Voodoo blamed for climate problems

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By Emmanuel Mayah

As the world gather at COP17 in search of solutions and agreements to myriad climate risks, certain African and religious myths have been identified as the enemies within that gravely undermine domestic efforts to respond to climate change.
When drought hit Niger Republic, one of the world’s impoverished nations, in 2005 angry mobs blamed the natural disaster as the making of indecent women. Urged on by Islamic clerics, hundreds of people attacked bars and brothels after they had been told immoral women and indecent dressing were responsible for the shortage of rainfall. Women were harassed, stripped and flogged in public. As the drought continued, desperate mobs marched on the home of government officials, set fire to homes occupied by single women and even razed the office of a women’s organization.

Though some of Niger’s neighbours were also experiencing poor rainfall, local authorities in a dramatic twist joined forces with mobs in arresting women wearing short dresses. But the entire nation was thrown into confusion after special prayer sessions and women covered from head to toe failed to produce rain.
In nearby Nigeria, ocean surges were causing perennial flooding of the business capital Lagos. Not uncommon to find banks and highbrow neighbourhoods submerged with luxury cars floating on water, traditional worshippers interpreted the ocean surge as the fury of an angry water god. Just last year animists drawn from the Council of Lagos State Spiritualists visited the government house with a demand that 50 virgins be made available for a voodoo ritual to appease the water god.
Recalling the incident Tunde Akingbade, Nigeria’s foremost environmental campaigner and delegate to COP17 said: “It is one of the most absurd things I’ve ever heard in the 21st Century. They said the 50 virgins must dance naked at the beach at night to avert further ocean surge. Where can you find 50 virgins today who are all old enough to marry? It also goes to show how traditional beliefs can serve as obstacle to environmental education. So to make climate information penetrate the grassroots, we must target religious leaders, village chiefs and other custodians of traditions.”

Similarly, when tidal and river waters flooded Cotonou, capital of Benin Republic, angry gods were blamed. Even though the disaster was caused largely by people building homes on water channels, some residents still recall a 1963 flood which vanished only after voodoo priests offered sacrifice to the water deity.

 

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