It’s a pity that people in Bawku have to be in bed at three in the afternoon, way ahead of their own fowls! I believe, though, that superstition and ignorance are the fuel for Africa’s many conflicts, including Bawku.
Nearly a year ago, I was in Yendi when violence broke out on the eve of the burial of Ya-Na Yakubu Andani. At the police station a young man was behind bars, having been arrested for his part in the mayhem. He sat on the floor, clenching an amulet dotted with cowries. He stared unblinking between the bars. Indeed, he seemed to peer through my frame into the dusty distance and into a whole ‘nother world, as they say in American vernacular. And all the while he chanted and trembled. Occasionally, he would let out a piercing shriek as though punctuation was called for, or as if to arrest the special attention of beings in the distant realm with whom he was in negotiation. But his spastic movements — whether truly involuntary or merely self-induced — went on ceaselessly.
“Sergeant, is that one ok?” I enquired from a policeman on duty.
“Oh, don’t mine him!” the Sergeant said.
“Why, what’s he on about?” I pressed further.
“Massa, I say don mine him ah! He thinks he can do aaaah and get lost.”
“Oh, you mean…..
“Ayera aduro! Ayera aduro! Missing medicine!”
“Aaaah, oh, I see!” I said, as the full impact of the young man’s operatic production sank. You mean he’s trying to vani…”
The fellow belted out his loudest shriek yet. Its suddenness startled me, but not the Sergeant. “Look here, abokyi!” said the policeman, “hwe, mese wonnko baabiaaa! I’m telling you se wonnko baabiaa! Tweakai!”
“Shriek! Shriek!” replied the young man. He was even louder this time. I believe he believed he was ready for take-off (like the economy since ’83).
“You go remain here till tomorrow,” the Sergeant told the traveller as he carried on taxiing prior to levitation.
When I left the station an hour or so later, he was still warming up.
I went back to the police station the next morning to get an update on the security situation in the town overnight. I found the fellow still behind bars in regular human form.
“Ono na ogyina ho no,” said the Sergeant. Now, he was pleading to be released.
During the day, as people arrived by the truck-load to the burial ceremony, the police searched them one after the other. Hundreds of weapons were confiscated. But I also found that nearly everyone had some amulet or charm round their waist, neck or upper-arm. The police didn’t bother to remove those. I suppose they knew it was all rubbish.
You see, when people believe that they can somehow turn into vapour and waft away, or an attacker’s knife will fail to pierce them if they simply stared cross-eyed at the weapon, then they do not hesitate to start a fight. Neither are they keen to make peace in mid-battle, if they’re convinced that their chest can deflect bullets and arrows once they have on some goat-skin armband and they remember to yell a password.
It’s all a lot of nonsense that leads to needless fighting, destruction and even further backwardness. That’s how the LRA has kept people cowering in northern Uganda. That’s why rebel fighters in Sierra Leone and Liberia ate the hearts of their dead enemies.
And that’s one of the reasons why it’s so hard to make peace in Bawku. Or Yendi.