The skies were a dark gray over the tallest tree in my grandmother’s garden: the palm nut tree.
We took a cab to the Denu market square and stepped off to catch two motorcycles to Threetown, where the towns Denu, Hyedran, Adafienu, met.
After catching burst of bright orange flowers and plantations of onions on each side, my grandmother said that I was going to see my Uncle Kofi in Hyedran.
Hyedran is the short form of an Ewe proverb meaning, “The bird who think he’s wise should come.” This symbolizes the town’s success in driving off the Portuguese, who attempted to conquer Threetown.
I remembered the sand beneath my feet and how difficult it was for me to walk on. I met Uncle Kofi that hot afternoon in a shaded cemented compound with the tallest mango tree I had ever seen. In his room, he sat on a mat in a bed of beads and instructed me on sit on a worn rust couch in front of him. No curtains fluttered past. His room remained bare for the sun to peer through.
This was a place my grandmother came to pray for her children and grandchildren. She told me that my brother underwent the ritual I had to take part in. The ritual was to cleanse the soul and to start anew. As my uncle prayed over me, he first called out God and the Prophet Mohammed before he summoned our ancestors.
Juju is seen as the act of harming another through black magic. It’s the reason why the Voodoo religion is hard to acknowledge in the West.
Juju is also popularized in some African movies pouring into the United States. These movies often depict characters who use juju to attack others due to jealousy and greed. In the end, Christianity saves the day in these movies.
In the Greek myth of Prometheus, we learn of a mortal who brazenly stole fire from Zeus and gave it to the humans. As a result of his crime, Prometheus was cursed by Zeus and chained to a rock, suffering the endless agony of a giant eagle that eats his liver over and over again.
My return to Newark in the USA was swift. The world changed at its own pace. At a lunch with my father, he stressed the importance of going to church every Sunday. I agreed, but not for the reasons he stated.
My father believed that Christianity was a shield against any harm done upon us. He said that before the missionaries came to West Africa, Voodoo ruled and Africans often plotted against one another by using juju to carry out their bad deeds. Christianity was the savior for the Africans, and it is the only shield that keeps them from being harmed by any juju.
Despite my father’s words, I thought about the fact that my uncle prayed to God and the Prophet Mohammed first before he prayed to the ancestors – the gods of the Voodoo religion.
The image of a family in Adafienu blessing their home with Voodoo doesn’t suggest evil doing to me, even though I sometimes like to witness these things from a distance. My grandmother also prays to our ancestors in a shrine in our family home. She never tells me what she says when she prays.
There are bad sides I’ve witnessed. My first cousin, who visited me in Adafienu from Togo, cringes at the mention of juju. Her father died under mysterious circumstances when her mother was threatened by an in-law for talking back to her. Everyone, including her, is convinced that he passed away because of juju. My cousin has been a devout Catholic ever since.
As of now, many people who used to live in Adafienu refuse to come back because they are afraid their families will plot to kill them for their new found success in the cities and countries they have moved to.
My uncle told me that a human’s tongue can be a dangerous thing because it can form words that kill another. Sometimes, I think that if Prometheus were an African, he would not have to steal the fire from Zeus. The Greek gods would have given Prometheus the fire without complaint.
Disclaimer – The image above does not belong to me.