Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Juju (African Witchcraft and Football)

The art of African witchcraft, or juju is a phenomenon that's difficult to explain.

According to National Geographic News, juju exists in much of Sub-Saharan Africa and ...

it has long been common for soccer teams to turn to witchcraft, or juju, to gain a competitive edge. Teams might, for example, summon witch doctors to cast spells on opposing teams. Because of the secrecy surrounding such practices, it's difficult to tell how widespread they are in Africa today.

Sports is full of different rituals or superstitions.

In baseball, former Boston Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs used to eat chicken before every game. Pitcher Turk Wendell used to brush his teeth and chew licorice between innings.

In football, Chelsea defender John Terry always sits in the same place on the bus traveling to the game. He also ties the tapes around his socks that hold his shin guards in place exactly three times.

Manchester United defender Gary Neville admits: “I’ve got lots of superstitions. I try to cut them down as I have too many. I wear the same belts, same shoes, same aftershave - I’ve worn the same aftershave all season. Just stupid things really. If we’ve been on a winning run of games I won’t change my boots. Someone pointed out to me last year that I’ve worked all my life to be a professional footballer, and yet it comes down to which aftershave I’m wearing as to how well I play!”

But juju isn't mere superstition or ritual. It's more than that.

According to Wikipedia, juju is:

... an aura or other magical property, usually having to do with spirits or luck, which is bound to a specific object; it is also a term for the object. Juju also refers to the spirits and ghosts in African lore as a general name. The object that contains the juju, or fetish, can be anything from an elephant’s head to an extinguisher. In general, juju can only be created by a witchdoctor, few exceptions exist. Juju can be summoned by a witchdoctor for several purposes; good juju can cure ailments of mind and body. Any thing from fractured limbs to a headache can be corrected. Bad juju is used to enact revenge, sooth jealousy, and cause misfortune.

Juju had a big affect on a Malawian domestic league match between host Dwanga United and Moyale Barracks on Sunday. I take this from Malawi's Daily News newspaper.

It all reportedly started in the first half when visiting Moyale realised that Dwangwa's 11th player, Winter Mpota, was outside the field of play and only entered the pitch when the full squad for the visitors hand marched onto the pitch.
Suspicious of the hosts' behaviour, Moyale also followed suit at the start of the second half when they instructed their midfielder Charles Kamanga to stay outside the field of play, waiting for Dwangwa's Mpota to enter first.
To the surprise of the sizeable crowd, Mpota never entered the pitch and Moyale's Kamanga also stayed put, forcing referee A. Maseko to proceed with game with both teams featuring 10 men each.

And so it stayed, all because of fears of juju.

"One of our players alerted us that Dwangwa have a funny habit of delaying in fielding their 11th player ... so we agreed that we should also delay ours in the second half, to dilute the juju," Moyale's manager Lieutenant Precious Gausi said.

Dwangwa coach Lloyd Nkhwazi admitted that he featured only 10 players after the break but he insisted that it was Moyale who started the practice.

“We just followed suit after Moyale had held back their player due to the juju beliefs, which visiting teams have that we use juju at Chitowe but there is no grain of truth in this,” said Nkhwazi.

According to the paper, it's not the first time juju has featured prominently in a Malawian fixture.

"teams have refused to use the entrance to the dressing rooms at soccer venues in fear of juju while other clubs have climbed fences instead of the usual gates to the pitch, fearing juju."

I could write an entire book on this subject, so I'll direct you to National Geographic and The Maven's Word of the Day for more on this interesting phenomenon.


Bancha said...

Though not based in superstition, these practices remind me of how atheletes sometimes use visualisation to improve their performance; seeing in the mind's eye what the level and acts of performance they want to achieve.

This in turn reminds me of the phenomenon of "flow", the fancy psychological term for being "in the zone", when one has total control of the situation, yet is barely even acting with conscious mind.

Anonymous said...

This is what we are missing in our lives, C.
Flow! : (
(Wikipedia cites Pele as an example of having experienced "flow")
Juju in football would be a very interesting topic for a book. Or a comparison of superstition, juju, visualisation, flow and other techniques applied to win a game of football.
I've always wanted to explore the history and practive of witchcraft in Africa. It's fascinating.

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