Monday, May 15, 2017

Protection or Superstition?

Yesterday I was reading the Sunday Seattle Times and stumbled on an article about Nigerian hunters who were going after Boko Haram militants. Most of us have been following the story of the schoolgirls who were abducted by Boko Haram terrorists in 2014. Since then the government of Nigeria has sent soldiers out to attack and kill the Islamic terrorists. Once the military started chasing the terrorists, however, they retreated to remote forest hideouts. The soldiers need help finding water and shade as they pass through unfamiliar terrain and that's where the hunters come in. The hunters are well acquainted with the remote forest areas and they want revenge for the death of an elderly leader of their group. They are actually guiding the soldiers to the terrorists. The hunters are just one of many civilian vigilante groups that have joined the fight against Boko Haram.


Abba Balomi, a hunter in Maiduguri, Nigeria wearing amulets and carrying a gun.

What caught my eye was a photograph of one of the hunters wearing the sort of African amulets that I have read about in Africa Adorned by Angela Fisher. Many West African hunters wear a special garment, called a batakari, covered in amulets to protect them on a hunt or at war. The amulets look like little leather packages and they are stuffed with sacred writing from the Koran. Since one of the themes in my own work is protection, I have spent a lot of time reading about protective garments and talismans from other cultures.

This is Chief Atoge Zangwio, a respected Kasena village chief wearing his batakari and hat covered with leather packages.

The article in the paper mentioned the hunter’s amulets and described them as lucky necklaces and  superstitious. It also described a quilted cloth vest made to resemble a bulletproof vest that this hunter wears.“The items give him a sense of protection” is a quote from the article. It also mentioned that when they recover trophies from the Boco Haram hideouts, cash, phones and the insurgents good luck charms, they destroy them. The hunters are also Muslim, but they are the good guys.

Notice the amulets on his belt and quilted vest.

I find it interesting that the author of the article, Dionne Searcey from the New York Times took an interest in not only the weapons carried by the hunters but also their protective garments and jewelry. What one culture finds superstitious, another's finds empowering.  Wearing words from the Koran on armor is an old custom and widespread in the Muslim world. 

Below is a helmet from Iran, early 19th century, decorated with sacred writing from the Koran.

Below is one of my necklaces, Scalped, made in 2010. The cylinders at the bottom contain powerful writing intended to ward of the evil spirits of cancer. I believe if an amulet makes you feel better or stronger, it's working.