Tales of muthi, juju, mirabou, witchcraft and gri-griThomas Kwenaite
A strange incident, perhaps not recorded at the 1976 African Nations Cup final tournament due to the fact that many considered it insignificant, took place during the final match between Guinea and Morocco in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
That tournament was played on a league format and was contested by four countries only. As a result, there was no semi-finals like it is the universal practice the world over and the last game was considered the final, as Morocco needed a draw to finish on top of the mini-league.
On the other hand, Guinea needed to win in order to lift the Abdelaziz Abdallah Salem trophy. Most people had installed Guinea as favourites to win the tussle. They really had outstanding players at the tournament, from goalkeeper Bernard Sylla to centre forward N’jo Lea who finished the tournament as top scorer.
In addition, Guinea had in their line-up an exceptionally gifted attacking midfielder called Petit Sory, which meant “Little Kid”. He was a Sousous, which were a people from the deep jungle region in the west of Guinea.
The Sousous were very short and dark in complexion and produced some of the greatest players. They also believed very strongly in muti. And some of the oils they used by smearing themselves perhaps as charms were considered too smelly and people didn’t feel inclined to go near them due to the pong!
But Morocco was a very good team too. Their goalkeeper Hazazz was considered one of the finest stickman ever to emerge from the North African country so was their striker Faras, described as one of the most dangerous marksman ever to wear an Atlas Lion jersey.
So, the match was a great climax to the tournament.
Cherif, a defender, gave Guinea an early lead before the half hour mark and everybody thought it would end there as deep in the second half, Morocco hardly threatened the Guineans who held on to their slender lead.
“Then, seemingly from nowhere,” recalls a member of Sheik Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa and a former African Soccer magazine publisher Emmanuel Maradas who covered the event, “a black dog entered the pitch.
“The players and officials tried to drive it out of the ground, chasing it across the field. But despite its deformity, no one could catch it, until finally the military boys were sent onto the field and they dragged the dog off the pitch.
“It only had three legs. In a way, it was very funny! But for Guinea, it was disturbing. They believed it was a witch disguised as a deformed dog sent by their detractors to disrupt the match. The incident seemed to put them off their game and they badly lost their concentration.
“Apparently, their own muti man had not been working very well during the tournament and the dog was the last straw for the players. It was during Sekou Toure’s reign and the majority of Guineans strongly believed in muti and its potency.
“They mixed old beliefs with Muslim beliefs. When the national team played in the capital Conakry, everyone in the stadium would be dressed in snow-white attire. This came from the Koran, which said if you want to be successful, you must be clean.
“Anyway, Morocco got a late, late equaliser from Ali Baba and the Guineans collapsed to the ground wailing “Ahh magic, black magic!” They were convinced the dog had been sent to make sure something happened to them. It came on as the sun was going down – the floodlights were already on – and this was taken as a bad omen…. evil arrives just as the sun goes down, they reasoned.”
There is another theory though, and that is perhaps the dog was sent by their own muti man in a late bid to ward off the evil that comes with nightfall.
Whatever the truth, many at the stadium felt a little sorry for Guinea because they had such a good team and had played so fantastically well. They were undefeated in six games, yet failed to win the cup.
Was it because of the deformed three-legged dog?
Yes, it is be the oldest formula in the world, the recipe for success. Some call it juju, others marabou. It is witchcraft. And in Africa, it cannot be ignored, from the smalles rural villages to the capital cities of the continent – witchcraft touches every facet of African society.
Ancient rituals still offer solutions when modern methods have none. There are those cynics who dismiss the “supernatural” powers of muti in football and claim if juju had indeed any effect at all, an African country would have won the World Cup trophy many decades ago.
Nevertheless, there are those who swear by the stuff prescribed by inyangas as real guarantees of victory; promises to turn an athlete with supernatural speed and strength – unflinching aim – or the goal that wins a match. Football players may question its effects, but none will deny its existence.
When South Africa announced a squad to represent the country at the 2002 World Cup finals in Korea and Japan, coach Jomo Sono announced an additional team that was fondly referred to as a “Special Projects” squad. One need not have been a rocket scientist to know what kind of projects the “Special” team would be involved in.
Ivory Coast goalkeeper Alain Gouamene took soccer experts by surprise when he led his country to the final of the African Nations Cup tournament against neighbours Ghana in Senegal during 1992, without conceding a single goal.
And at the end of regulation time the score remained goalless. It was a time for the dreaded penalty kicks. Several Ghanaians believed the acrobatic goalkeeper’s tog bag which he tossed into his net at the start of every game, contained strong muti that prevented the opposition from finding their way to his net.
An urchin was sent to his goalpost to snatch the tog bag and when the boy ran away from Gouamene’s poles, clutching his bag and lifting it in triumph in the air, he received wild cheering from a section of Ghanaian supporters. But when the bag was ripped open, it was discovered that it only contained a pair of gloves and a towel!
In the ensuing shootout, Ghana could not hold their nerves in the penalty kicks and lost 11-10 in probably the longest shootout in the history of the tournament.
At the 2002 African Nations Cup tournament held in Mali, former Cameroon goalkeeper and now a member of the technical team – Thomas N’kono – was severely assaulted by Malian soldiers prior to the semi-final tie between the two countries at the national stadium in Bamako.
Nkono’s sin had been to stroll onto the pitch two hours before players from both teams came out of the tunnel to warm up and he was accused of carrying “potent” muti that he wanted to spread across the field to “cast a spell” over the home side and for good measure, he was detained briefly.
He was later released and the Malian Football Federation apologised to the player and his country but, Mali went on to lose the match 2-0.Whether Nkono had been successful in spraying his “special project” or not is of no significant. The fact of the matter is that the incident brought to light the strong belief in the ancient practice.
“Juju in Africa will always be a part of football,” says former Liverpool and Zimbabwe national goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar, who was also known as the “Jungle Man” after serving in Ian Smith’s army during the then Rhodesia. “And if you believe in it or if you do not, you should never disbelieve, because I have been a part of it when we (Zimbabwe at the time) had incredible escapes.
“And I have also been a part of it when we had done absolutely nothing in a football match and yet had won. I will tell you how it happens. Firstly, you don’t get changed in the dressing rooms of the opposition, that is a big NO! We go to probably the club chairman’s house.
“Then you go to the back yard and they ask you to strip. (So stripping in sport has been a daily feature long before the Springboks went to Kamp Staaldraad near Thabazimbi!). You stand in a circle in the back yard completely naked. And in the middle of the circle, there is a tin or bucket with muti inside.
“The nyanga (traditional doctor) then comes with a strange object that he dips into the bucket then splashes you with the stuff all over the body. You are then asked to go to the bathroom – one at a time carrying the bucket – and you wash your body with it. Then you are given your kit.
“However, there are strict instructions not to dry yourself. You just simply put on your kit and get onto the bus and go straight to the stadium. When you arrive at the stadium, you don’t go to the dressing rooms. You simply scale the peri-meter fence and onto the pitch and you are ready to play.
“You avoid the dressing rooms at all costs, because that is where the evil spirits are lying in wait or better still, that’s where the opposition usually cast a spell that may distract you in whatever form when you get to the field.”
Witchcraft – fact or fantasy?
When the national stadium in Dar es Saalam, Tanzania, was demolished a few years ago, hundreds of bones were discovered in the foundation. Could there be bones under every stadium in Africa?
Do you have encounters of the strange kind on a football field……tell us about it.