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African magicians (ED)

Esperra Dounouvoussi/Twenty Ten

Associated features: Gris-gris en Afrique du Sud (French text feature), Muti or Technique? (English text), Ways and Means (Photo feature), Did Juju help? (Text feature) and African magic and football

Location: Cotonou, Benin

The ultimate challenge for African magicians

More than 6.175 grams of gold: that’s what it weighs, the prize that the African jujus are aiming to claim next summer in South Africa. Africa has a reputation for being the continent where black magic is an inseparable part of sport, certainly where the sport of sports is concerned. For the first time in history, the World Cup is being held on the sacred ancestral soil of Africa, the continent where everyone is passionate about football. After disappointments in the past and dissatisfaction with what many Africans see as the racist behaviour of some FIFA referees, Africans feel it is very important to correct the history of football and make their mark on it. The technical staff will make sure their players are on form, the footballers will put their heart and soul into the matches and the supporters will cheer the players non-stop. But the biggest boost is expected to come from the spirits of the ancestors, sap from leaves and roots, and the blood of animals. That’s Africa, and that’s how it will be. Whichever part of Africa they live in and whatever religion they follow, all Africans loyally support their teams in the competition. Anyone who believes in black magic and is immersed in the gris-gris culture knows without a doubt that the African gods will make sure an African team wins the cup. Which team will it be, and how will the public help their favourite team to lift the cup in 2010 in Africa, as they did in 1998 in France? Does black magic really have a part to play? Africans from all four corners of the continent throw more light on this issue...
“Gris-gris are spiritual powers that were used in former times to make warriors feel physically and morally strong under all circumstances, enabling them to face the battle with their opponents,” says the historian Alain Hounho. “Magic potions and ‘invigorating and protective’ necklaces were used for example to guarantee victory. The French colonists were supposedly unable to catch King Béhanzin, the last king of Benin, because his spiritual state and incantations were stronger than their gunpowder. That spiritual strength can be found throughout Africa. Animism was the dominant religion before the colonial period, and along with it the worship of images of deities. One vestige of this can be seen in the rites with animal blood and the spiritual poems that can make trees wither and streams dry up. Some people talk of an advanced but informal form of science. It is possible to end lives or slow down human existence using this black magic. And the latter is precisely what African teams need to win the World Cup.”
Before Christianity and Islam reached the continent, Africans worshipped gods who had solutions for all their problems. In those days it was well known what ordeals you could expect from life, just as the methods for fighting evil or beating an opponent were known. The solution lay in ritual ceremonies and sacrifices. These practices flourished for more than 300 years. They were not just a religion; they were also part of the collective consciousness. In the various wars against the invading colonials, the African tribes put all their trust in their beliefs, now termed ‘traditional religions’ by modern lexicographers. From the kings of Danxome (Dahomey) to King Shaka Zulu, via the pygmies in the forests of Central Africa, the Moro Naba and Sundiata Keita – people almost everywhere followed the same religion, worshipping the traditional gods.
A historical anecdote from the former kingdom of Dahomey, now the Republic of Benin: King Béhanzin, who was a fervent opponent of colonialism, always managed to escape their cannons and bombardments. In the end, though, he gave himself up to prevent his people from being annihilated. But when he was due to board the ship that was to take him first to Algeria and then to France, Béhanzin asked for a few minutes in order to deal with some final royal affairs. The captain refused. The imprisoned king had only to utter a single word and the ship’s engine stopped. The mechanical fault was created by a spell. Béhanzin demanded that his request be granted before he allowed the engine to work again. As soon as he was finished, the engine started up again and the ship was able to take the prisoners to France.
Another example is the epic about the emperor Sundiata Keita of the Mandinka people (in what is now Mali). All his life he had suffered from very poor health, but after a simple ritual ceremony he recovered his powers and was able to pull a baobab tree out of the ground, roots and all. This exceptional show of strength was his answer to the reproach made to his mother that she had given birth to an invalid as their future king.
And there are millions of other such examples to be found on the black continent. These powers are still present even today and they are put to use for the many questions of life. Passionate football supporters also see this religion as a solution to the problems and challenges facing them. Anecdotes from all corners of the continent bear witness to the reality of black magic in African football.

