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Superstitious Beliefs that Work?!
"The root of all superstition is that men observe when a thing hits, but not when it misses."- Francis Bacon (1561-1626), English Lawyer and Philosopher
Superstition is defined as excessively credulous belief in and reverence for the Supernatural. It can also be viewed as a widely held but irrational belief in supernatural influences, especially as bringing good or bad luck. Do you believe in superstition? Or should I say, are you superstitious?
Now I know it is not that so easy for many (normal) humans to deviate from the normal rational thinking or logic but believe me, certain things are just beyond basic human rational comprehension.
So the answer to foregoing question is definitely a hard one to ponder because from the simple definition above, we can easily see that generally superstition or superstitious beliefs are always irrational and so it only takes the irrational mind to consider or even believe such things. If you see things in the rational way only, then in that case I would say that you have allowed your incredulous mind to take hold of you.
Let me tell you one thing. In Africa, especially from the area where I come from in Nigeria, belief in superstition does not even require any serious deep thinking or so. Do you doubt me? No, do you want to doubt me? Just read on.
Superstitious belief is like an inborn thing in the African! The spurious and ridiculous nature of most of these superstitious beliefs not withstanding, many of our African people (both learned and otherwise) still allow these beliefs to play a major role in their pattern of reasoning, thinking and acting though sometimes, in a manner not so overtly defined but if you look closely, it is still there!
Funny as it may sound, you will be surprised and mystified when you discover the huge number of people who believe in these things in this part of the world. Why this is so, I cannot fathom.
Do you want to hear about some of these crazy beliefs I am talking about? Of course! Just pay attention and listen and maybe in the end you may have one or two things to say or laugh about.
Entering the mortuary
Do you know that our people strongly believe that you dare not barge into the mortuary just like that? Why is this so? Listen. I was once told by a friend’s father that before you enter the morgue, you have to knock on the door for like three times.
"Why?" I asked him.
He honestly told me that the dead people inside usually get up to commune and have discussions and meetings and crazy things like that. I wanted to laugh but the seriousness I saw in the man’s face told me that would be a very bad idea.
So according to him, the knocking on the door is a kind of notice to the dead people to go back to their dead lying positions. He even went further to tell me strange stories about people who met with their untimely deaths just because they did not observe this simple tradition.
He mentioned that in some cases, the spirits slapped some of them causing them serious severe ailments like stroke and things of that nature. I heard this yarns many years ago but recently when I got the chance to visit the morgue, lo and behold, the mortuary attendant knocked three times on the door before he proceeded to enter the small building.
You think I am making all these up? Believe me, am not. A sample of opinions on this in big places like Lagos will make things clearer for you.
First Person Saga
Who was the first person you saw this morning?
Do you know the first person you see in the morning will go a long way in determining how the day will turn out for you? The rule is simple, if a very nice and kind-hearted person with the most friendly and welcoming face you can ever imagine is the first person in the outside world you saw in the morning after you woke up, my friend you can have it all that day because everything will be moving so fine that day to the extent that you will be wishing for that very day not to come to an end.
But if you have the misfortune to see a wicked person with a very unfriendly face first thing in the morning that day, then like I said it is a very terrible misfortune quite alright. Just know that the whole day is going to turn out so badly for you.
So to curtail such a misfortune, you may find people trying so hard to determine who and who they will first see the next morning.
Now to the funny part. What if after everything, you still meet a bad fellow first? There is something that can be done if you don’t want to experience a very bad day. You simply try as much as possible to avoid greeting the person if he/she is an elder. Wow!
There is also another dimension to superstitious belief concerning the first person you meet in the morning but this is strictly for the traders. Our people believe that the first person to buy something from you on that very day will determine whether you make good sales or not.
Also to buttress this odd belief, there is also the even stronger belief that that very first person who finally buys from you will not do so on credit or else every other customers you are going to have will be buying on credit that very day!
Sometimes these traders do go to the extent of giving their first customer (assuming the guy wanted to buy on credit) the money with which to buy from them just to escape the credit-all-day albatross!
If you take a walk around many markets, especially in the South Eastern part of Nigeria, you will surely see this scene where you see traders, especially women, touch the money with which you made a purchase from them on their forehead then they raise the money to high heavens, while praying that your good luck as their first customer translate into a very successful market day for them on that very day! It is really funny but sometimes I find myself believing that it is obviously working for them somehow.
Our people love pets so much especially cats and dogs but wait until you hear what I am about to say. When stray pets like dogs and cats start making strange sounds at night almost as if they are crying like a human baby, then watch it because it is definitely a very bad omen.
Take it or leave it, it means that someone is most likely going to die in that very house or vicinity! I have seen old women who on hearing such animal cries, will not hesitate to come out, even though it is dark, to chase that poor animal away by throwing things at it.
They will be cursing the cat too while directing it to leave their house alone and go and look for another house to announce that very impending misfortune to.
