Je ne peux m'empêcher de regarder les pieds pour penser aux corps. Et penser aux corps, évoque la maladie, les maladies, les esprits. Penser aux Mozambicains qui meurent de la malaria, de la tuberculose, du SIDA. Je voudrais les évoquer à travers quelques lignes non publiées que j'ai écrites en anglais.
Illness, sickness, spirits: social frameworks.
The first story was told to me by Mr. Django. As we sat out at one night, I asked him: " what is this Edmundo's problem; I have been told that his wife is very sick? " The elements of the guard's response were as following: Edmundo's wife had been sick for the last week with strong fevers, dizziness, vomiting, headaches, and nightmares. Edmundo had taken her to the hospital where malaria was diagnosed. But the Cloroquin and aspirin administered had not helped. He went back to the hospital, where she was given a prescription for antibiotics. But this medicine was not available either at the hospital (where medicines are highly subsidised by the state) nor at the town pharmacy. Edmundo then went on a hunt to buy those antibiotics and eventually did so from a nurse working at the hospital, who had those medicines to sell. The tone of the telling was enhancing how usual this experience with the 'hospital' was to him. In Edmundo's words, the situation was getting very expensive, out of hand, and his wife's health was showing no improvement.
They consulted a local 'curandeiro' (Shona. Nganga, traditional healer), who told them that a bad spirit mudzimo - Shona ( Port. espírito revoltado - outraged spirit), was haunting Edmundo's wife and causing much of the trouble. He told them that she would die, if she did not get rid of this bad spirit. In a subsequent session, he was able to 'take out' of her head a ball covered with spikes. She felt better and began to some improvement. Edmundo told me himself that he had had to face reality. Traditional medicine was able to resolve his wife's health problem, where the hospital had only ruined them. The healer told them that the bad spirit upsetting his wife had come from her parents. They were mad, because Edmundo and his wife were not respecting them. Edmundo had not paid a dowry (Shona - lobolo) for his wife, as they had demanded, even though he had a job, was earning money and had children. And Edmundo and his wife had not shared any of the wealth they were able to produce. They were ready to kill Edmundo's wife (their daughter) for this and resorted to witchcraft.
Mr. Django, who told me the story that night was convinced: "that it is always the same story: corrupted nurses, greedy parents ready to sacrifice a daughter's life for money and out of envy". Unbearable. Mr. Django is member of a 'apostolic church' that is based in South Africa and present throughout Mozambique. His opinion was that Edmundo and his wife could have resorted to Jesus and the power of the word of God, as members of his church are able to do. He himself had converted to the Church after being 'treated' by the prayers of brothers of the Church. Since, he had been a member of the Church 'working with the words only'. He explained that, when someone was suffering, the head of the Church would send members gifted to heal to them. They would pray with the affected person until an agreement would be reached with the bad spirit. This help and cure were free.
A second situation was much more dramatic, much harder. Young friends of mine, much wealthier than Edmundo and with academic training had seen all three of their children die at a very young age from malaria and pulmonary infection. Isabel, the wife, who was from a different region, was professionally active and, although she and her husband were still young, they were both quite successful in their work. But the wife was repeatedly affected by illnesses and exhaustion. She received treatments in various public and private hospitals without success. A year after the death of their last child, and a painful year for the wife, Renaldo, the husband, had a few health problems, as well. He began to lose weight and had unexplained boughts of diarrhea and coughing. He eventually stayed at home, actually at the nearby home of his parents. He developed great breathing difficulties and began to have awful dreams, in which he screamed "things that don't interest nobody" said Isabel. When I went to visit him, he told me "this already is a traditional question", meaning that his problem had to be treated by non-biomedical, i.e., traditional, medicine. I told him I was sure he knew that better that I, but I believed that conventional medical treatment would help him be more fit to face traditional treatments. The day of my visit, Isabel told me that she might be responsible for this, because she was the host of a 'very bad spirit, very negative force'. She said this was a chikwambu (Serious evil spirit) and that it was responsible for all those deaths, illnesses of her children. Her brother-in-law had passed the chikwambu to her, when she was living with him and her sister while studying away. Her brother-in-law had offered her as the spirit's wife; he had been consulting a feticeiro (Shona- Muroyi, witch-doctor) to obtain a strong medicine that would guarantee him success in his business. She could not marry or belong to another man, or have children from somebody else, unless the spirit agreed. She was his, and she was being constrained to behave otherwise; any opposition would resolve in misfortunes, illnesses, and suffering
The day after my visit, Renaldo went to the hospital. He was diagnosed with a severe pulmonary infection and was kept at the hospital, where he died a few days later, after repudiating Isabel, his wife. I discussed these matters later with Isabel and with several friends, and they were also discussed in various circles of the small town where this happened. Most comments made to me during these discussions, particularly with a nurse, with Isabel's acquaintances, and with mature men I was acquainted with, were about the way Renaldo's family had focused the responsibility of the acts of this powerful spirit on Isabel. Should they not look in their own family? How could the wife's chikwambu kill the husband? Didn't he have his own spirits to defend himself? Did they not treat the wife's chikwambu with very special curandeiros (traditional healers) and maprofetas (spirit mediums and charismatic figures of local groups of apostolic churches) after the last child's death? A comment I heard several times went: "Anyway, curandeiros they are no real ones anymore. All are after money. Before? (Port. Antigamente). Yeah!" . Wouldn't that story be better told if 'chikwambu' was substituted by the AIDS virus? But no test had been ordered, nor suggested by any biomedical doctor.
I realised that Chikwambus were, in fact, very active, very much part of daily life. I learned that a Chikwambus 'is a force bought for dominating'. 'It works with blood'. 'It exists, because you bought a medicine in order to be in a good position'. 'What a Chikwambu needs is a woman, most of the times a young woman - a menina- because woman is a potential of life'. 'A Chikwambu does not have any pity, it claims what is his as he was told'. 'It is not like a mudzimo, spirit of revolt, a chikwambu is very serious (i.e., grave)'. Chikwambus were upsetting a lot of people, because during the war and after independence, 'a lot of people had used 'drogas' (bad medicine), very strong medicines to fight others, or to gain advantages', that would permit them to assert themselves and be strong. People obtained very bad medicines to acquire magical power that would permit them to kill rivals, brothers, contracting debts, towards the necessary spirit whose power has to be exploited to give this magical power. In other words, one could say, that guilt was reified and turned in a solvable debt. An elder, commenting on the repeated misfortunes of his neighbours' family, told me: 'and we all know what is the price to pay. We know we only resolve the problem by offering what has been promised, a young girl, to the spirit'. Who wants to give a daughter? Giving a menina (young unmarried girl) to chikwambu means that she will not be able to get married, her father can not receive any dowry for her, and it might even be impossible to have sexual relations with this girl; the man would get very sick. voir les extraits d'entretiens suivants: I et II). That means essentially a life lost, a girl stigmatised. In man's pursuit of power through magical tricks, his empowering through strong medicines, a woman is ostracised for her entire life. Logically, a family affected by a chikwambu will try to get rid of it through magical means, by appealing to a curandeiro (healer or medicine man) or to a maprofeta. Getting rid of it requires offering him another girl, passing it to another girl of the family, typically to the brother's daughter! This passing of the spirit is done through rituals and through a discreet transaction, in which the girl is given a seemingly innocuous gift, usually a bank note or a coin, that has been 'treated' by the witch.