This piece from VICE gives us a peek into the strange and desperate delusions people use to protect themselves amidst the violence.
The crisis in the Central African Republic has now been ongoing for over a year, with violence between Christian and Muslim militias sparking very real fears of a Rwandan-style genocide. In fact, clashes between groups from the Christian Anti-Balaka and the largely Muslim Seleka – both of them umbrella militia organisations – have already left around 1,000 dead and over a million displaced, with innocents being caught in the middle and burned, shot or eaten purely on the basis of their religion.
The journalist tells of visiting with the leader of one of the militias who accepted a necklace made out of a few large leather squares.
“What’s that for?” I asked.
“It’s for my protection,” he said. “It’s better than body armour. When I wear it, bullets and machetes can’t touch me. Even rockets can’t kill me.”
“Is it magic?”
“Yes, it’s called gri-gri,” he replied.
Around 40 percent of all prosecutions in the country involve witchcraft, the author notes. People believe in casting spells and in shape shifting. Some still chose body armour over bits of “magical jewelry”. Maybe they have seen real world testing of the claims. Of course there are also “outs” when the protection goes wrong. You must have committed a taboo like touching a menstruating woman.
It’s a different time and a different situation there. The journalist sums it up:
Magic in the Central African Republic seems a lot like a religion in itself, in that people use their faith in gri-gri as a kind of security blanket – a distinctly make believe presence that keeps them courageous when they should be fearful. But while there’s nothing wrong in relying on your religion for personal strength, it’s a little harder to endorse shaman swindlers who charge militias a small fortune for something that’s going to give them extra confidence while they’re slaughtering a bunch of innocent men, women and children.