The pig and the Egyptians
Alert Egyptians were able to prevent black magic being used prior to a match due to take place between the Stallions and the Pharaohs in Burkina Faso in 1998. The ceremony that was supposed to help the Burkinabe to victory consisted of letting a pig loose in the hotel where the Egyptians were staying. Egypt’s defeat would be assured if the animal left the hotel by the opposite door. But Egyptian supporters were able to prevent the pig from making its tour of the hotel.
As an alternative to this failed ceremony, the Burkinabe marabout proposed putting a tail in the enemy’s camp. However the fan charged with this task encountered an Egyptian supporter. Fisticuffs ensued and the two men were removed from the stadium by police. Egypt went on to beat Burkina Faso 2-0. Aboudou Dabodabs, a member of the supporter’s club, is convinced that nothing would have stood in the way of the Stallions’ victory if the ceremonies and sacrifices had been completed properly.
Nearly all the supporters in the streets of Ouagadougou have absolute faith in the effects of black magic on football in Africa. Abdoul Kader, who sells loincloths, sees black magic not as the devil’s art but as a form of medicine. He confirms that everyone in Africa uses it. “It’s like that even when there’s a friendly match between market stall holders. You weaken the opponent so that you can win.”
But the authorities deny there is any question of that.

The controversy surrounding the black bull
Burkina Faso had to play a qualifying match in Mozambique for the 2008 African Cup of Nations and a medicine man predicted defeat for the Stallions. To prevent this they would have to buy a black bull one month before the match and slaughter it three days before the game. The animal cost 200,000 CFA francs and the feed was nearly another 150,000 CFA francs. The minister thought it was all rather expensive and said they should simply eat the animal immediately. Accordingly the sacrifice was called off and Burkina Faso lost the match against Mozambique. Since then, the Wak Committee (wak is the name for magic in Burkina Faso) has bypassed the Burkina Faso sports authorities.

Voodoo against the Togolese gris-gris
In 2007 there was a remarkable incident during a qualifying match for the 2008 African Cup of Nations. Benin was playing Togo. Benin have the reputation of being a team that is difficult to beat on home soil. Recently they managed to beat Ghana, thus getting a ticket to the 2010 African Cup of Nations in Angola. In the match against Togo, the team members were unable to get the ball in their opponents’ goal, despite numerous attacks. A marabout from Benin sitting in the supporters’ stand ran onto the pitch and snatched the wooden amulet that the Togolese keeper had hung up in his goal to protect it. The Benin team had not been able to score because of this ‘padlock’. In the minutes that followed this action the Benin players decided the match in their favour, scoring three times.
It is clear that jujus are a fact of life in African football and that they exist in different forms with different powers.

Gris-gris in African football
Gris-gris are a presence in Africa at all times and in all places, and that includes sport too. The subject is not openly discussed and it is difficult for the uninitiated to understand the practices. However Dah Avimandje claims, “There’s nothing mystical about it, it’s just something we get from our ancestors. We put into practice what we learnt from them.”
Even so, it is important to point out that African marabouts (mystics) are closely involved with football. For decades it all took place in secret. But it all seems to be in the open now after a documentary that showed how Cameroon prepared for the matches in the African Cup of Nations and World Cup of 1990. The star of the documentary was a magician called ‘Spanish Pepe’. He explained how important football is in the lives of the people of Cameroon and he also made some spectacular revelations. One of them was that the glory days of Cameroon’s national team were partly the result of a stay the players had in sacred woods, influencing FIFA match balls by laying on hands and casting spells, the preparation of the shirts and various other things nobody could see or know about. They performed brilliantly at the 1990 African Cup of Nations, which they won. Later that year the likeable African team – the Indomitable Lions – added lustre to the World Cup. The team was put out in the quarter final match against England by the overweening pride of a lightweight FIFA referee. An offside goal was allowed to stand and a penalty was given very easily, enabling England to come back from behind and win the game 3-2. The decisions leading to Cameroon’s defeat were seen by the entire continent as decisions against Africa, which is not to deny that the Lions were definitely up to playing at the World Cup level.

