like to suggest things like 'Punkinhead', but the translation might be messy.  

A well meaning person might also ask (as I did), “Well why don’t they just teach these nice behaviors and let them go on with their original religion?”  A nice Chagga man explained to me:

Our traditions, culture and religion are all intertwined.  In order to change our ways, we had to make a clean break and leave the old ways altogether.  But now, years later, the Christian ways have been incorporated into our tribes. The youth are reviving the healthy traditions of music, dance, drums, and art without the destructive behaviors being present.   

Destructive behaviors?  Brace yourself, this is the really scary part!
Tribal traditions of hospitality will frequently require women and girls to ‘lay’ with men from other tribes.   Severe physical abuse to women is premeditated in some tribes.  School children frequently suffer beatings for attending classes.    In this AIDS riddled country, monogamy might be a useful concept.

But destructive behaviors are not unique to tribal traditions.  They can be found anywhere, at anytime, and in any religion.  Conservative Islam is notorious for honor killings, and female circumcision—even when embedded in western culture. Hinduism has a history of the caste system and ‘sati’, the sacrificing of a widow.  And, of course, Christianity is not immune to abusive behaviors. Remember the Crusades and slavery?  Recently, there were Christians that were promoting the death penalty for homosexuality to the Ugandan President; Christian pastors in Nigeria accused over 1000 children of witchcraft which resulted in them being tortured and burned; and, in a recent poll, over 60% of the Christians in the U.S. obstinately refuse to assist children orphaned by HIV.  Let me be the first in line to buy these folks some new bracelets!!

Religious tolerance?   It's beautiful concept, but it should never trump human rights.  Maybe condemn behaviors, not philosophies; even though the two are intertwined, this route has created many valuable religious reformations throughout history.  

Regardless the specific solution, there are people here who have dedicated and sacrificed their lives to helping those less fortunate.   They are awe inspiring and I bow down in a moment of ‘Wayne’s World Unworthiness’.   It is a real honor to see their legacy of prospering Tanzanians helping more Tanzanians. 

Which brings me back to dressing up for Halloween-- I had an inspiration:

Well, instead of Halloween, the American contingency did a "Living Museum"  tonight. We each dressed up as someone from the past and spoke about his/her significance.
L to R: Orville Wright, Rosa Parks, Blackbeard the Pirate, Cleopatra VII's Handmaiden, Marilyn Monroe, Cleopatra IV
Not pictured: Wilbur Wright, Rosie the Riveter, Willie Nelson, Corrie ten Boom
Sam thought today was important not only because of Halloween, but we also finished our last jar of Nutella and the stray cat the occupies our door step had kittens.

Sad note:  Our neighbor's gardener was killed in a car wreck.  It's sad, and all too common, everyone nods in acceptance.  It's like living in a war zone--people lives are so close to death.  One of the teens in the village drank rat poison on purpose.  She was living in an unimaginable situation, and decided to take matters into her own hands.  Friends took her to the hospital, she's ok, and is now living with our supervisor's family.
Too many of these stories.  I'm constantly reminded of the beautiful story, "Star Thrower" by Loren Eiseley.  Click on the link for a worthwhile synopsis.  I desire to be a 'thrower' until my demise.

From the Coop:
Mr. Twinkie is not well.  He's sneezing and coughing with a hoarse voice, and a snot-encrusted beak.  One morning we heard the most pitiful attempt at a crow, aborted mid-scream. It woke us both because it was so unusual and worrisome.  Little Debbie is still sitting, with Ms. Moonpie on top of her.  Next week is the big event!

 “The problem with writing about religion is that you run the risk of offending sincerely religious people, and then they come after you with machetes.”  Dave Barry

"There are no atheists in foxholes." American Proverb from WWII

For those of you watching scary movies tonight, let your overactive imaginations find solace in the fact that 2.6 million dollars of prize money to prove the paranormal has never paid out a cent.

Hoping Obama Care wards off the evil spirits,

Sammy the "Blues Man" with his new guitar.

Sam, Mr. Chicken, and Elmer prepared for their bedtime ritual plane flight.

The weird bird from 'Up' digging through the garbage for chocolate bars.
Our evening view of Mt. Meru, opposite of Kilimanjaro. 

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