Thursday, September 13, 2012


So today, I showed up to school in time for mass, and soon heard, “Madam Anna, did you hear the bad news? Madam Ritah (another teacher) has a dead goat.” So now, at first, I thought that the reason it was bad was because it was a loss of some serious money. You can sell a goat for enough money to feed you for a month. But it turns out Madam Ritah does not even keep goats. Instead, it was my first personal interaction with witchcraft. Now I’ve heard a lot about witchcraft from different stories and beliefs that people have, but I have never seen the results personally.

Madam Ritah came out of her door this morning to find a dead black goat wrapped in a canvas sack laying on her doorstep. This is a sign that you have been bewitched, and you are going to die soon, according to the balocali religion (the indigenous religion which includes belief in witchcraft). But now that Christianity has worked its way far into Africa, there is an awkward intersection of the different religions. So people who believe in God believe that as long as you really believe in God, then the witchcraft has no impact on you. Now this is interesting. They don’t say that witchcraft isn’t real, they just say that it has no power over you if you believe in God. (Also, the witch doctors, after their work is finished, usually say something about how it was God who made it work anyways.)

But anyways, after mass, Father came and blessed the goat and the house, saying prayers and sprinkling holy water. Then he said that we should not waste fuel in burning it, (Christians usually burn all things pertaining to witchcraft) but instead we should just bury it. So the hole was dug, and Madam Ritah was dragging the goat up the road towards the hole when a man passed her on the road and started yelling at her that she was crazy and was going to be bewitched, and that she should just leave it alone. So she pulled up short, uncertain of exactly what to do. Then another man arrived on a boda (motorcycle taxi), looking all sorts of important, pulled out his kenzel (traditional Busoga attire for men) and started digging through his bag for the materials to cast away the evil spirits, remove the goat, and even call forward the person who did it. As he was just about to start, Madam Ritah muttered under her breath that she had no money to pay this man. Now his head whipped up and around, saying SERIOUSLY!? This is a matter of your life! And he continually lowered his prices, until he had said, you just pay me 3,000 shillings (just over a dollar). By this time there was a large group of neighbors who had congregated around, and the belief in witchcraft is incredibly strong just in her neighborhood. Apparently 3 witchdocters live nearby. So all the women (note, the women, not the men) started offering to split it all, for everyone to add a little, so that Madam Ritah would be ok. but Madam Ritah refused, because she wanted to follow Father’s instructions and keep her own faith strong. So now we stood outside her house for maybe an hour as people argued back and forth, and I understood very little of what was going on. But I do know that people were yelling, and it’s clear that this stuff made some people really, really uncomfortable.

So anyways, right after Madam Ritah refused to pay the man any money, another man, (who apparently is another local witch doctor, who knew there were so many just right here???) brought a rope, slipped it around the goat, and dragged him off to spot unknown. Now all the teachers really rallied behind Madam Ritah, saying that it  probably wasn’t even cursed, someone’s goat probably died of natural causes, and they wanted to make some money, so they brought it there, hoping she would hire a witch doctor, etc etc. And she really had incredible strength, as all these different people were bombarding her with what to do. It was a great community moment.

Then I could tell that both her and her daughter who is in P5 were still a little bit nervous, so I said, you know what really brings the Holy Spirit and can chase away the bad spirits? Laughter and dancing. So then after school was finished, a bunch of the students and I went over to her place, where she was sitting, and I pulled out my music player and we danced and laughed and sang and had a wonderful time, to chase away whatever evil spirits might be remaining there, and for her to have a good memory in her mind as she went to bed.

Overall, a really interesting day… not a normal day in the life. Culture. Learning. Dancing.

Sending love from Uganda


  1. Sometimes you talk about how small you feel - how BIG were you to Madam Ritah this day?! You are great. I can see the addition to Acts now: "And then the Holy Spirit descendeth upon them as though tongues of Taylor Swift, Celine Dion, and Garth Brooks. It came to rest above each of thine heads, which bobbeth to the music."

  2. I know that in the overall scheme of things, dead goats do bring fear, witch doctors are pretty scary but I love the strength of Madam Ritah. I also appreciate that there are women around to help bolster the strength and that my daughter, in the Holy Spirit, decided that chilldren and dancing and laughter heal much more than simony (look it up). I hope you played the song about someone calling 911 because there was a fire on the dance floor. Cuz there was. Just saying.

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