Thus the documentary took away the mystery surrounding the wheelings and dealings of the Africans and their impressive performances on the world stage. However, football is not the only thing that inspires the people of Cameroon. They often say “Cameroon is God’s blessed country in Africa”, and they recall that successive popes have visited the country. Even so, they make no bones about calling in the assistance of Grimba and Ngouati, the names for black magic in Cameroon.
The ‘Nollywood’ films of Nigeria have always impressed with their tales of magic and their mystical scenes. Nigerian magicians have an impressive reputation, both in Africa and in the rest of the world, for their ghastly, terrifying gris-gris. The most common source of juju in Nigeria is Shango, the god of power and courage. Dr Tchegun, a traditional therapist from Oyo in Nigeria who currently lives in Johannesburg, is convinced that only Africans, and Nigerians in particular, know the ‘true name’ of the ball, the name on which a taboo rests. “The African teams will be playing with that match ball in June and July 2010.”
Every object – and every person – has a taboo name that functions as a password allowing you to enter and control that object. It is given that name as the final act in great ritual ceremonies and sacrifices. “White people don’t know the true name of Africa, nor do they know the names of the African match ball or African stadiums,” says Tchegun. “How can they work effectively if they don’t know what they are playing with or who they have to play against?” According to Dr Tchegun, the die has already been cast – Africa will win the World Cup.
Football is also inextricably linked with black magic in Algeria, one of the biggest Arab countries in Africa. The national team’s manager believes in it implicitly. Not all that long ago, he said a few hours before a match against Nigeria’s Super Eagles, “Magic is a constant factor in Africa. But you need to know which magic to use in which situation, because Nigeria won the match in the Zabana stadium.” So the Algerian marabouts have got enough work for the time being too.
In another part of the continent, the Ivory Coast is preparing for African football’s triumphant march in its own way. Drogba and his team mates have said that they are going to do really well in South Africa. What is the Ivory Coast counting on? At the very least they are reckoning on the current form of the team and their goal-getter, the internationally successful Didier Drogba. Maybe the Ivory Coast doesn’t actually need gris-gris assistance to beat Brazil, but there is no way around the reality of Africa. Konaté, a young footballer who played for nearly a year in South Africa and then for a club in Libya, puts it like this: “You’re going to be hearing a lot about the Ivory Coast at this World Cup. The team is in great form, but that doesn’t mean we won’t be calling on the ancestors for assistance too. We can’t get by without ceremonies, rites and sacrifices to ask for help from the ancestors and the blessings of the gods.”
He doesn’t go as far as to say the crucial word, gris-gris. But Germain, an Ivorian shopkeeper from Johannesburg, breaks the spell. “Ivorians are just as involved with gris-gris. They have cultural ties with Benin, because there has been migration between the two countries for centuries.”
Germain is already busy setting up a traditional African restaurant for the people who will be coming this summer to experience one of the historic high points of African football.
And then there is Ghana, the first African team to qualify for this World Cup. Nobody doubts the team’s performance and the members’ superb physical fitness, but even so they will be looking for an additional spiritual lift. “If African gris-gris, Ghanaian in particular, have to cross the oceans, then they lose their power,” says a young Ghanaian called Ibrahim. “This time they’re staying close to home, and they’re sure to be effective against non-African countries. One way or another, the World Cup will be staying in Africa!”
He doesn’t think that Ghana’s use of gris-gris is doing anything unfair, because it is all King Ashanti’s work. This is a reference to the fact that the Ashanti people created the first civilization in Ghana and were the centre of the collective consciousness, before the colonial missionaries arrived.
Among the Zulus, the largest South African civilization, the traditional religions are embodied in the sangomas. When a sangoma is involved in the preparations for a football match, he uses the traditional muti medicine. Because of the strong influence of Christianity, not many people talk about muti as one of the key factors in daily life. That is not the case for Nobuyile – ‘she who has returned’ – a follower of sangoma shamanism. “The African gods are just like medicines; they don’t all work the same way,” she says. “Each god operates in its own clearly defined field. You go to the sangoma for protection, healing or success. There are various situations you might call him in for. But I’ve never seen a ceremony performed to make footballers win.”
She is however ready to confide in us that many young people go to the shaman because of difficulties with their love life or their studies.

We would like to emphasise that these old forms of belief survive in all African societies (and even elsewhere in the world), not just the six countries who are sending their teams to the 2010 World Cup.
From voodoo to shamanism, via Grima and Ngouati in Cameroon and the Central African pygmies, from the marabouts of the Sahel – the elders of the north – to the medicine men of the west and the witch doctors of the central part of the continent: Africa is overflowing with powerful, traditional spirituality. How might those forces be able to contribute to an African country becoming the world champion in South Africa?

