Superstition or Supernatural?

Imagine you are alone walking on a dirt road between two west African villages when all of a sudden nature calls. You squat down in the bushes to relieve yourself when you hear a slithering through the grass.  shhh, shhh, shhh. You look to when you perceived the sound to come from but you see nothing.  Shhh, shhh, shhh. The sound comes again and your senses are heightened. You turn again to look around you but see nothing but darkness. Thinking that your imagination has gotten the best of you, you reach down to pick up some leaves to clean up and find yourself staring into the beady eyes of a huge cobra.  You flee quickly fumbling to pull up your pants as you go.

This is the story that was told to me by one of my African friends who subsequently cannot understand why Canadian’s would willingly subject themselves to the elements of the wild when camping. When my friend returned to a nearby village, in obvious disarray, the villagers told him how lucky he was. It seems that that particular snake was known to be sighted in that area at around the same time on the same night for the last while. Others who had encountered the snake had not been so lucky. It was believed that the snake was a jin, a spirit with unsettled business on earth.

In Ghana, these types of stories are not uncommon. Although, the majority of the population consider themselves Christian, they still hold onto traditional beliefs and practices. Unfortunate events are often attributed to the curses of a witch or a jin that has manifest itself in the form of a dangerous animal.

Another friend was recently going through pictures of his family with me. “That is my father’s brother, and that is my junior brother, and that is my second grandmother,” he rambled off the identities of everyone is his large family. “And that is a most powerful witch”. He didn’t even miss a beat. In fact, I thought I had heard him wrong and asked him to clarify, but in fact, I understood perfectly well. The elderly woman pictured was thought responsible for cursing several members of his family.

Today as I sit and overlook the Volta river on a hot day, I ask the locals if the river is safe for swimming. I get a mixed reaction that is reflective of the varying beliefs. “The river is not kind to strangers,” says an elderly man offering no further explanation. Another man explains, “If you can swim, it is fine. I just would not advise that you swim across and back. If you swim across you must take a canoe back. Otherwise the river will perceive you are challenging it and danger could befall you.” A third man says, “All of this is nonsense. Can you swim?” When I reply yes, he states, “Then you will be fine.”

I went on to further evaluate the situation and learned that:

1)      There are no crocodiles, electric eels, weird sea snakes, hippopotami or other potentially dangerous or frightening creatures living in this river.

2)      There is no disease that can be contracted by swimming in the water.

3)      There is no strong current that is potentially dangerous.

However, for some reason that defies all logic I do not go swimming in the waters. I cannot help but feel the same way I did as a child when I heard the tale of Bloody Mary. I may believe it is rubbish, but there is still no way in hell I’m saying that phrase in the mirror three times and spinning around!

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