Wednesday, December 2, 2009
A REVIEW OF HELEN UKPABIO’S "UNVEILING THE MYSTERIES OF WITCHCRAFT"
A little child is not only precious to behold, but also one among the beauties nature bestows on mankind; a child is therefore a wondrous creature and as such ought to have some dignity attached to his or her personality. It is in the light of this submission that we hereby attempt to subject Helen Ukpabio’s Unveiling the Mysteries of Witchcraft to critical and analytical crucibles.
It is expedient that we start by examining the definition of witchcraft as proffered by the author. According to Helen Ukpabio, a witch or a wizard is someone who engages in necromancy – any form of interaction with the spirit of the dead; clairvoyance – long distance transference of information or messages with the aid of the air, including telepathy; spells and chants– the controlling of another person’s actions or decisions against his or her will through brainwashing and hypnotism, and thus exhibit influence on another person’s thoughts and interference with his or her health, career and endeavours; prognostication – the ability to foretell future occurrence, including astrological predictions; skanning; palm-reading; conjurations including sorcery, invocation and divination.
The definition of witchcraft in this book differs from the metaphoric connotation of it whereby we call experts in different endeavours ‘witches’ or ‘wizards’ of such endeavours. But, perhaps we should extend the spectrum of witchcraft, as implied in the indices of witchcraft highlighted by the author, to include any act of exploring the non-physical terrain of the universe (if such exists, anyway) in order to manipulate and control occurring events in the physical terrain. Hence the statement: “the spiritual controls the physical” or “all things are settled in the spiritual realm before they manifest in the physical” would be a witchcraft slogan. Hence pastors, bishops, reverends, imams, rabbis, prophets and any other persons who claim to interact with or receive instructions from any non-physical being, or whose source of inspiration lies in the metaphysical realm, would automatically be witches and/or wizards. In this wise, the author, Helen Ukpabio, can be called a witch! Also, this conceptualization of witchcraft would apply to the great artists – Leonardo da Vinci, Michelango, Bernini, and some scientists like Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei and Charles Darwin.
In the light of what the author called ‘augurism’ (p.19), I think it behooves on any right thinking person to count the costs before embarking on any project or execute any action. Even the authors of the Bible, am sure, will advise on how unwise it would be for someone to embark on a project without weighing the costs and discerning whether he or she is financially viable enough to complete the project (this, to us, is just a matter of being prudent and not related to witchcraft in any way).
The author also highlighted what she called the four major principalities of witchcraft namely, Lucifer, Satan, Belial and Leviathan. Whereas these so-called principalities are unverifiable and their existence logically unjustifiable, Satan and Belial are characterized as being responsible for all the vices, evil machinations and wickedness of humankind. But we know that the human being is ontologically free and that thoughts that flow into the mind are often times uncontrollable. Therefore, it is natural for humans to think good or evil, but the rightness or wrongness of human acts depends on the developmental level of the person’s conscience, ethical enlightenment, moral education and psycho-social well-being. Hence, immoral and evil acts such as waywardness, crimes, falsehood, brutality, robbery, assassination and a host of other vices the author listed are mere resultant effects of maladjusted minds and not orchestrated by any principality of witchcraft. Maybe she needs a lesson in basic psychology.
In the third chapter, Helen Ukpabio discussed different modes of acquiring witchcraft. She highlighted them as follows: body incisions, Chieftaincy titles, initiations, edible substance, reading of magical, mystical and occultic books, false religious spirits, mermaid possession, registration, purchase or procurement. Let us analyse just two of these fallacious submissions. Incisions on the body have cultural and aesthetic undertones. This fact can be confirmed through empirical studies of different ethnologies or cultures, especially in Africa. Recently, tattoos, for instance, especially in the Americas, has become acceptable as a style of fashion and aesthetics. Hence, longevity of lifespan, prevention of ancestral demons and water spirits as purposes for body incision, as proffered by Ukpabio, are untrue. For instance, she talked about a lady who was initiated into witchcraft by her uncle nine years after he incised her body and ascribed that as reasons for her childlessness. This is can’t be far from concocted lies for there abound uncountable cases of sterility of infertility and childlessness that merely require proper medical attention. The question to ask Ukpabio is whether the lady in question visited a genealogist on the case of her infertility. Here, Ukpabio commits the fallacy of false cause by thinking that a body incision incubated to mature into witchcraft ten years after the supposed initiation. It is also contradictory that witches would be ignorant of how a new member got to their meeting when, according to Ukpabio , witches are capable of prognostication, conjuration, augurism and specific time-lapse appearance in whatever form.
Chieftaincy titles are ascriptions of honour on persons who have impeccable reputations, maintained personal integrity and made significant contributions towards the development of the society. Thus, being bestowed a chieftaincy title elevates the bestowed to a higher and respectable status within the society. The author got it wrong by saying that the chief changes into animal forms and moves to the village square by 2a.m to participate in witches’ meetings. Ukpabio needs to understand the following points: first, that a human being is fundamentally, both physiologically and mentally, different from and unchangeable into any animal form. Any story that suggests this is nothing but a fairy tale; second for anyone to conclude and boldly assert that witches meet by 2a.m, it is most likely that the person employs the participatory method of research to arrive at that knowledge. As such, if witches actually exist, Ukpabio herself is (can’t be ‘was’) a witch.
