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Sierra Leone News:CHETANYA’s View: Belief in black magic is the only thing that gives it power

CHETANYAOn Tuesday, I sat in the Freetown High Court for less than an hour, then helped write a few paragraphs for the newspaper on what has to be the strangest and most disturbing story I’ve reported on so far in my still very short journalism career.
I was on a bench for the press at ground level, squeezed together with a few too many local journalists. The two men and one woman sitting high above me in the huge court room were accused of murdering a popular DJ at the woman’s birthday party in May 2015. When it was found, the corpse was assumed to belong to a victim of ebola. But it was mutilated, with toes, fingers and nose cut off. It’s now believed that Sydney Buckle, aka DJ Cleff, was killed in a ritual murder.
As my Awoko newspaper colleague explained, one of the alleged murderers is Baimba Moi Foray, aka LA Chocolate, a famous “herbalist” or “juju man” in Freetown said to have acquired his wealth through black magic. Rumors are that he rents an expensive house, drives an expensive car, and once threw out handfuls of money at a beach restaurant. He makes money from clients who want his magical expertise  but people say there’s no way he could make as much as he does doing just this. The implication is that the money is somehow coming from the black magic he supposedly practices.
I knew I was going along with my colleague to report on a murder trial that day. But when we first sat down in the then-empty courtroom, and she filled me in on these details, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
And then, not long after the courtroom filled up with the state prosecutor, defense lawyers, judge, jury and spectators, the suspects were brought in. Foray was dressed in a brand name bright red vest, and some kind of metallic gold glittered from his white shirt. His expression was hard to read  certainly tense and unhappy, but not subdued or hopeless. The suspects didn’t say much. After talking with two of their three defense attorneys, Foray and his alleged accomplices  the short of stature woman Avril Oreh Renner, in a pink shirt and zebra head covering, and Foray’s heavyset bodyguard Foday Kamara — each just stood up to tell the judge that they would not be testifying in the trial after all. Instead they would rely on the statements they’d given to police. The session was adjourned until a later date, and the three were led out of the courtroom.
In the past few days my mind has been restless thinking about this case. I know that belief in magic, both dark and light, is common in Sierra Leone. Personally, I don’t believe it works the way many of its practitioners think it does. When magic seems to work, it’s possible that this is only because people believe in it. When people believe in magic, they will attribute anything bad or good that happens to magic, even when these outcomes could have happened through other means. And psychologists have long studied the placebo effect  a phenomenon whereby when people believe something will have a certain effect, it actually will, simply because they believe it. For example, studies show that people who believe they’re being given morphine, when it’s actually mostly a saline solution, still report feeling less pain. Of course, the morphine isn’t really there. Similarly, if magic works, it might be because of belief in magic, rather than anything truly supernatural.
That said, I think belief in magic is usually harmless, and sometimes positive. To take a local example, according to Al Jazeera, traditional healers in Sierra Leone played a key role in helping fight ebola. As the article describes, these healers have long used herbs and magic rituals to effectively heal their communities in a country with a severe lack of doctors and hospitals. Even if I’m skeptical of magic, there’s no doubt that many traditional healers who practice it do a lot of good and help a lot of people.
I’m sure most Sierra Leoneans, even those who believe in magic and consult these healers, would rather that gruesome black magic rituals like the murder of DJ Cleff never happened. A lot of people who believe black magic exists probably wish it didn’t.
But it seems to me that the only thing keeping black magic alive is that people believe in it. And alive and thriving it seems to be. Suppose for a minute that Foray gained his wealth through his clients alone, and not real black magic. Just think how many of them must have come to him for help, filling the pockets of a man who may be a murderer.
If Foray, Renner and Kamara are guilty of ritual murder, then it was belief in black magic that helped kill DJ Cleff. Without the belief, he might still be alive. Black magic  the idea of it  has power. But people can take away that power. I know this isn’t a simple matter, and yes, I’m an outsider writing about a subject I barely understand. I don’t claim any authority on this subject. But I’m convinced it’s possible to prevent such horrible incidents from happening. The power to eradicate black magic exists within the collective minds of society. The first step must be to refuse to believe.
Monday July 18, 2016

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