In December an older Kovol man died. Because this man was a clan leader his death was a fairly big deal and people from all 7 Kovol villages came to mourn. There was tension at the time and fights almost started. In January a rumour was going around that people were making accusations of sorcery. At a meeting in January, these were declared to just be rumours and everyone was “one stomach”.

I was surprised to hear last week then that there was to be another “one stomach” meal to do with the man’s death 5 months ago. It raised the obvious question for me, why? Especially as there was a meeting in January where everything was declared to be fine.

Piggies ready to be butchered

Armed with my voice recorder and questions I attended the 12pm – 7pm meal and learned some interesting things. I discovered that the accusations of sorcery were more than just a rumour. The man’s death was a shock and it left people grasping for a reason. The reason decided on back then was “We don’t know who exactly it was, but someone worked sorcery on him and he died”. The man was so important in the community that the idea he died of a respiratory illness was seen as insufficient. The illness had been caused by someone; people don’t just get sick and die suddenly!

Sorcery is thought to be the knowledge of being able to shoot an invisible dart at someone which causes confusion and leaves no visible wound. The sorcerer can then approach the person and remove their internal organs, sewing them back up without leaving a mark, and the victim has no memory of it. Without their internal organs the victim very quickly gets sick and dies. Yes, he died of respiratory illness – but why did he die of respiratory illness?
I’d suggest, of course, that a lifetime spent smoking frequently and living in smokey, damp houses causes accumulative damage to the respiratory system and leaves people here particularly susceptible to illness, but that’s an outsider’s perspective.

Apologies made

Concluding that sorcery had happened, people said of several suspects “We want to hit and kill them”. It certainly explains some of the tension we noticed around the burial time. At the meeting in January the village that had made the accusations lied and said “Everything is ok. The sorcery talk is just rumours”. The day’s meal then was a public apology for lying and also for accusing others of sorcery. There was a confession of holding on to bad thinking. Members from all 7 Kovol villages were invited and apologies were made to each clan leader as well as to specific people who were accused.

A new thing for me was seeing what happened to the pigs. At around 4pm we were waiting for the rain to finish before the meal started. What surprised me was that no pigs had been killed yet. Butchering and cooking the meat in a pot with the root vegetables takes hours, so I was expecting an evening meal. As I’m thinking that, the meal arrives in bowls and it contains zero meat. It’s very odd to me that we’re eating a wanbel “harmony” meal without meat because usually it doesn’t count if there is no meat. We all tuck into the unsalted sweet potato and greens soup and I ask about the pigs.

I discover that the pigs are still to be butchered. As I investigate I find out that because this is a “judicial” harmony meal the meat is presented to people “fresh”. The pigs are killed and cut into pieces and a list of the clans is produced. One after another they come forward to receive a chunk of meat, an apology and a handshake.

Oscar has taken to sleeping alongside Twixy 🙂

When all is done the leaders take turns exhorting the community. “The problem is now solved, so when you go home don’t bring it up anymore”, “We’ve put a problem right today; we need to leave behind our bad behaviour. Brothers have come and we need to respect their 3 houses and behave well and go with them”. In case you’re wondering, we missionaries are the brothers, and we’ve come to bring God’s word and a lot of the exhortations to leave behind old thinking and old behaviour made reference to joining the missionaries and what we will be bringing.

I stood as close as I could to the apologies being made, but couldn’t quite catch the words being spoken. Further questions were raised. They kept saying “we lied”, but I wanted to know who actually spoke the accusations? Was the guy presenting the meat the primary speaker, or was he functioning as a village -leader and representative? Why were some guys singled out for an apology? Why haven’t we seen this style of meal with “fresh” meat before?

I’ve asked about sorcery before and if it is practised. The consensus was that it happens elsewhere and it may have happened in Kovol in the past but it doesn’t happen today. Seeing it coming up in community life today though it’s clear that it’s not quite as clear cut as that. It’s another little indicator to me as I dig into myths and “old” beliefs that a lot of them, though they are reported to not be held today, in some way do influence thinking and behaviour still. Nowadays when I hear “my ancestors used to think this, it was bad and we don’t think that now” I take it with a bit of a grain of salt. The specifics perhaps might not be believed strongly today, but the themes certainly seem to remain there under the surface.

The group making the apology have talked to me and also confessed that they are still scared. They see footprints in the mud and they think there is a sorcerer around. They’re not sure where the sorcerous power is coming from, but they think it is attacking them and they are scared. They’re too afraid to walk to their gardens and have been staying at home. They wanted to talk to me about that.
It’s a tricky position to be in — very near the end of language study, but not having developed Bible lessons yet. There’s a lot of ground to cover and a foundation yet to be built, but I didn’t want to just say “later you’ll hear the Bible teaching and it’ll help”.

In other news we dug a new trash hole

What to say? In summary I said “I’m a white man and I’m not at all afraid of sorcery. It’d be easy for me to just say don’t worry, but I’ve never felt the fear that you have. We white people don’t think about it at all. I have felt the fear of bad things happening though. I know what it’s like to be afraid of sickness, or to be afraid that a tragedy will strike my family. I have one and the same fear as you. You’re afraid of sorcery making you sick and killing your family, and it’s the same fear I have of getting sick or a family member dying. Everyone is afraid of those things. I know though that God protects me. He hasn’t promised that thismeans nothing bad will happen, but that if it does, he’s still with us and ultimately my life is in his hands. I might die soon, but that’s not something to be afraid of if I know God will bring me through death to life. You don’t know God’s word yet, but God wants you to hear it. He sent us to you as missionaries because he cares about you and wants you to know. If God wants you to know his truth, no sorcerer or spirit can prevent that. God is strong. It’d be like a man playing a game of rugby against an ant, The man is so much stronger that it’s not a contest. Spirits or sorcery is so small and weak compared to God that you can know that it won’t stop him from his plans. When you feel the fear think about how big God is and that he wants you to hear his word, and hang onto that.”
This received a positive response, but I think anything I said would have. If I’d said “I’ll write your names in my computer and then the sorcerer won’t be able to get you” that would have probably reassured them even more! It would have been false hope though!

putting the lid on

On Sunday I had another similar thing. A man hiked 2 hours to come and see me because he’d had a bad dream. He’d seen himself getting a problem and he was convinced now he was on the road to death. God had revealed to him in a dream that disaster was coming to punish him for his sin.

Ministry here looks very different from how it is back in the UK, but we’re glad we can be here to attempt to walk with people through fear and uncertainty, ultimately pointing them to a saviour who cares.

1 Comment

Wim Evers · 17/05/2024 at 1:30 am

Hi Steve and Gerdien, what a thrilling story! I can imagine that you are eagerly looking forward to the day that you can share the gospel with them. May that day soon come! We pray for you regularly and are also looking forward to that day. How they need the Saviour, not just for the life to come, but even so for this life and for their relations with family, clan members and dealing with other clans. So, keep up the good work and do not get discouraged (1 Cor. 15:58). One day you will stand with Kovol people before the throne of God rejoicing and praising God.
Blessings, Wim

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