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The procession of Samale

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Receiving a fetish from a sorcerer
Redmond O'Hanlon Writer
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So there we sit. And I pay, it seems, an enormous price. I pay 15 chickens, equivalent. So then Doku goes into the back room, and he comes out with this something, which he puts into my hand, and it's warm. And it's exactly the same as the three little furry... look like dead mice, which he has around his neck, half in view all the time. And before he puts it in my hand, he takes it like this, and he says, in the language of power in all the Bantu areas, because their voices are so deep, it's high-pitched, and my God it works. It really does raise the hairs on the back of your neck if they're not too sweaty. And he said, 'Mr Redmond, this is a fetish for your protection only. There are no conditions apart from these. Your friends may look at it. The three closest hunting male friends you have may touch it. But if your wife washes her private parts with it, it will lose its power at once.'

And it was such a powerful presentation, it wasn't until about three days later that I could see that it was even remotely funny. And, as he said, 'This fetish contains the finger of a child. The finger of this child is to keep your dreams from becoming old and to keep your actions fresh and young. The finger of this child will protect you.' And I thought, 'My God.' Now it has been X-rayed. It was bad luck on the girl behind the machine at Heathrow. So she put this through, because it looked so odd, and she screamed. She knew exactly what it was, and up on the thingy there is a digit of some sort. I mean, I like to think it's a monkey finger, but actually, it's not as bad as it sounds. Everywhere you go, you're told ever family, each family has to give a child to the sorcerer. Now when you remember the mortality rate is so absurdly, obscenely high. So say you have six children. You can be absolutely certain that three of them will die before they're eight years old, so those are the big, big fears waiting for you.

Another thing to do with sorcery and the fetish and fear. I thought to myself, I thought I really could not work it out, why torture yourself like this? Why do these Bantu, why do they live with perpetual fears? You know, the pygmies make use of it. They say, 'If you walk that way into the forest, past that particular tree, your testicles will drop off.' Now, that works. That keeps all the Bantu out of there, and just beyond that, that is the path to the very best hunting areas that the pygmies want to keep for themselves. The pygmies are good atheists, you know. Their line is that God is the forest, the forest is God. That's it. Humour. None of this nonsense. No sorcery. So I wondered. And then I thought, well, look, whatever happens to you in life, you're going to have these really terrible, terrible things. So I think perhaps you anaesthetise yourself against the really big fears, the death of your husband, your children, your sister, your... it's Diseaseville. And that helps you to cope with it, this... get rid of the barrier between the objective and subjective world. You can live with your ancestors, your ghosts, for a start. Positive thing. And you can, as it were, inoculate yourself against the big, big fears that are coming, by making all these little fears for yourself.

British author Redmond O’Hanlon writes about his journeys into some of the wildest places in the world. His travels have taken him into the jungles of the Congo and the Amazon, he has faced some of the toughest tribes alive today, and has sailed in the hurricane season on a trawler in the North Atlantic. In all of this, he explores the extremes of human existence with passion, wit and erudition.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Larry Shaffer

Duration: 4 minutes, 35 seconds

Date story recorded: July - September 2008

Date story went live: 11 August 2009