Witchcraft is deeply embedded in Sierra Leonean spiritual traditions. Rituals often include a devil dancer who pays homage to those who have passed on. Ancestors are thought to be able to intervene, advise, help, or punish enemies. Not only do some believe the deceased may return as harmful spirits, they even believe a witch or sorcerer has the power to transform the living into animals or inanimate objects.
John Obey is filled with a supernatural vibe. There’s an energy in the air, especially at night when the only light is that of cooking fires and candlelight. Faces I’m so familiar with during the day reflect a different light in the darkness- a bit of the occult perhaps. Given their vulnerability and belief in the paranormal, this little village provides the perfect backdrop for a sorcerer, A.K.A. a scam artist, to make a tidy profit.
One day a cell phone went missing from the solar shack where we charge up our electronic gadgets. The next morning during our post-breakfast meeting, Filippo asked if the guilty party would please return the phone to a bin he placed behind the loos and no questions would be asked. Sadly, that night, the phone did not make its way home. The next morning, two of the local village managers suggested they bring in the big guns, the sorcerer! Well, that got my attention.
After the meeting, Hooman and I sat at the breakfast table talking about the sorcerer. I asked him what to expect. According to Hooman (A2H), our resident earth-bag architect, the sorcerer is a powerful man in the area whom people fear. He charges a whopping Le200,000 (US $50) for his professional services. A2H, the sorcerer would come to the village and gather everyone in a circle. He would announce that a phone had been stolen and there would be dire consequences for the guilty party if they did not confess by sunset. The consequences? A2H, the sorcerer would walk around the circle locking eyes with each of the villagers and with a booming ominous voice predict, “If the thief does not return the cell phone before sunset (eyes bulging and a pause for dramatic effect) they will be turned into a… a…(long pause building even more drama)….a rat!” Hooman, went on to act out the trembling thief immediately dropping to his knees, hands together, wailing in a high pitched voice, “Oh god no! Please! Please! Don’t turn me into a rat!”
Although the sorcerer was paid his Le200,000 he never came. Who’s the real rat, eh?