It is an accepted theory in anthropology and paleontology, that Africa is the birthplace of mankind. Tens of thousands of years ago, humans evolved, stood on two legs, and spread out over the face of prehistoric Earth leaving Africa behind. Although we know much about the diverse cultures that populate this continent, we know very little about their ghostly lore. Much of Africa is still made up of tribal societies and those tribal societies have rich traditions of spirits and possession that are still very much a part of their lives.
South Africa is perhaps the African continent’s most populated nation. With the four powerhouse cities of Johannesburg, Pretoria, Bloemfontein and Cape Town it would be easy to say it’s diverse and technologically advanced. However, outside these cities can be found tribal people who have hung on tightly to the old ways of spirits and possession. Among these tribes is the Xesibe of Transkei and their benevolent possessing spirits known as the Imwatso.
For the Xesibe, their young married women are the focus of the Imwatso. The women who find themselves the host of this benevolent spirit have a special calling and are endowed with the gift of the second sight. Because of these spiritual gifts they are often made spiritual leaders among their people. When the Imwatso are done, they move onto another host.
For 15 years, the country of Mozambique was forced to deal with horrific war and crippling poverty. Between 1977 and 1992, the Mozambican civil war tore the country apart. Sadly, civil war and rebellion is an ever-present danger for many countries across Africa.
Before the civil war began, spirit possession was exceedingly rare and only affected certain people. Nevertheless, this changed shortly after the end of the war, citizens began reporting encounters with the Gamba, fallen soldiers from the long and bloody conflict. At first, the sightings were your run of the mill ghostly encounters and then, people began acting strangely.
It was believed that people were being possessed by the ghosts of these dead soldiers. The allegedly possessed would fly into uncontrollable rages and attack family and friends. During moments of lucidity, victims could recall memories and flashbacks of the civil war even if they had not fought. Thankfully, Gamba do not possess a host for long, however in a few cases of suspected Gamba possession, long cleansing rituals were involved.
The Digo of Kenya, specifically married women, are under constant threat of possession by a group of spirits called Shaitani. When a woman becomes possessed, they let out a loud cackling laughter. They then demand luxury items as they violently bang their heads against the wall until they get what they want. Many a husband has fled in terror as their possessed wife threatens castration and even attempts to act on it. Many in Digo, who do not hold to these superstitions, believe women use this as an excuse to engage in civil disobedience. However, some husbands are not so sure.
In the mid-1980s, there was a humanitarian push in the western world to lessen the poverty and hunger of Ethiopia, another African nation subjected to the horrors of conflict. Although it was a noble cause, much of that relief money and supplies ended up in the hands of warlords. Oddly enough, it is this hunger that led to the Ethiopian people having some strange ideas concerning hunger and spirit possession.
The Gurage have curious attitudes concerning food and hunger. The Gurage people believe if they get too much to eat, they risk being possessed by a malevolent spirit known as Awre.
The Awre appear to only possess men, although there have been a handful of cases of women being possessed. Victims of this diabolical spirit show the classic symptoms of possession often reported by the Catholic Church. Severe stomach cramps and nausea being among them. When the Awre possesses a person, they place their host in a catatonic state in various unnatural positions a human could not possibly be capable of. The victims of possession are also known to suffer violent seizures and partial paralysis.
If a victim does not recover, family and friends of the victim will summon a spiritual leader specially trained to deal with this spirit, a Sagwaro. The Sagwaro, will engage an Awre much in the same way a Catholic priest would engage a demon. Once the holy man obtains the name of the possessing spirit, he will prescribe a formula that will rid the victim of the unwanted spirit. The formula is a dish of ensete, made from a mixture of butter and red pepper. If the spirit is satisfied with the offering, it will leave the person and never return. The victim can go back to living a normal life; however, they must remain cautious that it never happens again.
If Africa is truly the birthplace of mankind, then it may very well be the birthplace of many spiritual traditions. Traditions that exist to this day, even in the western world.
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