Superstitions Exposed by the Critical Thinking Workshops of the Brighter Brains Institute

Ghana CT Workshops

Three workshops were taught in Ghana, all in the city of Cape Coast, to students at primary and secondary schools. The workshops were facilitated by David Osei, a humanist referred to BBI by Felix David Osei had previously written up a report on the “witch camps” in northern Ghana.

The first workshop David taught examined superstitions about the clitoris, that led to the practice of Female Genital Mutilation among several tribes in the northern region. The second workshop was on “Fishing and Farming Superstitions.” The third and final workshop dealt with the superstition “If you sing in the shower your mother will die.” The information below are condensed and edited transcripts of David Osei’s reports:

Female Genital Mutilation / Female Circumcision

Workshop held at Oxford Preparatory School on April 6, 2018. 

Female Genital Multilation also known as Female Circumcision is the ritual cutting or removal of some or all of the external female genitalia. In Ghana FGM is still practiced in the three Northern Regions by several ethnic groups including the Kusasis, Frafras, Kassenas, Busangas, Wallas, Dagarbas, Builsas and Sisalas. Some ethnic groups in the Brong Ahafo and the Volta Region also practice FGM.

In FGM the clitoris of female children is cut off either 7 days after birth or when they get to their adolescent stage. Some of the tools used to carry out the practice are: knife, broken glass or blade.

Some of the reasons assigned for the practice of the FGM among the ethnic groups are:

  • It promotes social cohesion because it is obligatory for one to go through the exercise before being accepted to become a full member of the society.

  • FGM signifies the bravery of womanhood. If a woman is able to stand it she will be able to bear the pain of childbirth.

  • Some people believe the clitoris has the power to kill a baby if it comes in contact during childbirth. The secretion of the clitoris is also believed to kill the sperms of a man.

  • Others believe that uncircumcised girls have uncontrollable sex drive because the uncut clitoris arouses intense sexual desire.

  • It is also believed that FGM enhances male sexual pleasure because the vaginal opening is made very small by the suturing. 

The study of science makes us realize all these assumptions of FGM are false and just cause harm to the victims. Some of the effects it has on victims are:

  • Many of the victims of FGM become barren and can not deliver babies.

  • Some females die as a result of intensive bleeding after undergoing FGM.

  • Some victims of FGM are affected with tetanus when the tools used to operate are rusted.

  • Some victims are also be affected with HIV due to the use of an unsterilized tools.

  • Some of the victims experience difficulty in passing urine due to damage of the urethra. Other victims experience difficulty in menstrual flows and pain during sexual intercourse.

  • Participants said, “the practice of the FGM is very cruel, inhuman and degrading… it is an abuse of the physical and psychological state of the victims… it is discriminating against girls and women and it promotes gender inequalities that must be condemned… a law must be enforced to deal with those who engage in FGM such as imprisonment and fines… those groups practicing FGM need to be educated.”

Now, as the pupils have more insight about FGM and the dangers associated with it, they all stood up and claimed that it is a wicked and inhuman act and it needs to be abolished!

Fishing and Farming Superstitions

Workshop at Futures Academy Complex on April 13, 2018. Eighty-six participants aged 5-18. The report below was written by facilitator David Osei

In Ghana the predominant work of our people is fishing and farming, and the agricultural sector has been a major contributor of our GDP annually. However, there are superstitious beliefs governing these occupations. 

For example, In Ghanaian societies, tradition does not allow fishing on Tuesdays because it is believed that marine spirits and other creatures appear on the sea at these days. Tuesdays are reserved as a sacred day for the marine spirits. It is believed if anyone dares to go fishing on Tuesday they will meet demonic creatures like mermaids and mermen or their canoe will be turned upside down by a big fish or whale. It is also believed that fishmongers are not allowed to wear flip-flops or sandals on the shore because it drives away the fishes.

These misconceptions about fishing have been carried on from generation to generation.  The fishermen still believe in them and none of them go for fishing on Tuesdays, despite scientific research that there is no evidence of the existence of mermaids or mermen. They are only fiction and folklore.

For farmers, it is a taboo to farm on Thursdays. According to our tradition is it believed that the gods come out on these days to patrol the land, to enrich the soil and the crops. It is also believed that anyone who farms on Thursday will meet dwarfs (evil spirits) which will carry them away forever. If they do return home, they will be a “fetish priest” that serves the dwarfs.This is believed by the farmers and none of  them dares to farm on Thursdays.

Science tells us soil is enriched, and becomes fertile, due to living organisms in decayed plants and animals, and nutrients like 'nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, molybdenum, etc., which support plant growth. Fertilizer such as the dung of animals can be used to improve the fertility of the soil. No gods are needed to fertilize our soil and support our crops to grow well. Also, there is no evidence of a dwarf carrying someone away, and no record of any person coming back as a fetish priest. All these beliefs are false.

