Witches are everywhere. The Oxford dictionary defines a witch as ‘a woman thought to have magic powers, especially evil ones, popularly depicted as wearing a black cloak and pointed hat and flying on a broomstick’. In Nigeria, our Nollywood movies depict witches in a variety of ways: from heavily-made up city women to old hags in villages; calm housewives with evil in their hearts to young school-girls with spiritual friends on the dark side. It is safe to assume that most cultures believe there are women who practice dark arts, consult with evil spirits and cause horrible things to happen.
According to Nollywood movies, Nigerian witches enjoy ‘eating’ unborn/newborn babies. After all, art is said to mirror real life, so this must be true. Is it, really?
I went to represent my College at a secondary school event last week. The kids were very boisterous and while my colleague and I arranged our display stand for the children, one of the teachers at the school, a lady who looked to be in her early thirties, teetered on high heels and marched the kids up and down the hall without breaking a sweat. Looking at the teacher from the side, she was shaped like an arrowhead : flat bum and a nice, a sharply protruding pregnancy. I was impressed, if a little envious. She looked about 5 months pregnant and very active and smart. I was shaped like a sideways number eight in my time and I could hardly go out due to chronic morning sickness.
My colleague, who was also female, caught me looking and also commented to me that the lady looked fabulous in her pregnancy. The lady came to our display table and we exchanged greetings and I watched with amusement while my (English) colleague asked the pregnant lady when her baby was due. The lady beamed, took a seat beside us, and started to tell us all about her pregnancy. I learnt in less than 3 mins that the baby was due in March; it was a girl; and the nursery has been decorated in warm peach and cream colours. My colleague asked to feel the baby and the lady obliged, with both of them bursting into laughter when the baby kicked at my colleague’s hand.
Not wanting to leave me out as I hadn’t said anything so far, the pregnant lady asked if I wanted to feel the baby. I frantically raced through excuses in my mind but there was nothing I could say that would not sound weird. I couldn’t very well say that in my culture, paying an inordinate amount of attention to a pregnant woman was as good as self-advertising as a baby-eating witch. I mean, why would I rub a random woman’s baby bump if I wasn’t sizing it up as a potential meal? I said a silent prayer and placed a nervous hand on her rather-tight belly. It was like a ball! I had only ever touched my own pregnant belly so it was nice to note that it wasn’t just my kids that had hard heads while inside!
The baby did not kick for me and when I tried to take my hand away, the woman asked me to hold still and she put her hand over mine. By then I was wearing a forced smile. I felt like I was intruding on her personal space and I hoped the loud students would come along and disrupt us. Just then, the baby kicked and I felt it! We both burst out laughing and to be honest, it felt awesome! It was like I was part of some miracle in itself. I thanked the lady and I felt like hugging her. I don’t know why. It was probably just a woman thing, with my hormones feeling the baby or something. I don’t know.
Anyway, this experience got me thinking about my culture and beliefs surrounding pregnancy. Anyone who lives in a western country would have noticed the ease with which women display and discuss their pregnancies. The first time I noticed it was when my son was just over a year old. We went to play in our local park and sat on a bench beside a very old lady whose ancient looks would have qualified her as a flying Naija ‘winch’, with her extensive wrinkles and gnarled fingers. A pregnant woman with a little boy came to sit on the opposite bench. In no time, the two ladies were engaged in a lively discussion about the pregnancy, when it was due and, yes, the young woman asked if the old lady would like to feel the baby. I thought it was rather strange at the time but not anymore. My experience last week was the first time I had to touch someone else’s baby bump and I finally understood why some people liked doing so.
If my earlier assertion is correct and there are witches everywhere, why don’t witches in the UK also eat babies? They will find it easy to obtain information as to when a baby is due, and they can spiritually ‘suck it out’ of its mother’s womb whenever they ask to feel it. The opportunities for the witches will be endless! I know I am being facetious here so let’s hit the nail on the head: There are very many medical reasons for miscarriages and stillborn babies. Some women go through the harrowing experience of spontaneous abortions (medical term for miscarriages) and stillbirths, but instead of investing in a thorough medical examination to determine the cause and possibly prevent a re-occurrence, they are quick to assign blame to the witches, both real and imagined. Rates of miscarriages are harder to find but the rate of peri-natal mortality (ie stillbirths and deaths under 7 days) in the UK is 4.5 out of every 1000 births and this is due to improved medical care.
As a Christian I believe that God has given doctors and scientists the wisdom to help women through pregnancies. Women should focus on medical support and prayers for their pregnancies to produce healthy babies. Some miscarriages cannot be explained but, in God’s own time, a healthy baby will be born. Socio-economic factors can also lead to miscarriages and stillbirths e.g. poor or deficient diet, stress, extreme physical activity, exposure to tobacco smoke and drug or alcohol use.
Finally, if you are not a witch yourself and have never eaten anyone’s child, no one can eat yours. Do not waste time looking for something that was not lost in the first place. A word is enough for the wise.
BTW: Nollywood: Lionheart: Awesome!!! (Still nowhere to watch Chief Daddy in Birmingham, UK though!)
Abi Adeboyejo lives in Birmingham, UK, with her two children and her fabulous man, who by the way, prefers that his wife writes down her thoughts than listen to her musings on everything.