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new internationalist
issue 213 - November 1990


Ugly magic
City-dweller Moiphebi Nkuebe goes to visit a witchdoctor
- and brings home rather more than he had bargained for.

[image, unknown] I am not a superstitious man. However, I have tried to display some broad-mindedness when it comes to the subject of witchcraft. And it was in this frame of mind that I undertook the journey to visit a witch-doctor who reputedly had the ability to establish contact between a person and their ancestors.

One Saturday morning, without telling anyone of my plan, I boarded a bus and beaded off out of the Lesotho capital of Maseru and towards Roma where I knew a witchdoctor lived. I got to my destination without much difficulty.

The witchdoctor's home was in a hillside village overlooking the National University of Lesotho. I imagined the witchdoctor would be living in a village of several rondavels surrounded by reed hedges. Instead I was directed to a three-roomed brick house topped with a roof of corrugated iron.

There I found a respectable-looking woman of middle age sitting on a sofa, sniffing tobacco. Greetings she said, I sat down on the chair she proffered and explained the purpose of my visit. When I had finished she asked me to place a banknote in front of her and say 'lesedi' which means 'illumination', I did as I was hid and sat down again. She took a pinch of snuff in her hand and sprinkled it over the note murmuring something under her breath.

This little ritual lasted about two minutes after which she raised her eyes and calmly told me that my money signified 'death'. 'Death?' I asked in surprise - and with some degree of shock.

[image, unknown] Being a healthy person, I immediately told myself this could not refer to me, But then I thought that perhaps an accident was awaiting me or one of my relatives, She stood up and went out of the room, while I pondered her ominous information.

She returned a few minutes later with an explanation that medicine was being prepared for me, In the meantime she briefed me on what to expect on confronting the 'mirror'. I grew a little apprehensive when she informed me that I would see witches and some ugly things, after which I would see my grandfather and other long-dead relatives.

The process then began. First I had to be cleansed - this meant drinking a lot of medicated water and throwing it up again. It proved to be a long and painful process, starting at nine o'clock in the morning and ending at around three in the afternoon.

Much weakened constitutionally, I passed on to the next stage. I was led into a dark room and told to lie face down on a mattress on the floor. There was a small basin filled with water at one end of the mattress and I was told to gaze into it. I lay silently, expecting my grandfather to materialize in front of my eyes at any moment. The witchdoctor poured some milky medicine from a large bottle into a spoon and gave it to me to drink. It was thick and vile, Even after swallowing it, its bitter taste lingered long in my mouth. While I was still gazing into the water basin, the doctor then covered me with blankets, enclosing me in total darkness. As she did this, she told me a chant I had to say over and over again.

'God of light and pervading wisdom, let there he light so that 1 can see.

I wish to see my grandfather

I wish to see the path of my life.

1 wish to see the dark acts of my enemies.

1 wish to see every witch who is trying to make my life a misery.'

I picked up the chant and repeated it many times. I chanted until I was tired but nothing happened. Throughout the doctor sat beside me and prodded me whenever I slowed. Eventually when I felt I could not take any more I threw the blanket oft' and sat up. At this point I was a little drowsy and the weakness in my joints had increased. I put on my shoes and jacket which I had been asked to take off and told the doctor I would visit her another time. She explained that with some people one had to wait a long time before one saw what one wanted to see. I left her, disappointed, weak and hungry.

As I sat in the bus on my way, strange things began to happen to me. Every object I looked at took on a new form and turned into ugly monsters.

I also saw faces of people I knew and had met in my life; they floated in front of my eyes one after another in an endless stream, When I eventually got off the bus back in Maseru I nearly collapsed, such was my weakness. At this point I was plunged into a world of terror in which voices were changed and objects were distorted. I was very scared. With great difficulty' I reached home. After gobbling up whatever I could find in the house, I crept into bed and pulled the blankets over my head in a vain attempt to stifle the mocking voices and shut out the ugly visions. I wished I had been more patient and stayed at the witchdoctor's.

The next morning I woke up, and was relieved to find myself a normal man again.

Moiphebi Nkuehe is a journalist working in Maseru, Lesotho.

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New Internationalist issue 213 magazine cover This article is from the November 1990 issue of New Internationalist.
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