Participants say “we are glad BBI sent David to educate us about superstitious beliefs. We realize those statements by our ancestors were false; they just intend to create fear in us. Now as we are living around the coast let us all go and spread the messages to our friends and family.”  One student says, “I think Tuesday can be a resting day for the fishermen to mend their nets, canoes and motors.”

“If You Sing in the Shower your Mother will Die” 

Workshop at John Sackey Preparatory School on April 11, 2018. Eighty-two participants, plus three teachers. 

According to Ghanaian tradition it is believed that if one sings when bathing his or her mum will die. As a result of this it keeps many people from singing while showering especially children because they are afraid to loose their dear mum. Sometimes children are scolded or punished by their parents if they hear them singing in the shower. I personally experienced this when I was 13 years old - I was caned by my step mum and sent to school with an empty stomach and without money as a result of this non-sensical belief. I also had to walk 5 km to school and return home on foot as well.

This superstitious belief is irrational and false and has been passed on from generation to generation. Singing brings joy to many people and leads to benefits in our physical, emotional and social health. For some people, the bathroom is as an auditorium where they can sing and express their emotions. Singing in the shower also is very refreshing. You may come out feeling energetic for the day. Singing in the bath house can also bring back good memories.

Participants said: “I sing when I am doing my house chore but in the bath house I don't sing because my parents will be furious with me. “  And, “I used to sing in the shower but I stopped because I realized it is part of our tradition and I needed to obey it.” The students were all instructed to go and spread the message, that it is all safe t sing in the shower.” 

Cameroon CT Workshops

Two workshops were held in Buea (population 119,039) facilitated by the community-based, not-for-profit Education for Sustainable Development and Rural Foundation (ESARDEF).  Workshop participants initially hesitated, because it is taboo to even question the existence of spirits. The four topics below were discussed:

The God in Mount Cameroon must be Fed an Albino

Many participants had the belief that Mount Cameroon has a deity that controls the mountain and protects the inhabitants around the slopes. This god is the strongest force and needs to be worshipped and fed with an albino yearly, and it is an honor for a family to be selected to feed the god with an albino. The participants attribute the eruption of Mount Cameroon in 2000 and in other years as caused by the omission of the people in not feeding the god. The participants had the belief an albino is an abomination to any family, and should be sacrificed to the god. 

During the workshop, the participants learned through the internet that eruptions are the result of magma rising through cracks or weaknesses in the Earth's crust; when this pressure is released, as a result of plate movement, magma explodes to the surface causing a volcanic eruption. Lava from the eruption cools to form new crust and over time, after several eruptions, the rock builds up and a volcano is formed.

Participants also learned that albinism is caused by a defect in one of several genes that produce or distribute melanin. The defect may result in the absence of melanin production, or a reduced amount of melanin production. The defective gene passes down from both parents to the child and causes albinism.

Fear of Rainbows

Many participants believe the rainbow is a medium of communication between gods and goddess of two or more rivers. When a rainbow is seen in the sky, every person who finds his or herself in a river runs out immediately for the fear of an unknown spiritual attack or ailment.

During the workshop the participants were able to learn and accept the scientific truth about rainbows. Sunlight is actually made up of different colors that we don't usually see, and rainbows happen when sunlight and rain combine and separate into the colors we see in the rainbow as they enter a raindrop. 

Questioning Church Donations

Some participants expressed skepticism regarding the belief that giving money to a church will gain future riches. They suggested this is useless, and the church is deceitful to claim there will be a reward. The participants suggested money is better used for investments that yield more turnover to help humankind directly or indirectly.

Fishing Superstitions

Many Cameroonians believe the sea has mermaids who should be worshiped by all coastal community dwellers, especially fishermen if they wish for a good catch. It is regarded as bad luck for fishermen if women with menstrual flow and pregnant women are allowed to bathe in the sea, river or streams.

Conclusion 

Participants believe the study of science and the use of critical thinking explains and contradicts many myths and superstitions especially in Africa, making the population very ignorant. They finally expressed sincere gratitude to BBI.

Nigeria CT Workshops

Seven critical thinking workshops were held in secondary schools in the northern Nigeria cities of Kaduna and Maiduguri. Facilitators were two humanist Nigerians: Abdulrahman Aliya and Sadiq Modu Kura. Many students were from the Hausa tribe: Muslims with traditional, superstitious beliefs. Other students were Christian. Below are a few topics discussed:

Fear of Doubt

Many students were too nervous to ask questions; they said they just accepted what they were told by their community because "that is just the way it is from our ancestors.”  A student named Fatima asked if her parents said something to her, and she suspected it to be untrue, wouldn't she be rude by persisting with questions and criticizing their answers? 

