Home > All Stories > Sorcery, rituals are part of the game in Africa

Sorcery, rituals are part of the game in Africa

By DANIEL MBEGA
DAR ES SALAAM

Sharif Hussein Aboutwalib is absolutely convinced of his magical powers in football after many teams that went to seek his services witnessed success, so he says.
He lives in a small and famous historical town of Bagamoyo in the eastern coast of Tanzania, about 70km from Dar es Salaam, and mostly depends on traditional healing for his livelihood.
Witchcraft has been rampant in football nowadays in Tanzania and elsewhere in Africa. Before the game you may find a man fully dressed in African regalia, chanting silently, words no one can understand. He is there to cast a spell on the opposing team.
This is how African football has turned out – full of witchcraft and superstition, and this is the cause of my short trip to the old man’s house to have a chart with him.
Sharif Hussein has a modern house and a brand new car is parked outside, which he says was a gift from one of his many clients from Oman, whose club won the Oil Cup some years back after he supplied some juju to the team.
“They come, many of them – the players, coaches and club owners – seeking spells so that they could be masters of the game, and believe me, it helps,” Sharif Hussein says.
The floor is covered with a mat. The room is full of a strange odor from the burning of incense of aloe wood (udi na ubani) that made me sniff twice. The traditional healer, who is on his early seventies, has been fascinated by the question.
“We can influence the outcome of a football game. European players take drugs to improve their performance. We Africans do not have access to drugs. We have a third eye and traditional concoctions that scientific tests cannot detect,” he says.
He says, they summon the gods – smaller gods living in mountains, trees, under water and among other obscure places – and it helps if one keeps conditions he’s given to him.
“You give me the name of your team, and the opponent’s. I write down some verses from the Quran – I have to consult God on this – and give you directions. Your goal will be nailed up and your opponent’s goal will be wide open,” he adds.
These stories might sound like a fairy tale to approach matches, but there are other even more unbelievable incidents across the continent, such as club officials forcing players to bath or wash their hands in stinking concoctions ahead of a crucial encounter.
The objective of juju in football was to harness some invisible force from the departed. The juju man would assure the players not to panic if they heard a noise or felt a touch in the dark as this could be the “ghost” filling their boots with supernatural powers.

Many bizarre incidents

But such practices have a history. Once it has been reported that, during one of Cameroon’s local cup finals in 1975, the goalkeeper of Aigles of Nkongsamba came onto the pitch with a live eagle. This was threatening enough for the supporters of the opposing team, Canon Yaounde, who violently agitated for the bird to be taken away.
It was reported that, a clash in late 1991 between Diamond of Yaounde and Caiman Douala also had its share of bizarre. Diamond had to win to escape relegation to division two, and Caiman would become champions of Cameroon by winning the game.
But a hawk threatened to steal the show. It perched on Caiman’s goalpost after the start of the game, and remained there despite attempts by the crowd and the referee to chase it away. Caiman won the game. And shortly after the final whistle the bird flew away, drawing applause from the supporters of Caiman who were adamant the incident was no accident.
During a match being played in the Eastern Congolese region of Kasai on 28 October 1998, a lightning strike wiped out all eleven players from the home side Bena-Tshadi with 30 people injured, but nobody from the away side Basanga came to harm. The incident was linked to a prominent Congolese witchdoctor Tata Dongo Remi.
Another incident happened during the 2000 Nations Cup quarter-final in Lagos. Senegal, having taken an early lead, looked to be holding on when, 15 minutes from time, a former official of the Nigerian FA raced on to the pitch and seized a ‘charm’ that had been lying in the back of the Senegal net. Senegal protested, but to no avail, and Nigeria went on to score twice and win. The official was subsequently banned, but his action was seen as hugely significant in Nigeria’s progress.

In Malawi, the Daily News reported in January 2008 that, superstition heralded a league game between Dwanga United and Moyale Barracks. It was reported that Dwangwa’s 11th player, Winter Mpota, was outside the field of play and only entered the pitch when the full squad for the visitors had marched onto the pitch.
“Suspicious of the hosts’ behaviour, Moyale also followed suit at the start of the second half when they instructed their midfielder Charles Kamanga to stay outside the field of play, waiting for Dwangwa’s Mpota to enter first. To the surprise of the sizable crowd, Mpota never entered the pitch and Moyale’s Kamanga also stayed put, forcing referee A. Maseko to proceed with game with both teams featuring 10 men each. And so it stayed, all because of fears of juju,” the paper wrote.
In another incident, a female Ghanaian referee confided in a priest she was haunted by an object in the shape of a lion as she was officiating a game while she could see the face of someone among the fans with the head of a python in the mouth. Also, a goalkeeper had revealed he saw three footballs coming in his direction and when he went for one of them all he heard was “goal” from the stands. He missed the actual ball.
In 2009, when the Black Satellites became the first African side to win the U20 World Cup in Egypt, a popular Nigerian pastor T.B Joshua came out publicly to claim glory for that victory, as he had been on phone praying with the team before, during and after matches. He even claimed God had revealed to him who should take the deciding penalty for the team. Interestingly, the coach of Ghana, Sellas Tetteh, wore the same shirt throughout the tournament.

Does juju work?
While others believe it works, for some it is just a psychological ploy to mess with the opposing team. Abedi Pele, who captained the Black Stars for six years [1992-1998], believes superstition exists in African football, but doubts its efficacy.
“I don’t think any such thing like juju works in football, because it has been proved worldwide that we Africans have more juju than any other people, but we cannot win the World Cup.


“I think we must acknowledge that juju is part of the African tradition, and we shouldn’t forget our tradition… When I was playing and the ball was going into the net, I never saw a juju man who could prevent the ball from entering the net. It has never happened. In Europe, I didn’t hear or see anything of that sort. We just worked so hard and achieved results, so it’s interesting,” he told the GMS Press.

Mobile: +255 715 070109; e-mail: mbega.daniel@gmail.com

NB: Next week: “Giving witchcraft the boot”: How football authorities are tackling superstition in football.

SOURCE: The Citizen, Monday 5 March 2012

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