When hope for wealth and health lie in religious quackery

By Mazuba Mwiinga

Two decades ago a majority of Zambians believed and relied on doctrinal church-based spiritual revival and survival while another minority relied heavily on traditional based spiritual cleansing. Today a growing number of Zambians are rushing for non –church based spiritual acquisition in an effort to acquiring health, wealth and love. And as the demand by these desperate and seemingly miserable Zambians increase, so is the supply for spiritualists or ‘anointed’ men of God rapidly taking centre stage in our country of 11 million plus people, majority of whom are poor, illiterate and unemployed. Ironically though more than half of those who seek the spiritualists’ services are well educated, employed and wealth men and women of our nation. The reason behind their dissatisfaction with their lives however, calls for a detailed social research, a move I have no nose-dive to delve into.

But my attendance at one of these non church based spiritual revival shrines, dug out more questions in my mind than I could find answers to fill my curiosity. Actually I was more confused than convinced by the outcome of the cleansing. Maybe that’s the rule of the game; “if you can’t convince them, then confuse them” or maybe I already had an a fore-thought stance to the whole drama.

Just like anyone else in the gathering; mostly middle-aged women with various ailments and complaints, I too squat in a circle, on a cleared space in the middle of the bush, just a few metres west of the Spiritualists home, known by the locals as a ‘Propheter’. Behind our backs were threads of cotton wool in red, white, green and grey tied round the circle as a boundary. Everyone was supposed to be inside the boundary for spiritual potency to work on him or her. Gradually, spiritual or should I say Gospel songs; common to most Zambians for that matter, started to ripple out of a young lady’s mouth standing in  the middle of the circle. And we wholesomely responded. What was once a silent and calm bush was now filled up with Gospel songs, reminiscent of a church service, yet it was a Thursday late afternoon and the sun was playing hide and seek in the thick clouded sky of the month of May.

Suddenly, a young girl of about 14 years old, started to hiss. Still dazed in the mirages of the hocus-pocus, wondering as to what would come next, the young girl threw herself to the dusty ground, and started to roll on the ground weeping and groaning. Songs heightened their pitches. They rippled louder and louder. Then the ‘Propheter’ arrived casually dressed in a red robe. He held the young girl’s mouth, commanding whatever it was, to come out of the girl’s body. A struggle ensued between the girl and the ‘Propheter’. If he wasn’t slapping the girl hard on the forehead, he was either inserting his middle fingers in the ears, or punching her hard on the chest or back, or covering her nostrils and mouth commanding something to leave the girl or asking it to mention where it had come from, or what its name was.

The ‘Propheter’ was still with the girl, when another woman fell to the ground wriggling as she wept, pulling her ear-rings to the effect that the assistant to the ‘Propheter’ had to remove the ear-rings so she doesn’t hurt herself. Just then another woman followed suit. It was a spectacular moment of dust flying as songs rocked out. For the next thirty minutes, the ‘Propheter’ walked briskly from one wriggling woman to the other as he now led us into chorus after chorus of songs. Eventually one by one the ‘possessed’ women remained calm and reckless. He helped them up and led them to the circle of squat attendees. He asked us to stand up for a prayer which took almost ten minutes after which we took our positions on the ground again.

The sun had now sunk in the western dome; birds were chirruping, looking for where to sleep. Cows were heard mooing from a distant. The shrine was deafened by silence. The ‘Propheter’ stood up, hands akimbo staring to our direction; his lower lip so loose that it showed the two teeth of his lower jaw. His eyes were transparent. He was still a young man. My guess is as good as anyone who was there. But I suppose he was in his late twenties. I later learnt that he was married and has a one year old daughter.

 Amazing stories have been said about him. The previous week, it was said, he was able to ‘disinfect’ a man duped into Satanism by removing a Cobra from his purse. It was said that unknown customer at his grocery shop where this man traded his merchandise asked for change from him which he gave out, without knowing that the strange customer’s money actually was a Satanic deity planted to be stealing money from this man’s shop and eventually the deity was thirsty for this man’s blood hence his sickness that led him to this ‘propheter’; Quite a story indeed.

“This is the head of the snake I removed from that brother of mine seated there. It was in his purse in form of money”, the ‘Propheter’ said pointing at the man seated in a circle, as if telling me to believe what I had heard about him. He held the head of the snake and showed us before he placed it back on a branch of a tree it had been. Was this proof or evidence of his prowess in divination? I don’t know, but at least it was exhibit one; enough to convince me.

