The Buchele Adventure

This is record of the Buchele Adventure, as reported from West Africa.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Spirit World IV: Ancestors & the Doctor


Its maybe day three of this past mission trip and we are all gathered around the dinner table, though its just after a wonderful lunch of Ground-nut Soup, a time when if this were Mexico, we would all be on siesta, but since its Ghana, we are just sitting around talking, listening to Ju reflect on her practice as the village Doctor of the Lake Bosumtwe Methodist Clinic.

[Dining room overlooking the lake]

She shares her heart, about the struggles she faces, not so much with the Ghana Medical Board, of which she could share plenty, but more with the culture of this place that is often at odds with the practice of modern medicine.  She speaks of the sorrow of kids with malaria brought to her on days five, six or seven.  How they come to her with very high fever, delirious, and mothers who say it just started yesterday, and Ju saying “mommie, that cannot be true, when did this really start?” But of course she is speaking in Twi, their language.   

I gather she used to ask “why did you wait so long?” but now knows it wasn’t the money, or the inconvenience, it was her family, the spiritualist, or fetish priest that caused delay.  “When a child gets sick,” Ju explains, “often the first place they go is to the fetish priest.

“Can they cure Malaria?” one of the team asks.

“Ah, Its not that simple,” Ju explains.  Sometimes the child will arrive covered with marks, things the naturalist has tried.  Andrew jumps in telling about the time quite a number of people arrived at the clinic very sick from the latest treatment the naturalist had whipped up. “Who knows what toxins were in that batch?”

[LBMC Stool – Lake Bosumtwe Methodist Clinic]

Ju looks uneasy, as if not wanting to devalue the work of the naturalist or fail to recognize the good they do.  She is always conscience of her audience, and the currency of her words.  She knows how words travels, and once they have left her mouth, she doesn’t control their destiny.  So I offer to answer the question.

Suppose I am from a village like this one and decide to leave against the recommendation of my elders.  I move to the city, and stop contributing to the family projects, like funerals, medical bills, and school fees.  I might even move with a woman without going through the proper steps of knocking, investigation, and engagement… , its called running away from the family.  For the head of the extended family, it would worry him too much, as all eyes will be watching to see what he does, lest the family scatter.

[Girl on railroad tracks]

“In order to bring me back to my senses,” the authors of African Traditional Religion and Christian Counseling write, “the family head might solicit the help of the ancestors over this, their straying child.” Visiting the village shrine, he will make a sacrifice, saying to the ancestors “See our child out there?  He is escaped from the family.  Bring him back.”[1] The head of the family leaves it up to the ancestors to bring some misfortune into my life. For example, one of my children might become sick, and so “my thoughts or those of my wife would be ‘Who is making my child sick?  Is it our ancestors because of my offense against the family, or is it someone else who does not want me to prosper?’” [2]

[Shrine with mystical clay pot, I think it’s the one on the left]

The concerned parents would then consult the fetish priest, asking who has made my child sick?  Notice the question is not what has made my child sick, but who.  In the village tour on Wednesday, we were shown a shrine where it is believed that by looking into the water in the clay pot of the shrine, the face of the one troubling you will be seen in its reflection.  In the case of our sick child, I would see the head of my family.  Our guide also explained that fetish priest has been dead for two years, and no one had come to replace him, and “besides,” he said “I am a Christian, and so I do not believe in such things.”  Still when asked “Can I look inside the clay pot?” the guide said no.  (it wasn’t me who asked…really). 

Closer to the lake Andrew points out a signboard,

Spiritualist, Herbalist Treatment

and any sickness or any spiritual problem.

If you come to Nana Oboa Nipa, all your problems will be solved &

You will get freedom.

 So maybe some of Ju’s patients first consult Spiritualist Nana Oboa Nipa to discover who sent the mosquito.  In our example, I would learn it was the family head and so to clear this matter up so that my child would get well, I would make amends to the family head for “he alone can mediate between me and the ancestors.”[3]


“Make amends” means the family head performs a sacrifice on my behalf, asking the ancestors to no longer punish my child, but care for it.  This can only be done after I have accepted responsibility for my actions, and confessed to the family council, promising to change my ways.  It is in this way that both the “living and the dead members of my family will be satisfied,”[4] and health returns to my child.

“After the symptoms first appear, the child has seven days to seek treatment,” Ju explains.  The first two days its just a fever, and children do get sick from time to time, but the fever gets worse. They may spend the next three days consulting the fetish priests, head of family, or the one they say is troubling them.  Now its day five and the child is deathly ill, and so finally they bring the child to the clinic.

We drove by another Clinic on the opposite side of the lake run by the Seventh Day Adventists.  Andrew tells a story I’ve heard before, how a woman had taken her very sick child there on day five, a day’s journey from her village, except it happened to be a Saturday, and that is their Sabbath, so the clinic is closed.  A day’s journey home and another to the Methodist Clinic, and this woman, now carrying this very sick, feverish child lays her in the arms of Ju. The child dies.  “Mommie,” Ju asks, “why did you wait so long?” and together they cry for this child. 

Then the mother walks back to her village, carrying the body. 

Ju walks up the hill to her home to hug her kids, thank God for their safety, and pray for their protection. 




[1] Grebe, Karl; Fon, Wilfred, African Traditional Religion and Christian Counseling, p13.

[2] African Traditional Religion and Christian Counseling, p13

[3] African Traditional Religion and Christian Counseling, p13

[4] African Traditional Religion and Christian Counseling, p14


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