Students were braver and exhibited curiosity when they were allowed to ask questions anonymously on sheets of paper that were delivered to the teachers to answer. Their questions included: Is rain actually from God? Is it true black people came from monkeys? Is Coca Cola made with pork meat? 

Questioning Muhammed

Abdulrahman Alliyu asked the students in one of his Kaduna workshops if Hell and Heaven really existed. Most of the student answered "oh yes, it exists” or “of course it does." Then he asked, "how do you know?” He told them they shouldn't just accept any information without questioning and analyzing it, to gather more evidence on how true or untrue the statement is. 

A student asked, “why should I ignore the prophet Muhammad’s teaching that asking too much leads one to ruin?  

Abdulrahman responded, “I am not here to lecture on Islamic doctrines, far from it. I am simply interested in teaching you how to think critically, so as not to fall for deception, foolery, and other forms of mental enslavement. You have to decide to be free or not, if you choose to be submissive in your life, no one can save you.”

The Spiritual Hyena of the Marghi Tribe

Sadiq Modu Kura was facilitating a workshop in Maiduguri, that a teacher interrupted by announcing that he belonged to the Marghi Tribe. The teacher claimed some Marghi have a “spiritual hyena” called Gadzama. These sorcerers can send the hyena to attack their enemies or anyone who annoys them. If the hyena is injured or killed on a mission the owner is automatically injured or killed like the hyena. 

The Marghi teacher eventually claimed he had inherited this power from his father. Sadiq Modu Kura challenged the teacher to prove his assertion by showing the classroom his spiritual hyena - the teacher was unable do this. 

A Potpourri of Crazy Crap

Below are beliefs the CT workshop made the students doubt:

  • People get rainfall only when they are faithful to God.

  • Natural disasters such as earthquakes occur due to infidelity of people. 

  • If you sacrifice a human being - killing them for rituals - you will be rich.

  • If a pregnant woman sits by the door of a room she will give birth to a witch or wizard.

  • If you sweep your compound at night you will become blind.

  • Some people have the power to turn other people into animals.

  • A female student said some people send prayers via Whatsapp telling recipients if they do not forward the prayer to other people a terrible event will happen to them. 

Uganda CT Workshops

Uganda has received more BBI attention and funding than any other nation in Africa. We’ve built two secular humanist orphanages there, and four secular humanist schools (two primary, two secondary); we’ve established about 15 clinics, and provided start-up funds for entrepreneurial projects to 20 women’s collectives. We work mainly in the rural villages of Kasese province with the Bakonzo tribe; the lone exception is our projects in the town of Kanungu (near Rwanda) with the Bakiga tribe. 

BBI conducted 15 Critical Thinking workshops with these groups; I’ve consolidated the resulting information below:

Superstition Leads to Poor Academic Performance 

this workshop was presented in the Rwenzori mountain hamlet of Buhanga, by Masereka Sebastian. In his words: 

“In discussions with the students I discovered there are many superstitions that result in poor academic performance in school. This is what I found out: 

  • Some students are told by witchdoctors that if they pay hens or coin money, they will be given powerful medicine that will make examination supervisors sleep so that they may copy exams.

  • Priests and ministers claim that prayers can make students pass their exams. When it is near examination time, many students will spend most of their time praying, instead of studying, because they have been assured that praying is a better path to passing exams.

  • There is a belief that if you let your pens and pencils sleep in church, or in a mosque, or on a grave, and you mark the exams with these pens and pencils, then you will pass your exams.

The “Rainmakers”

Four workshops delivered information on this important topic. In Buhanga, the CT was facilitated by Masereka Sebastian and Charity Cathy and delivered to 41 members of Buhanga-Thuligahuma Women Association. In Kanyenze, chairperson Lois Ngunguro presented the workshop to 12 members of the Kanyenze Women Group. In Nyakiyumbu, 68 women in the Nyakiyumbu Widows Collective received the workshop from their leader, Muhindo Nyesi. In Kanungu (a Bakiga village) the director of Kanungu Humanist Primary School - Robert Magara - presented the workshop to his teachers. BBI was informed that: 

  • Many Bakonzo believe traditional witchdoctors can make it rain, or set off wind, and overall influence the weather.  People pay money to these witchdoctors if they want rain for their crops, or if they don’t want it to rain because that will disturb a function like a matrimonial wedding. (Buhanga)

  • Some Bakonzo believe in the Bakonzo gods. They believe there is a Bakonzo god of rain, god of the sun, god of the mountain, god of wealth. Kitasamba is the Bakonzo god of the Rwenzori mountains; his frozen sperm is the snow. (Buhanga)

  • Other Bakonzo believe the weather is because of the Christian God. This God gives rain, sunshine, clouds, snow. These people believe the weather can be made reliable by praying to God. People attend night prayers commonly known as overnights to make sure God listens to them and changes the climate or weather. (Buhanga)

