The Valley of Taboos
By JOHANN HARI - SLATE
Added: Tue, 26 Oct 2010 21:36:26 UTC
Thanks Ivan for the link
There is a great thudding taboo in any discussion of Africa. Western journalists and aid workers see it everywhere, yet it is nowhere in our coverage back home. We don't want to talk about it. We don't know how to. We smother it in silence, even though it is one of the most vivid and vibrant and violent parts of African life. We are afraid—of being misunderstood, or of sounding like our own ugliest ancestors. The suppressed topic? The African belief in spirits and spells and ancestors and black magic.
These are not trivial side-beliefs, like vague fears of black cats crossing your path. They are at the core of many Africans' understanding of themselves and the world. I have stood in a blood-splattered house in Tanzania where an old woman had just been beaten to death for being a "witch" who cast spells on her neighbors. I have stood in battlefields in the Congo where the troops insist with absolute certainty they cannot be killed because they have carried out a magical spell that guarantees, if they are shot, they will turn briefly into a tree, then charge on unharmed. I have been cursed in Ethiopia by a witch-doctor with "impotence, obesity, and then leprosy" for asking insistently why he charged so much to "cure" his patients. (I'm still waiting for the leprosy.)
Where do these beliefs come from? What do so many Africans get out of them? Can they be changed? These are questions that are asked in Africa all the time, but we are deaf to the conversation. It's not hard to see why. The imperial rape and pillage of Africa was "justified" by claiming Africans were "primitive" and "backward" people sunk in a morass of voodoo, who had to be "civilized" in blood and Christianity. Just as there are legitimate and necessary criticisms of Israel but nobody wants to hear them from Germany, any legitimate and necessary criticism of the problems with Africa's indigenous beliefs will never be welcome from Europeans or their descendants. And yet there they are, ongoing and alive, waiting to be discussed. Must we ignore it?
... Read more
- - BBC News Comments
A new poll suggests that atheism is on the rise in the US, while those who consider themselves religious has dropped. What's the cause? Two writers debate.
- - human rights first Comments
Blasphemy Laws Exposed: The Consequences of Criminalizing “Defamation of Religions”
Ed Kilgore - Political Animal Comments
update - too crazy even for the evangelical right
Barton’s Fall From Grace
David Barton says his documents prove that the Founding Fathers were deeply religious men who built America on Christian ideas - but do his sources check out?
Cory Doctorow - BoingBoing Comments
Pussy Riot member Yekaterina Samutsevich has given a tremendous closing statement, which is a masterful summary of Russian oligarchy
Graham Veale - Saints & Sceptics? Comments
Refuting Richard: Dawkins Doesn’t “Get” God
- - BBC News Comments
The government has launched an action plan to tackle child abuse linked to witchcraft or religion in England.