Africa is a continent where the magical meets the temporal on a daily basis, primarily through the medium of sorcery. During a recent long drive from Nairobi to Wamba in Samburu East District we passed vendors selling bags of charcoal beside the road. I expressed concern about the deforestation of the rolling hills, but George, our driver, was more interested in magical stories related Kamba tribespeople. “You know, these people leave the unsold bags of charcoal beside the road all night.” I expressed surprise wondering if the sacks would be stolen. “If anyone steals a sack,” continued George, “he or she will be forced by a strange power to return it in the morning.” I was tempted to test the power of the Kambu spell myself, to see if I, too, would be subjected to the force of the invisible hand. But it was just a fleeting thought. Instead I commented somewhat sardonically. “The police must love the Kambu people as they have fewer crimes to solve. And it’s a much better way of delivering justice than trapping people in the penal system.”
George sensed my interest in such stories (indeed I find them entertaining) and proceeded to tell a few more. After the post election violence in early 2008, opportunistic youth looted abandoned shops. However, they did not realize that many of the owners had protected their goods with witchcraft. So, for example, there were stories of young people who drank stolen beer, but could not urinate until they had paid the owner. One of the strangest stories, which was highlighted on national TV, concerned the theft of a television. The thief carried the TV home on his back, but could not put it down on the floor when he arrived. His children were perplexed: “Daddy, we can’t watch the television while its glued to your back. Put it down.” But the man was tied to a spell, and could only place it back on the ground once he returned it to the owner.
What should one make of all this? For me it is one of the many unfathomable aspects of
African culture, and a reminder that there is more to life than meets the eye.