Bruised but liberated, I entered Bansang to meet Seth, an environment volunteer that has been serving in The Gambia since January of 2011. Seth has been placed in the village of Dobong Kunda, approximately 3k outside of Bansang, where he works with the community on developing agriculture. We walked along a dirt road next to the Gambia River to his village where I was able to meet his host father, Abu Jaiteh.
Abu mainly speaks Mandinka, and only “small” Sarahule, but despite the communication barrier, we clicked. I had come to meet Abu because he is a marabout, a religious leader and teacher of the Qur’an, who has been practicing since 1993. He makes special jujus for people seeking things such as fertility, good health, and protection. He is so well known for his talent that he was flown to the Ivory Coast in August of 2011 to help Alassane Outtara gain power when Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down. I was lucky enough to sit down with Abu and see what he does firsthand.
After eating lunch that Abu’s wife had prepared, Seth, Bully (my translator), and I entered the backroom to Abu’s recently opened bitik (shop). Abu took a seat on the ground on top of his mat, while we sat on the bed in front of him. He pulled out his tattered papers that had obviously been used for many years, as he explained that this skill had been passed down to him through many generations.
|Bully, my translator|
When making the juju, Abu first listens to the person’s problem or what she is seeking. He then decides upon a passage/prayer from the Qur’an that fits her needs. He writes this prayer on a piece of paper and then has the recipient, or in my case the one who has come for the juju, to face east on her knees as he reads the prayer. Although, I had no idea what he was saying because it was all in Arabic, I was asked to repeat “Amen” as he read his prayer. I did this, as I silently recited my own prayer for those who will be receiving the jujus. When he was finished he did a spitting motion over the paper I was holding in my hands making a “phh, phh, phh” noise and then took his two hands down his face as an indicator he had completed his work.
Next, he folded the paper into a tiny square, and for the juju to work correctly, I was asked to exchange my money with him in one hand while receiving the juju in the other. I then gave the juju back so it could go on to its final stage.
When we showed up to Mr. Fatty’s compound he was dripping wet and wearing nothing but a towel. He placed himself in front of me as he finished his work with the leather. I held my mag light to watch as he adjusted the size to fit on the recipient’s arm. He spoke in Mandinka about the “niceness” of my light as I marveled at his creation. I was so pleased with how the juju had turned out that I stayed in Dobong Kunda a second night to have a another one made.
|Abu Jaiteh and Lamin Fatty|
Reading this, I’m sure some are questioning my religious beliefs because I participated in an Islamic tradition, so I’ll go ahead and address that…
Many times in the past five months I’ve had Gambians tell me, “We are all the same.” My response is always, “I couldn’t agree more.” Whether we are Muslim, Christians, Buddhists, or Hindus I think we are all praying to the same God despite the different names we may use to refer to him. When asked about my religious affiliation, I simply say, “I believe.”