Tuesday, October 25, 2016
The Witchdoctor's Goats and Halloween
There's a herd of goats that lives on the main road by our house. I see them every day, often eating scraps of grass that manage to poke through the hard-packed dirt, or sleeping under the broken-down bus by the police station.
I never thought much about these goats, since farm animals tend to be everywhere in this city, comfortably cohabiting with the five million people who share this space.
One day, the students in our theological training program told us the story of those goats.
Have you ever noticed that those goats don't have a herder?
Well, no, I guess you're right. I have never seen a herder with those goats.
Those goats used to be owned by a witchdoctor. The witchdoctor died. But he put a curse on the goats so that no one will steal them. So now, no one will touch them, even though he is dead. At night, a "little person" comes and takes care of the goats.
Even after living here twelve years, there are still times when our jaws drop to the ground. This was one of them.
Uhhh....what is a "little person?"
Those who have seen "little people" insist that they look like a miniature person. They are some sort of supernatural beings who do evil and cause problems.
And who, apparently, take care of the goats of a dead witchdoctor.
Remember, now, that this was not told to us by ten-year-old girls at a sleepover. This was a group of grown-up, very sharp, theological students.
Shortly after we learned about the Witchdoctor's Goats, we invited one of our students over for dinner. She is a middle-aged, widowed woman who is quite educated and has lived many years abroad. She agreed to come for dinner, but asked if she could also bring her 20-something college-student daughter with her. Of course! we said. We would love to meet your daughter.
Yeah, she doesn't like to be home alone at night. She is afraid of the "little people."
Toto, we're not in Kansas anymore.
I once read that Tanzanians are the most superstitious people in Africa. And the implications are far-reaching--for government, for the safety of albinos, and even for football teams. But I think I can safely say that this worldview reflects many people groups on the majority of the earth.
It's easy for us educated, enlightened Americans to scoff at such stories. Seriously? Witchdoctors? Curses? Little people?
In fact, we scoff so much at these stories that we go to the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Instead, we decorate our houses with witches and ghosts and spiderwebs and fake blood and guts and we say This is all pretend! Aren't we funny? Isn't this so much fun?
It's like we're trying to convince ourselves that evil and an afterlife and the supernatural don't even exist. In fact, sometimes I think we try so hard to make it all just for fun because we know we really aren't kidding anyone. Because as much as we pontificate about science and materialism and objective reality, we all know that there are a lot of questions that science can't answer.
We might think that everyone knows the supernatural doesn't really exist. Except, not everyone. The rest of the world just doesn't kid themselves. They are quite confident that evil and spirits and witchdoctors are real and they have power, and if you gave them a minute they could prove it to you. Which is perhaps why Halloween is only celebrated as a "fun" day in countries that are supposedly "enlightened" by science.
Hey, I get that participating in innocent Halloween activities might be a really great way to build family memories and get to know your neighbors. I'm all for that--go for it. But in the midst of that, let's remind our kids and ourselves that supernatural evil is not pretend and really not something to celebrate.
Africans may have a misplaced fear--and they need to find the confidence that Jesus has the ultimate authority. Americans, however, have a misplaced confidence--and a legitimate fear of unseen things might not be so bad.