Jujus combine forces in South Africa
According to Dah Avimandje, or Bokonon Kingbe as he is better known to everyone in the city of Abomey, the historical capital of Dahomey (now Benin), the 2010 World Cup will remain in Africa on the condition that the sacrifices demanded by the African gods are actually made. He explains that it will not be easy to meet those conditions, but it is not impossible. The man we are talking to does not want to reveal any of the details of these sacrifices, because we are not expert enough or committed enough. He was however ready to say that the African marabouts will have to work together and join forces to prove that Africa’s shadowy forces, its black magic, can really be effective.
There will be support for his proposal, because Nobuyile, who represents shamanism in South Africa, agrees that the countries will be stronger acting together. The marabouts can form action teams that will let them work more effectively. There would then be a proper organization backing the African players.
The supporters do not hesitate to voice their support for this approach to the battle for the World Cup. Many of them cite the example of France, which spent millions of euros in 1998 bringing witch doctors over from Africa. It earned them that historic world title, even though some people say it was only a rumour.=.= But many rumours of this type from the world of football and black magic are later treated as if they were solid evidence.
Blaise, a young shopkeeper from Cameroon who lives in South Africa, thinks that the highly coveted trophy must not be allowed to leave Africa without a fight. “Precisely because the championships are taking place on the hardened earth of Africa, blessed by the ancestors and gods, the end – winning – will justify the means.”
He thinks it is a pity he knows so little about it, otherwise he would gladly take on the preparation of the matches for the African World Cup teams.
However, opinions vary when it comes to the concrete question of which team will be capable of winning the World Cup. Suddenly Africa is no longer a country, but a continent. Denis Bassani from Cameroon does not have to think long about it: Cameroon is entitled to win the cup, thanks to the many glorious moments the national team has had, not only in Africa but throughout the world. “The spirit of Marc-Vivien Foé deserves to be honoured with a world-class victory.”
Victor, a Ghanaian who has been living in South Africa for over 10 years and is now a naturalized citizen, claims the cup for the Ghanaian team. His view is that tribute should be paid to the democracy and many years of peace in Ghana, which are an example to the entire African continent. According to him, the Ivory Coast does not deserve the cup because that particular country has been unstable over recent years, and Cameroon should be punished for the thinly veiled dictatorship of its president.
“Gris-gris don't just give you the strength to withstand the trials of life,” says Armand Fidématin, a young social anthropologist from Benin who specializes in traditional cultures and religions. “Particularly in competitive times, they show their worth by strengthening the capacities you have acquired and guaranteeing the psychological side of the victory.”
To him, only voodoo from Benin is up to the task, with more than 17 gods that each has its own specific role to play. There are even gods who concentrate specially on the preparation for competitions. He explains that the African teams who are participating must initially focus their various strengths and preparations on the first matches in the group stages. During the first round, they have only to decide which team is the strongest and then concentrate on that team; that will be enough to guarantee an African victory.

So: off to the gris-gris festival in South Africa
It all seems to be as serious as ever. The World Cup is going to be a superb spectacle, a colourful mix of cultures and cults. That's what African football is like. None of the countries will want to be beaten and they will all be doing their utmost to win that one trophy. Not that the Africans are the only ones who will be taking the voodoo route. The World Cup will therefore also be a spiritual confrontation, as was recently made clear in the Portuguese media.
In Africa, a marabout will not be looking for publicity to claim responsibility for a voodoo action, but that is exactly what the Spanish marabout Pepe recently did. The Portuguese press recently revealed a major voodoo scandal around the world's most expensive player, Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo’s Portuguese ex-girlfriend wanted revenge after he dumped her, and hired Pepe to bring the world football star's career to an end. In Europe however Pepe has a competitor, namely the Spanish witch doctor Fernando Nogueira, who was brought in by a good friend of Ronaldo to counteract the spell.
If the two Spanish medicine men go to South Africa this summer, they will encounter the greatness of Juju (symbolized by the baobab) wherever they go. The baobab, the main source of gris-gris, will be an unfamiliar and previously unseen, shocking experience for both of them. In Africa, they say ‘empty vessels make the most noise’. Are the Spanish shamans just empty vessels? Before we can answer that, it should also be noted that Brazil’s part in this gris-gris festival cannot be overlooked. It is a Latin American country, but it has borrowed voodoo practices from Benin and acknowledges the role of magic in football. But what should happen to the actual teams, who are not aware of all this? We should at any rate hope that the best team wins and that FIFA will impose sanctions on medicine men who take it all too far.

As always, though, there are other voices…
As a counterweight to the group that sees black magic as an excellent way of weakening opponents and hamstringing the favourites, you can find supporters who are fervently against these practices. According to them, football – which they see as the world's fairest game – does not need it. The best teams must win and the weaker ones must set a good example when it comes to fair play. Occult practices to win a cup only have a counter-productive effect. Africa would never be able to benefit from a victory that was won unfairly. Hermann, a Congolese student in South Africa, shares that opinion. “God does not have a role in sports. When the players cross themselves, or say prayers before a match, it has no effect whatsoever on the football. And gris-gris won’t work either. These things are only about psychology. And even that has its dangers. It can subconsciously make players a bit lax, make them concentrate their efforts on the game less. The result? The losses pile up, as do the accusations made against the so-called fake witch doctors.”

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