Then what I feared for came. He pointed at me to stand in front of the seated crowd. A moment of truth had come. Without any qualms, I sprang up and majestically walked to where he stood. He looked at me with friendly eyes and a bright smile; and believe me you, he told me in a hushed tone things about me which I have never shared with anyone else before. I nodded my head in shock. I was spooked. He laughed and told me to take my position on the ground. This was no doubt exhibit two. But somehow a ripple of doubt still swam in my mind. He called a young beautiful woman together with her husband who looked younger than her, but taller and slenderer. He told them their problems to which they answered in affirmative and he assured them that nothing was impossible before him. The couple was married for three years without a child. I didn’t know whether to believe this evidence or not. But it was exhibit three, strong enough to secure a conviction if it was a legal court trial.

As dusk was approaching, he broke into a chorus, and a resounding resonance came from the attendees. Coldness somehow started to catch up with me. I was shivering. Then he called a certain woman up. She was a beautiful light complexioned lady with a bit of meat on her. She was plaited with short coloured extensions that matched her complexion. She had come with her husband and a little girl, probably two years old. The woman left her family who sat on a sack mat and walked to the front. Everyone was quiet. Apparently this woman was appearing before the ‘Propheter’ for the third time. The first time it was said she ran away just as the ‘Propheter’ was about to cleanse her and she could not be treated. The second time she made an appointment but absconded. And now, the moment of truth had come.

As she stood before the ‘propheter’, he stretched his hands and touched her forehead. The woman heaved heavily. He then grabbed her wig and twisted it. The woman reacted so viciously. She let loose her fists onto the ‘propheter’ who blocked them with his palms and the woman fell to the ground so hard, like one who has been pushed by some stronger power. The ‘propheter’ went on her, inserting his fingers in her ears commanding something or someone to come out of her as she groaned and wriggled on the ground. She rolled across the circle till she was out of the arena boundary. By then the ‘propheter’ had let her alone as he was attending to some other woman who was ‘possessed’ too.

Then the shock of the day descended. Laying there on the ground, the ‘propheter’ went back to her, sat on her, grabbed her hair and inserted his fingers in one ear, while the other hand covered her mouth and nostrils and the woman struggled strongly trying to rise up. She wriggled and wriggled; and when she got her face free from the ‘propheter’s’ grab, she screamed as though in pain, demanding to be let go. She complained bitterly that she was being hurt, pleading with her husband to tell the ‘propheter’ to stop what he was doing. But the more she complained the more the ‘propheter’ pressed her back and pulled her wig as her husband looked on helplessly. When the ‘propheter’ asked what her name was, in the hope that the ‘devil’ presumably in her will mention its devilishly strange name, the woman shouted out her real name. “I am Rhoda. That’s my name. Rhodaá´‰” shocked, the ‘propheter’ stood up and walked into the circle as the woman defiled the ‘propheter’s’ name with impunity, calling him ‘fake’. “I am not a Satanist and I am not possessed with any Devil. My name is Rhoda”. The woman shouted as she walked out of the arena fuming with anger. She called her husband to leave, and they left, leaving the ‘propheter’ visibly unhappy and perturbed at the turn of events. I saw him glancing at the boundary of the Shrine, probably realising that he left the woman too long unattended to behind the ‘prophetic’ powers that are presumably found within the circle; hence exposing his client to the enemy.

The event was akin to a hostile witness with misleading evidence had it was a court session. I was now more confused than being convinced. Everyone around was quiet. What I don’t know is whether this was a silence of assessment or disapproval or of failure on the part of the ‘propheter’, or whether it was a silence of shame and disrespect on the part of the woman with a coloured wig weave.

This incident however was so minor to deter the hope, love, trust and faith the people had on the ‘propheter’. One woman seated next to me commented: “The first time this woman came she confessed that she is a Satanist and that she was asked to carry an axe to some place and commanded to kill what she was to find and she did not do it because she found that it was actually her Uncle who was there. That’s why she ran here for help”.

The other one replied, “May be when she went back she was warned and given more powers to rebuff those of the ‘propheter’”. I didn’t know what and who to believe. My surprise was on the number and statuses of the ‘propheter’s’ clients; the rich and the poor.

Songs then broke up, as more women fell to the ground. It was business again as night called for its place on Earth, the ‘propheter’ continuing exorcising the ‘devils’ out of them. I stood up and sneaked into the thin air on the bush night, senseless to say the least.