When you do take your time to observe the seriousness and the zeal with which these people talk back to the weeping animal as they chase it away, you will see reasons to start wondering what if really there is an impending disaster! These superstitious beliefs…
I wonder what you will say if I tell you that even your itchy palms have a superstitious connotation attached to it. Which of your palm is itching you right now? If it is the right palm, then you are in luck because that shows that money is going to be entering your hands, literally. If it the left palm, watch it, a lot of expenses is coming your way…
Sometimes these beliefs move from utterly unbelievable to credulously believable and you find yourself wondering and confused too…
Pregnant women decide...
For example, do you know that there is this advice for pregnant women to always avoid meeting ugly people during their time of pregnancy? Why? The answer is obvious. So that they may not give birth to ugly children! Now what is the connection between the child in the womb and the ugly individual standing before the mother?
That was the question I posed to one of the openly adherents of this postulate I came across the other day. He did not even bother to start explaining the complexity in the whole thing rather he simply told me that I would not understand.
That really flared me. I now told him that I was surprised that after all his education and secondary school biology and genetics; he was still not enlightened enough. That flared him too. He reminded me that I should never say things I don’t know or understand.
He told me that this has been the case from creation. To support his claims, he directed me to go and read the whole Bible book of Genesis, chapter 30.
Do you know what I read? It was stated there how Jacob was using diagrams to determine and produce good physical attributes in his flock just by making the pregnant sheep look at the well articulated diagrams which he had made. It was quite surprising and dumbfounding to me.
But then I can't still figure out the connection between pregnant women and ugly people.
Now talking about genetics, do you know that our people don’t joke with reincarnation? You see a child walk past and elders would say strange things like stating that that very child in question is no other person than his grandfather or great grandfather ( or something like that) come back to life.
I have heard such things so many times that I keep on wondering what they really meant by making such confusing statements. Don’t even bother to know why this is so because they have an already made answer for you: you will not understand! But what you will understand is that they are very serious in what they are saying.
They will be according to that child some respects and honor due to an elderly person while you can only just stand by and watch. It is really strange but it is happening.
This issue of reincarnation brings me to another strange but widely believed superstition. This one cuts across many societies and culture in Africa. It is generally believed that some children have the ability to live, die and come back to live again. In my area such happenstance is termed ‘ogbanje’.
Also, it is believed that these children can do that as many times as possible depending on when they wish to stop tormenting their parents. Such children are believed to come from the spirit world where they are sent to earth to torment their parents. They say these ogbanjes choose how long they intend to stay in the world then most likely before their tenth (or sometimes up to fifteenth) birthday, poof, they die!
I still remember one day in biology class, our science teacher mentioned sometime like the Rhesus factor which he took great pains to explain too. He was cut short by one small imp of a student who asked the poor man point blank whether he is trying to say that ogbanje does not exist. Now the whole thing was quite engaging.
Ogbanje believers on one side. Rhesus factor believers on the other end. Christian beliefs and teachings somewhere in between. Do you know what the poor man did? He knew he was really trapped. He laughed and simply told us to go home and ask our parents. In other words, the man was not even sure of what he was teaching all this while.
These superstitious beliefs and what they can do to one’s reasoning…
It was later in the class that that very student narrated to us his own personal experience. He told us that he had a sister who was an ogbanje. He said that after the girl had died the fourth time, his mother gave her a mark on the right ear and in the left foot.
According to him, when the mother gave birth again, the child had marks both in the right ear and the left foot. There was no way we could disprove what he said. We were simply not there when it all happened but the fact is that today in our area, our strong Christian beliefs not withstanding, people still believe that there are children who have the ability to live, die and come back to live again!
And finally coming to the last but not the least, let me introduce another dimension to this whole world of absurd happenings where this whole fairy tales starts becoming a reality...
Witches and Wizards
Yes, it is the belief in witches and wizards.
To many of our people, witches and wizards are for real. I don’t know what you think but in this part of Africa, many people hold tenaciously to this belief. Who then are the witches and wizards?
They are believed to be people who have supernatural powers, they can fly at nights, they suck human blood, they can cause road accidents and they can even bring ill luck to many people. There is also this belief by these witches gather at their covens to decide whom amongst the people they wish to destroy.
I have heard personal stories by people who said that they woke up from sleep only to discover long ghastly scratches on their bodies. Scratches they said were not there the other night! Believe me they know what they are saying when they say the scratches were done by the witches and wizards.
Now I will have to relate a personal experience here. Have you ever experienced this strange feeling as if a very terrible and heavy weight is on you while you are sleeping? The feeling is so terrible and the pain so excruciating that most times you will find it very hard to breathe.
It has happened to me. Well if you ask any reasonable(?) person in Nigeria what he/she thinks is responsible for this horrifying experience, you will always get one answer: “Witches and wizards are at work! And that means you need deliverance.”