Chapters four and five on classifications of witches contain only shams and fictional jabbering which are incapable of being subjected to empirical verifications, practical examinations and existential meaningfulness; ditto chapters six and seven.
The most contentious by far, of the chapters, is the eight wherein the author calibrated the identical and defining attributes of witches into three different age categories, that is, from birth to eighteen years, from nineteen to thirty-four years and from thirty-four years upwards. Here are my observations on her submissions.
Right from birth, a child cries. A baby cannot speak and the mother who mostly guesses about the needs of the child will not always guess right. So a child who is uncomfortable has no other means of complaining about or exhibiting his or her discomfort than crying. I have never seen or heard of a baby who did not cry in the night. Even the author herself must have screamed and cried in the night when she was a baby. And if this discomfort is not discerned and taken away, the child may not feed well and deteriorate healthwise. This is therefore not a symptom of witchcraft as Helen Ukpabio would want us believe that a child that cries at night, does not feed well and deteriorate is a witch.
From the age of two, a child begins to exhibit his or her temperamental characteristics. A child who is a melancholy begins to signs of thoughtfulness than his or her peers who are not melancholic; a phlegmatic child becomes more social and friendly than his or her peers who are not, just as the choleric child starts exhibiting leadership or dominant traits even above his or her peers who are not. To say that such children are witches, as suggested by the author, inadvertently connotes that all children are witches, because all children must pass through these stages. Besides, at these stages, a child is being socialized into the world. Such a child who lacks good parental care and moral upbringing could become wayward, destructive, abusive, or become a school dropout. These are largely effects of parental failure and not characteristics of witchcraft.
The author is right by affirming that a lot of childhood characteristics develop with us into adulthood (may be the one near-fact I found in the entire book). These largely account for our behavioural attitudes between the age of nineteen and thirty-four. However, at this age grade, we are more matured and our childhood characteristics which are still part of us become more visible and observable. Thus, the morally perverted child develops into a morally perverted adult with more craftiness and pretence. The morally upright child also develops into a morally upright adult with a more pleasing personality. Also, within this age group, it is natural, from a psychological point of view, for the growing adult to entertain some anxiety or fear of calamity or death of his or her loved ones. It is not the case that he or she wishes for any calamity to befall them or wants them dead. It is pitiful that such natural and psychological process as this could be ascribed as symptoms of witchcraft. I disagree that they are and I will encourage Helen Ukpabio to enroll in a Department of Psychology and major on Child Psychology or take courses on Human Growth and Developmental Process.
In the remaining chapters in which the author made attempts to discuss the activities of witchcraft, she came up with notions which are obnoxious and assuming. In chapter eleven, for instance, she asserted that sixty percent of barrenness and related problems in Nigeria are traceable to witchcraft activities. How she arrived at that percentage and the statistical evident by which she concluded thus remains unknown and begs for scrutiny by the enlightened public. Another question, to which Helen Ukpabio should provide a reasonable response, is why it is only in Nigeria, and not in other nations in Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas that witchcraft accounts for sixty percent of barrenness. Or is she telling us that barrenness through witchcraft is restricted to Nigeria or is Nigeria the headquarters of witchcraft such that it must be allotted such a large percentage of witchcraft induced barrenness?
Helen Ukpabio’s book is not without some instructional message. Particularly, it reflects the pervasive belief in metaphysical entities in human mentality. Specifically, it portrays the belief in witchcraft and the pride of place accorded it in the African and, not in the least, the Nigerian trado-cultural and religious thought systems. To the average Nigerian who is mentally and intellectually bereaved of life realities, witchcraft is not just real, in fact, the fear of the witch signifies the exquisite possession of existential wisdom. The witch is believed to possess immense metaphysical powers such that he or she can metamorphose from the human physiological structure into the form of whatever animal he or she wishes to. Also the witch does not need to go through the hard and usually embarrassing process of acquiring a visa and a flight ticket and boarding an aircraft to countries and continents or wherever he or she wishes to go. Perhaps witchcraft is shorter and smoother than aircraft, for it is widely believed that the witch can take on whatever means and appear wherever he or she desires, cause havoc there and returns to her base, all within the duration of dusk to dawn. In fact, belief in witchcraft amongst a many Nigerian people can never be over-emphasized.
It is this belief and the gullibility it allows for in the minds of the people that prophets, pastors and many religious eccentrics have exploited (and are exploiting) to manipulate people by threatening them with witchcraft activities so as to perpetually put them under their bondage and control. By writing a book on witchcraft and crafting the words and theme that scare the people, the author ploys to put herself in an authoritative and influential position that appeals to witchcraft believers. In like manner, so many prophets of doom, especially in the South-Southern part of Nigeria and in Akwa Ibom state specifically, have succeeded in misleading parents/guardians in battering, maiming and burning their children by accusing their children/wards of witchcraft and attempting to dispossess them of such spirits.
The book is recommended for only the critical of minds for it is capable of harming the uncritical ones. In fact, efforts should be made to formally lodge a withdrawal case with the Nigerian Publishers Association and Nigeria Censors Board, without further delay.
‘Tola Layode, MA is the Project Officer (Research and Publications) of the Young Humanistas Network, Nigeria
Posted by Adeyemi J Ademowo at 12:09 AM