There are two things you should know about me. One, my maternal grandfather was a polygamous man. This is a fact that I learned recently at the burial of my step-grandmother. All along, I have always thought that she was just some random woman that my grandfather had decided to host in his home (he was a very kind-hearted man who liked helping people). Two, I come from a village full of very petty people. My paternal village, I mean. In both cases, witchcraft is a common denominator (really feels good to say denominator for the first time since I dropped Maths after KCSE).
No matter how peaceful and united a polygamous home seems, there’s always a simmering cold war behind the scenes. The younger wife will call an under-the-bed meeting with all the windows and doors closed and warn her kids not to eat at the older wife’s house lest they get poisoned, then step out and smile her brightest while complimenting her co-wife’s cooking. She’ll even joke that she might lose her kids to the older wife if she doesn’t stop serving such deliciousness. The older wife, in turn, will compliment the younger wife’s dressing, saying how much her tailor knows how to bring out her curves. But in secret, she calls her a slut and tells everyone who cares to listen how the younger wife will bring HIV/AIDS to the homestead and kill everyone.
“Nyangiya bromiyo dala wuon Adhisle dong’ gunda chon yawa. An ok adwa ni nyithinda odong nyithi kiye.”
Of course, none of these things is said out loud. Mostly because none of them wants to break the heart of the man they love so much that they were willing to let him get another woman. In an African home, all that matters is the outward peace.
They are whispered among the wive’s circles. And once the kids are deemed old enough to be involved in adult talk, they are fed the propaganda and expected to pick sides. Not with words but with action. Like resort to only verbal greetings because she can “pick” your thumbprints if you shake hands and make everything you touch turn into trash. Neither should you give your step-mother any money because she will make you lose your source of income. Don’t forget that you shouldn’t accept any drink from her because she will make your mouth become your ruin.
You don’t have to worry about her offering you food though. Because she won’t. Just like your mother, she is paranoid. She fears that you will carry some bits of the food back to your wicked mother and use it to bewitch her house.
None of these happened in our home. But there were a lot of quiet whispers about who was into witchcraft. Now, back to our petty village full of petty people.
In a petty village full of petty people, two things are bound to happen. A lot of petty theft and never-ending accusations of witchcraft. Petty thieves (neighbours) believe that you used their shadow to enrich yourself. This is what Katunja meant when he asked Dola Kabari to give him back his shadow. You don’t have to be actually rich to the target of accusations of practising dark arts. All you need is a brick house surrounded by a proper fence and sealed off with a proper gate. People who believe that you’ve used their shadow for your riches believe that you condemned them to a lifetime of abject poverty. So every now and then, they’ll break into your home for a wealth redistribution exercise.
They’ll mostly steal items that can be quickly disposed of for bhang or a glass of chang’aa. Poultry. Farm produce. Name it. They once stole the only pair of brown shoes I have ever owned. Heck, they even broke into someone’s kitchen and stole cooked food in a sufuria.
But you can protect yourself from wealth redistribution agents by actually going the witchcraft way. Or simply invite the village rumourmonger, make up a few indirect lies about “protecting” your home, and let them do the Lord’s work. People who practice witchcraft know that you don’t refer to it by name. So if you tell them that “whoever comes here will eat grass,” they’ll know you are lying. Try this. “I’ve had so many sleepless nights in recent times. But now I have a solution. Let whoever has been disturbing my sleep come once again. I won’t tell you what will happen. You’ll be here to see for yourself. I cannot keep sweating for other people who don’t want to work hard!” Then spit some saliva on your left palm and use your first right finger to slap it then say “I swear!”
Before we installed CCTV cameras in our home, we used to have a lot of break-ins in our home. Almost every other week. We kinda got used to it and learned to listen for sounds of an intruder into our chicken shed. If you are a poultry farmer, you get to learn the sounds your poultry make in different situations. You’ll know when an older hen is stepping on a younger one, when they are fighting, when one of them has got into the water bucket and needs rescuing before it drowns, and when a wealth distribution agent has gained entry into their shed. All we had to do in the last scenario was turn on the security lights and listen to footsteps of people running away.
At one point, we had a farmhand who had come from civilized society and wasn’t used to our petty theft. So when they stole his bowl of tomatoes (yes, someone broke into a home to steal a bowl of unripe tomatoes), he decided to get us a lasting solution. The following day, he brought us a witchdoctor to “protect” our home. It was just me and him at home. I have never seen a filthier, smellier, and more dishevelled woman in my entire life. Until that point, I had never thought I would ever encounter something (or someone) smelling worse than Muhoroni Agro Chemicals.
She said something about our home being the subject of constant break-ins because one of our neighbors had “slept for us outside” so that we never prosper. I did what any sane person would do in such a situation, I chased her away. And told the farmhand to stop being our recruiting agent for home protection.
It’s not that I don’t believe in witchcraft. I believe in the existence of a Supreme God. And for every action, there’s always an equal reaction. So evil must also exist. Physics 101. If an all-wonderful supernatural being exists, it’s only fair that there’s a dark supernatural being. But if you have access to such dark supernatural powers and the best you can come up with is to stop my progress instead of enhancing yours, then you are an idiot. Worrying about idiots is a waste of time. Similarly, if you claim to be the master of dark forces but walk around smelling like the Ugunja slaughterhouse instead of Drogba’s winning penalty in the 2012 Champions League final (glorious), then I don’t think you have any capacity to protect our home.
What I’m saying is, witchdoctors and people who believe in them need to do better. The enemy is poverty.