Soft darkness from the descending evening combined with yellow flicker from a hurricane lantern. This setting creates the backdrop for an encounter between a barman, who was almost hypnotized by juju, and a diabolical customer.
“I was no longer in control of my senses. The man walked into the bar and approached me. We were both alone. Other customers were seated outside sipping beer. When I asked him what he wanted, he responded in gibberish. I didn’t understand. When I asked a second time, I noticed that I began struggling to control my senses. So I forcefully stopped looking at the man. When he noticed my resistance, the man immediately took off.”
That encounter was a personal one. It happened almost two decades ago when I was an undergraduate helping my late mother in her small beer parlor business. The experience reinforced my conviction in the reality of juju in Nigeria.
What is juju?
Juju is a spiritual belief system incorporating objects, such as amulets, and spells used in religious practice, as part of witchcraft in West Africa especially the people of Nigeria.
A friend once said that for members of secret cults, juju is as real as daylight. He explained further that as a member of a confraternity you must have protection (They call it “Okombo”). By the time you wear the okombo, no bullet will enter your body and whenever there is danger looming, you will have a sign and you will escape.
There was a certain police case and my friend, Jide, witnessed this because he was detained inside the police cell. “One day,” Jide began, “they brought one man in. He wanted to sell a tipper vehicle that didn’t belong to him (he was a tipper driver for someone else). The man wanted to use the money to travel abroad. Someone squealed on him and he got arrested. Right inside the police cell, this man brought out a wrapped paper from his boxer, opened it, and poured a powdered substance in his hand, and started an incantation. He blew the powdered substance away and said, “anything I say they will do, starting with all the policemen in charge of my case…” Immediately he called a policeman on duty and told him that he was hungry and needed something to eat. He also ordered the policeman to use his own money to buy him bread and soft drink, the policeman did exactly as he said. The next day he was bailed!
Jide also told me of his uncle who makes and uses juju right from primary school up to his tertiary school. His uncle has dealt with people with his juju ring. He has witnessed people shoot and macheted his uncle without any harm. Jide’s uncle gave him a ring that he claimed helps him out of danger. He said during such encounters when he was in grave danger, out of nowhere an old man came to his rescue by teleporting him to a far location from the danger zone using what he called égbè.
With the ring, Jide boasted of having walked through enemy territory without being seen. Juju is a satirical word used to describe the African tradition of charm and does not only apply to Nigeria. The word juju is synonymous with native medicine, talisman, magic and it is also a major element of witchcraft in African traditions.
Coming down to Nigeria, if the juju cures diseases, it is referred to as native/herbal medicine. If the juju protects the user from harm, the common one being the metal/gun and Blackmagic, it is referred to as charm or talisman. But if it exerts influence beyond physical realities then it is magic.
Juju making involves sourcing for materials, preparation, testing, and final production. Basically, juju can be used to exert influence beyond the natural control of both living and non-living beings. Commercial juju is responsible for the popularity of Nigerian juju and its makers. Juju materials range from herbs, fruits, leaves, animals, and human parts. It also involves chanting, incantation, sorcery, and may or may not involve spirituality.
Nigeria is dominated by Christianity and Islam. The truth is that the majority of adherents to these major religions still practice the traditional belief in juju.
I live in a local area of Lagos known as Ojo. Believe me when I say, from the politician seeking protection and affluence to the poor men and women hustling in the local markets, most of them still, secretly visit the juju man. You name them, students, prostitutes, policemen, lawyers, athletes, footballers, internet fraudsters, transporters, people from all manner of professions visit the juju man.
Not too long, Nigerian women replied via Twitter and confessed to having used charms on men, even going as far as using their menstrual blood to prepare meals for their prey. These women agreed that their juju worked for them.
It is also the belief of some that juju power is manifested through collaborations of spirit beings. It is believed that we are not alone on the earth, and these spirits are contacted to enable the efficacy of juju. The background of such indulgence is, you must give something in exchange for such supernatural powers.
If this is true, wouldn’t you agree with me that the best thing is to just let sleeping dogs lie and stay away from juju?
Some do not believe in the existence of juju.
“In developed countries,” according to Samuel, a secondary school teacher, “they are called illustrations or magic shows. They can make elephants disappear. Walkthrough walls and cut their assistants in half. They have stopped claiming supernatural abilities hundred of years ago. They even correct you if you call it magic. Ask yourself this question. How come we have seen videos of almost everything under the sun: Murder, rape, kidnapping, robbery. Yet we don’t have any of all these jujus or magical things?
All we ever have are stories from Nollywood movies. If juju was real how come it didn’t help during the slave trade?”
John, a system analyst, added, “With all the stories about juju I’d expect YouTube, not Nollywood, to be awash with videos of native doctors plying their trade. We don’t see all these. Imagine if you can make people bullet and knife proof. Would you hide it?”
According to Ronald Gordon, he doesn’t believe in juju and regards it as, “..a load of cobbler. If your African Juju was so real, why were y’all enslaved for 500 years, your countries in Africa colonized, your people were abused, tortured and your countries are still messed up? Poverty is rampant. Why didn’t you stop the White man for 500 years and they’re still robbing Africa TO DATE.”