  • When there is a community crises, like drought, food scarcity, or river floods, there is a belief that the community must be ‘cleaned’ by appeasing the gods. People collect money for the witchdoctors, and give them goats, hens, and sheep to be sacrificed. (Buhanga)

  • Many Bakonzo believe the King of the Bakonzo controls crop growing by performing traditional rituals. Without his participation, “no rain can be seen.” This belief has been maintained even though there have been two “very serious droughts” since he was crowned king. (Nyakiyumbu)

  • Seasonal rituals for ‘high food production and formation of rain’ are performed by elders called “Ridge Leaders.” The village gives them goats, chicken and ‘raw foods’ to sacrifice and offer to the Bakonzo “god of everything called Nyabingyi.”  Often, it is observed, the rituals do not produce positive results. (Kanyenze)

  • “A man called Kikamba was believed to be a rain maker. Villagers gave him goats, hens and other gifts with hopes that this man will work on the rain and crops will survive but… still no rain.” (Nyakiyumbu)

  • “A man called Rwajumba, from Nyakabungo urinated in his clothes, and asked people to give him money, food and clothes to make it rain during the drought, (Kanungu)

The “Bulletproof” Fiasco

Two Bakonzo villages lamented the tragic, total failure of the witchdoctors’s magic potion in the recent uprising. Sons, brothers, and husbands were killed. 

“The royal guards of the Rwenzuru Kingdom in Kasese were defeated and killed by the Uganda soldiers because they depended on the witchdoctors thinking that their bodies would be bullet proof.” (Buhanga)

“In the recent massacre of our people in Kasese, the royal guards had been deceived to believe in the magic that once they are injected with some traditional medicine, it will protect them from being injured by bullets during the fight… they believed in that… out of ignorance and we lost our dear ones. One man in our village gave a testimony that he was to engage in the battle with his brother after both of them had been injected that medicine, but he was committed with other things and was not at the palace by the time the event happened and his biological brother was shot dead. (Nyakiyumbu)

Albino Prejudice

“Some Nyakiyumbu Community members believe that albino people are being born by evil spirits who impregnated their mothers during night times. Others believe albino people are children of oceanic creatures like the octopus.”

“Many think if you meet an albino person in the morning when you are going for business, you will not make good profits or you will not sell many items.” (Joy Women Group, a collective in Nyamwamba directed by Mbambu Lavina)

Pygmy Myth

“The Batwa… lived in the bush, they were short and uneducated.Traditionally, people believed that after sleeping with a female Batwa you got healed of the backache.” (Kanungu)  

False Health Advice

“In Nyakiyumbu when one goes to a witchdoctor they lie to them that they are giving them medicine but in actual sense they mix ash with water and ask the sick to drink deceiving them that it is medicine and the sickness worsens.”

“Some people who believed in witchdoctors were told that they needed to fast and they spent a good number of days without eating and developed the problem of ulcers.” (Nyakiyumbu)

“Prayer worriers tell people they can heal the sick and when the sick goes to them for survival, they tell the sick person that they have seen something at his /her home which needs to be removed and then they ask for a fee to be facilitated to go and remove it. What they say is false but only for them to gain wealth.” (Kanyenze)

In Kanungu, the Moslems don't eat pork because they say it gives people disease, but no person who eats it has ever complained, they “eat it like any other food.” 

The people of Kanungu believed that when building houses,t he owner must slaughter a hen or goat and sprinkle blood on the foundation so the owner will not die when he lives in it.”

Wanting Wealth 

“Child sacrifice for wealth has existed for a long time and we lose children like Bwambale Joseph last year. This is due to worshipping false gods in our Bakonzo culture.” (Kanyenze)

“Thinking that money can be gotten from illuminati (spirits) some people agree with the spirits to cut/shorten their years on Earth in exchange for riches.” (Joy Women Group)

“Some people think you can pray to (the Christian) god for seeking riches.” (Joy Women Group)

“Some people think that if you don’t give money or food to the church leaders then you will not be rewarded by God.” (Joy Women Group)

In Kanungu, the Bikiga churchgoers feared going to the church without money because Reverend bothers them saying, “believers need to give more money that is when they receive many blessings.” 

Misogynist Mischief

“Some believe only women who develop beards like men are blessed to get rich. This convinces women who do not have beards to not get involved in business because they think they will not get rich.” (Joy Women Group)

There is the belief that if a woman is about to give birth but it is delayed, that she should mention all the “names of people with whom you had sex…  this causes community conflict because any man mentioned is fined.” (Kanyenze) 

“Trick stars / Abafere are common in Nyamwamba, they trick women to steal their property.” (Joy Women Group)